Even in relatively humid locations (like here in Portland, Oregon), winter weather can lead to painfully dry skin—especially dry, cracked hands and chapped lips. This winter-related dry skin can happen to anyone—even if you’re not someone who typically suffers from eczema, rosacea or other skin sensitivities. Here are four reasons why winter is especially rough on your skin … and four simple things you can do to help get it back in shape.
1. Air movement increases surface moisture evaporation.
Think of clothes hanging out to dry. A nice breeze is like a magnet to moisture. Just add a little wind, and those clothes get dry a lot faster than if the air were still. There’s a scientific principle at work here: The molecules of moisture on your skin are quite small, and they’re spread across a relatively broad surface area, where they’re easily whisked away in a chilly winter breeze. So it naturally follows that because our hands and faces tend to be exposed when we’re outdoors, these are the spots where we most tend to notice the ill effects of simple winter moisture evaporation.
2. Indoor heating can increase the evaporation of the skin’s natural moisture.
Over-heating your indoor environment also can increase evaporation—because warmer air can hold more water vapor than colder air. Even worse? Central heating systems or space heaters that blow that warm air around. The combination of air movement against your skin plus high temperature create a moisture-stealing double-whammy that can swiftly lead to dry hands and chapped lips.
3. Water doesn’t help.
It may seem counterintuitive, but exposure to water can be especially drying to the skin of your hands in winter. We wash our hands throughout the day. And during the winter cold and flu season, many of us wash our hands even more than usual to guard against getting a nasty bug. Unfortunately, all that exposure to water is not, in fact, moisturizing to our skin. Quite the opposite.
For one, soaps tend to be drying because they’re formulated to lift oils away from the skin. Those same oils are part of the skin’s natural barrier system. Stripping them away just leads to more dryness, followed by itching and flaking.
4. In a vicious cycle, flaking, itchy skin just leads to more moisture loss.
As the skin begins to dry out, it naturally becomes a bit more flaky. That flaking reaction in turn strips away the natural barrier that prevents your skin from losing moisture in the first place. Once that protective layer is breached, the moisture is susceptible to evaporation, leading to even more dryness.
Here are three simple things you can do to help heal and soothe your dry, chapped skin:
First off, half the battle is just understanding that the cause of your dry, chapped skin is moisture loss. Armed with that knowledge, it’s all about finding effective ways to moisturize the skin as much as possible.
1. Start now, even if your hands are not yet dry and cracked.
This is one place where an ounce of prevention can really make a difference. It’s much easier to moisturize and protect than it is to heal and restore dry, cracked skin.
2. Apply moisturizers repeatedly throughout the day.
Slathering on the hand cream once in the morning is not going to cut it at this time of year. Keep moisturizers close at hand—at home and at work—and remind yourself to apply them often… much more often than you normally would.
3. Choose a heavier lotion than you normally might, so it has real moisturizing power and doesn’t evaporate too quickly… and try to minimize your exposure to chemicals.
If you’re used to using a light moisturizer that rubs quickly into your skin, keep in mind that’s probably not going to be enough to really help already cracked, flaking and sore skin of winter.
You might think to grab some petroleum jelly for a job like this—but petroleum jelly is a derivative of oil refining—and thus a byproduct of the oil industry. With cracked hands you might want to avoid it since chemicals can be absorbed through the skin.
Instead choose something you wouldn’t mind putting in your body. Coconut Oil, Olive Oil, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Beeswax are all thick and dewy moisturizers, and natural alternatives to petrochemicals.
If you can, choose a moisturizer that has good, healing herbs, as well. Aloe, Calendula and Chamomile are all good choices. Weather-Ready Hand Repairhas Frankincense and Myrrh, which offer antiseptic properties, and Helichrysum, which is a natural antimicrobial. These are in a base of Coconut and Olive Oils, plus natural Beeswax and Bentonite Clay. All in all, a very natural, highly emollient and chemical-free formula that’s designed to help heal.
4. Wash with warm, not hot, water.
Lots of quick temperature changes can be irritating to skin—particularly in winter. So choose a mild soap and wash with warm (not hot) water, gently pat hands dry and immediately apply more moisturizer.
If you follow these steps, winter doesn’t have to get the better of your hands. They’ll look better, feel softer, and you’ll be a lot more comfortable—no matter how cold it gets outside.