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It’s that time of year again. Arrays of yellow, red and orange now replace the lush green trees that shaded us these past few months. Hot, sticky humidity now gives way to cool, crisp air permeated with the seasonal scent of bonfires, hayrides and hot cocoa. After a long, hot summer of ponytails and bare legs, let’s retire those tank tops and pull on our sweaters! I’m ready to cuddle up in my favorite cashmere pullover, jeans and boots. But … oh how dry and itchy my legs were last fall. Remember that? What about the rash that broke out on your chest with the coming of winter? Maybe we’re not looking forward to the change in seasons as much as we thought?
If you think your skin and its needs change with the fall weather, you’re right: Allergic reactions may be more prevalent in sensitive skin; skin diseases, such as dormant psoriasis, may emerge again; or our skin may simply lack the moisture that it was accustomed to during the warm months.
Fortunately there’s no need to dread the changing of the weather for fear of our skin’s seasonal response. Sometimes our dermis just needs a little help adjusting, and there’s plenty of hope for those of us too busy otherwise itching.Whether you live in Montana, Mississippi or Massachusetts, we’ve got a few tips you can use to prepare your skin for the change of seasons.
I know it sounds simple: moisturize. But there are many ways to maximize our skin’s moisture retention. Our dermis is actually composed of several layers of cells and thousands of oil glands. When it’s humid, our skin retains moisture, but when humidity drops, our skin struggles to moisturize itself. Dermatology Insights reminds us that bathing also strips away the oil from our skin, drying it further. “Almost any skin condition [including atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and eczema] gets worse in the winter because there is not as much humidity in the outer layer of the skin,” says Jon Hanifin, MD, a professor of dermatology at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.
So what’s a girl to do? First, be sure to apply your moisturizer within the first 3 minutes of getting out of the shower. It takes about 3 minutes for the water to evaporate from the skin’s outer layer, so you want to seal in moisture before it has a chance to escape. Dermatologist Pam Foresman, MD, of Auburn, NY, who is a clinical instructor in dermatology at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, recommends applying Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion ($11.99 for 16 oz.) all over your body because it’s fragrance free and won’t cause allergic contact dermatitis.
Be careful not to worsen your dry skin this time of year with bad bathing habits. Research from the Mayo Clinic shows that dry skin is caused not only by hot or cold weather with low humidity levels, but also from washing or bathing too much—and with the wrong products. When bathing, avoid soaps with extra chemicals such as anti-bacterials, deodorants or perfume; they can be harsh and further strip away our skin’s natural oils.
Use a mild, soap-free bar such as Dove Sensitive ($3.79 for 4.5 oz.) or Cetaphil Gentle Cleansing Bar ($4.04 for 4.5 oz.), says Dr. Forsman. Both contain synthetic detergents (syndets). According to Pharmacy Times, syndets (also known as soap-free cleansers or soapless soap) have different chemical compositions from soaps, although their cleansing functions are the same. Syndets are considered mild but effective, and won’t cause skin irritation.
Preventing skin from drying out can be as simple as limiting your baths or showers to 10 minutes, instead of the 20 you may be accustomed to. (This will also cut your water bill!) The American Academy of Dermatology suggests using warm water instead of hot when bathing, as hot water removes the natural oils from skin more quickly. If you can stand the heat, shut your bathroom door to lock in humidity.
And what about those towels you’re drying off with? When you launder them, try switching from dryer sheets to a liquid fabric softener and you might see a difference in your skin. The perfumes and chemicals from dryer sheets aren’t washed out of fabric and can lead to skin irritation. In your bedroom, use a humidifier at night to increase the humidity in otherwise dry air. Even short-term use of air conditioning or central heating can kill the moisture in your home, so go au naturel when possible.
If you have persistent dry skin, try an oatmeal bath. Aveeno has dedicated an entire line to the grain, which has been proved to moisturize skin and relieve it from dryness while soothing irritation. Products such as Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment ($7.99) and Skin Relief Moisturizing Lotion ($7.69 for 12 oz.) are both made with oats and are great remedies for dry, itchy skin.
Finally, tried-and true petroleum such as Vaseline ($4.49 for 13 oz.) is also a good source of moisture, says Dr. Hanifin. Petroleum jelly works well because it doesn’t contain chemicals and won’t cause an atopic allergic reaction. If it’s too heavy for your taste, try applying it only to problem areas such as elbows, knees and feet.
Perhaps your idea of sunscreen goes hand in hand with a fruity drink, a bikini and a cabana boy, but this skin-saving agent shouldn’t be limited to only one season. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15 year round. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can skip the sunscreen just because the sun is not as brazen during the winter, especially if you live in a snowy climate. Sun reflects off the snow, similar to the reflection we get off the water while swimming beneath a hot sun, says Kevin Pinski, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Northwestern University in Chicago. Even windburn is a form of eczema. It can be easily treated with a hydrocortisone cream in addition to your daily moisturizer. But the best way to avoid these problems is to protect your skin so you won’t have to repair it. Next time you hit the slopes, don’t forget the sunscreen. Keep blush in your cheeks from flirting—not windburn.
Don’t want to add yet another step to your morning routine? Try using a face and body moisturizer with SPF to ensure you wear your sunscreen everyday, while minimizing your prep time. Origins’ Have A Nice Day ($33.50 for 1.7 fl. oz.) supercharged moisture lotion with SPF 15 for the face is nice because it’s lightweight, absorbs easily and is made primarily with natural ingredients. And Juice Beauty’s Green Apple Body SPF 20 Antioxidant Moisturizer ($34 for 10 oz.) smells as delicious as it feels.
Athletes who spend time outdoors in the winter will need something a bit more substantial than their morning moisturizer. Try a waterproof sunblock, like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 70 ($9.99 for 3 oz.), which will allow you to ski, sweat or swim without dripping away your sunscreen. Regularly applying SPF will not only help avoid sun damage and prevent skin cancer, but will also help your skin retain the moisture it so desperately wants to preserve. If you want to limit your chances of over-sunning further, plan your outdoor exercising around the sun’s peak hours. Whether it’s summer or winter, the sun is most powerful between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm.
Caring for your skin is an essential component of maintaining a healthy and happy body, and you can attain great results without adding too much more prep time to your already busy day. Every woman’s skin is different, and every woman may need a different treatment. But with a little moisture, a little protection and some tender loving care, every woman can spend more time enjoying the seasons itch-free.