As winter approaches, the battle for healthy skin begins. But you can minimize the toll the next few months will take on your skin by preparing now.
Facing the enemy
As temperatures drop, heaters clank on, and the wind whips up, the battle for healthy skin begins. Dry air takes away the thin layer of oil that traps moisture in the skin, flaring itchy and painful conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and severe dry skin.
“If we stop producing moisture or if heating sucks it out of the skin, and it’s not being replaced, that will tend to cause little cracks that affect the barrier of the skin,” says Alan Menter, MD, chair of psoriasis research and the division of dermatology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas. Any trauma to the skin, such as cracking, causes an inflammatory response, which can make skin more susceptible to flare-ups of psoriasis and eczema.
But you can minimize the toll the next few months will take on your skin by preparing now. Here’s our action plan to keep you comfortable and flare-free.
When it’s cold outside, some of us prolong our hot showers and baths, which is a recipe for dry, irritated skin, says Dr. Menter. Instead he recommends you:
1. Keep the shower as brief as possible and use lukewarm, not hot, water.
2. Switch to less aggressive, moisture-rich soaps made for sensitive skin, such as those made by Dove and Aveeno.
3. Gently pat yourself dry to avoid traumatizing or overdrying the skin.
4. Apply moisturizer while your skin is still slightly damp.
Therapeutic baths, such as oatmeal baths or sea salt baths, may help some patients, but they tend to take time, and some salt treatments can be drying, so it’s important to moisturize afterward.
Whether you have eczema, psoriasis, or severe dry skin (known as xerosis), you need to replace any moisture the dry air steals away. “As soon as the weather gets dry, I tell my patients to start a regular regime of moisturizing. The best time to do it is right after they bathe,” says Dr. Menter.
Bruce Strober, MD, PhD, director of the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Center at NYU Medical Center in New York City, understands that not everyone, especially men, will take time to do so. “I tell patients that I don’t care how they moisturize, just do it regularly in a way that you like.” He recommends targeting problem areas first.
“There are so many good over-the-counter products out there. Eucerin is one, and Cetaphil. They’re inexpensive and work well,” says Dr. Menter.
To get better results, Christine Yuan, 22, who lives with eczema and psoriasis, wraps her problem areas in plastic wrap for 30 minutes to an hour after moisturizing. “It takes time,” says Yuan, “but your skin is baby soft!”
Dress for less irritation
If your skin does flare up, choose soft, breathable fabrics, like cotton, instead of itchy woolens or polyester. Loose-fitting clothing will also help to keep your skin from chafing and becoming irritated by perspiration.
Change the air around you
Dr. Strober suggests that his patients use a humidifier to increase moisture levels in the home. Experts recommend keeping the humidity level between 30% and 50% (which you can measure with a hygrometer).
Because psoriasis and eczema involve immune system responses, experts believe that many bacterial, viral, or fungal infections can make them worse.
Dr. Strober recommends getting a flu shot, if your primary care physician agrees that it’s appropriate. “Ask your primary doctor, and then get it and any other vaccinations that might help you fight infection.” And follow basic steps to keep yourself healthy, like washing your hands frequently, getting good sleep, and exercising.
Winter means the holidays and the stress that they inevitably bring. “Emotional stress, being under pressure, and trying to get things done before the holidays certainly can trigger psoriasis and, to a lesser degree, eczema,” says Dr. Menter.
A 2001 report in Archives of Dermatology measured stress levels and water loss in students without any skin disease after winter vacation, during final exams, and during spring break. The researchers found that during periods of stress, the skin’s ability to retain water was reduced.
Look for ways—such as exercise, meditation, yoga, or biofeedback—to relieve holiday-related stress.
Watch your weight
From that first bite of Thanksgiving turkey to the last glass of Champagne on New Year’s Eve, the holidays are a weight-gain minefield.
But psoriasis patients should tread carefully. There isn’t conclusive research linking diet and psoriasis, but fasting periods, low-energy diets, and vegetarian diets improved psoriasis in some studies. And weight gain in general can worsen the condition.
“It does behoove a psoriasis patient to have a lower BMI. Studies do suggest that higher BMI corresponds with increased severity of psoriasis,” says Dr. Strober.
Phototherapy for psoriasis
Winter also brings a decrease in the amount of sun exposure—not a good thing since sunlight can help relieve psoriasis. In fact, 60% of psoriasis patients reported improvement with sunlight in a 2004 Clinical and Experimental Dermatology study.
“The issue is two-fold,” says Dr. Strober. “First, people wear garments that cover the skin and have a tendency to stay indoors. Second, the potency of ultraviolet light is lessened in the wintertime.”
So phototherapy (in which patients are exposed to UVB or UVA rays) makes sense for patients “who are responsive to UV light,” says Dr. Strober. “But you need to come in at least two to three times a week.” The bonus, though, is it is covered by many insurance policies.
PUVA, a combination of UVA rays and psoralen, a medication that increases the skin’s sensitivity to ultraviolet light, is another option. In a 2006 study published in Archives of Dermatology , clearance rates were roughly 80% for psoriasis patients who received PUVA and 50% for patients who received narrow-band UVB.
Originally featured on Health.com
10 Skin-Care Resolutions to Make This Year
Even the most beauty-wise woman still occasionally sleeps in her makeup, skimps on sunscreen, or forgets to make a yearly appointment to see a skin doctor. In the spirit of the New Year, we asked top dermatologists to share their best advice for following through on your best skin-tentions.
MOISTURIZE AFTER SHOWERINGWe all know a warm shower strips skin of oils. Face creams and body lotions are excellent substitutes, as long as you apply them correctly. But how tedious. One easy fix: Keep body lotion right in the shower. Seeing it will remind you to apply it when your skin is damp, within ten minutes of turning off the water. “If you wait, skin starts losing water vapor,” says Francesca Fusco, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. Choose a body lotion with a flip top, such as Vaseline Firming Body Lotion or Olay Quench In-Shower Body Lotion; pump bottles allow water in, and that can lead to bacteria, says Fusco.
WEAR SUNSCREEN EVERY DAYDoctors have long advised wearing sunscreen daily (at least SPF 30) and reapplying it often. The challenge is finding a cream that offers enough protection and doesn’t feel like a lead blanket. Look for “nongreasy” or “sheer” on the label. The new spray-on fluids called “shaka shaka” formulations (you shake before applying) are a game changer for some patients, says Boston dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, who recommends SkinCeuticals Sheer Physical UV Defense SPF 50. “Women who complained sunscreen made their makeup look off are now saying, ‘I’m willing to do this,'” says Hirsch, who’s also a fan of Shady Day Daily Sun Protection Wipes SPF 30.
TAKE OFF YOUR MAKEUP AT NIGHT
You’ve known since middle school that makeup can mix with skin oils and dirt to cause zits. Cosmetics can also trap skin-damaging free radicals that float in the air (think: bus exhaust) against your skin, according to Zoe Draelos, a professor of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine. But you’ve had a long day, and the bathroom sink is 20 feet away….
• Avoid the situation entirely by washing your face as soon as you get home. Don’t wait for the final credits of The Daily Show to roll. At the very least, remove your mascara.
• For nights when you’re just knackered, Heidi Waldorf, a professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, tells patients to dab on Albolene Moisturizing Cleanser with a tissue, wipe it off, and never mind the residue—it’s actually moisturizing.
CLEAN UP AFTER THE GYMDon’t let your skin take a hit just because you’ve discovered an amazing new workout. “A lot of women are switching from big gyms to studios that focus on Spinning, boot camps, yoga, or Pilates, and often they don’t have showers,” says Karyn Grossman, chief of dermatology at St. John’s Medical Center in Santa Monica, California. As a result, she says, more patients aren’t washing right away—and have the acne (and bacne) to show for it. She advises hard chargers to wear moisture-wicking clothes (Nike and Lululemon make them) and to pack salicylic acid Stridex pads in their gym bag. Swipe the face, back, and chest after class, and change into a clean, dry T-shirt. Back home, hop into the shower as soon as possible.
BOOK A YEARLY MOLE CHECKHaving a dermatologist survey your body once a year is crucial, even if you’re diligent about monthly self-exams. “We look in more nooks and crannies than you ever will,” says Wexler. For convenience, group your annual appointments (physical, mammogram, dermatologist) at a time of (relative) quiet—after the holidays, or when the kids go back to school. “Before you leave the doctor’s office, make an appointment for next year, put a reminder in your phone, and ask the receptionist to follow up,” says Wexler.
EXFOLIATE REGULARLY“A baby’s skin replenishes itself completely every 14 days,” explains Howard Sobel, a clinical attending physician in dermatology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “But by age 30, an adult takes a full 28 days to replenish.” With all that extra time, skin cells have a chance to dry out and lose luster—unless you jump-start the renewal process by exfoliating. Fusco tells patients to use a gentle face scrub, like Bliss Pore Perfecting Facial Polish,once or twice a week, and a chemical exfoliant—she likes Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment,which dissolves the glue that holds dead skin cells in place—on two other days of the week. After using a pad for your face, don’t let it go to waste: “Massage it on your arms,” says Waldorf. To make exfoliating less of a chore and more of a treat, consider parking a motorized Clarisonic Classic Sonic Skin Cleansing System
HAVE MERCY ON YOUR HANDS
For starters, stop treating your nails like tools. “Tearing open boxes leads to chips and peeling,” says Grossman.
• To keep both nails and hands from dehydrating, forgo plain antibacterial gels and instead choose moisturizing versions, like Purell With Lubriderm— and do the same with soaps.
• More advice: Keep SPF hand cream throughout your house. “Like the face, hands are exposed and need coverage,” says Grossman. She keeps a stick of Hawaiian Tropic Kids SPF 50 in the glove box. “Even with UV-protective auto glass, damaging rays penetrate, and they will age your hands,” she says.
CLEAN YOUR MAKEUP BRUSHESUnless you won the school science fair, you probably don’t realize what can happen when good brushes go bad: Makeup and skin oils build up, creating a breeding ground for bacteria that can cause irritation. “In an ideal world, you would clean your brushes once a week, but most of us don’t,” says Fusco. Instead, wash your tools monthly with a liquid hand soap or baby shampoo and lukewarm water (hot water can cause bristles to fall out), then rinse well, squeeze out the excess water, reshape, and allow the brushes to dry thoroughly by balancing them over the sink. Weekly, spritz them with antibacterial Colorescience Pro Brush Cleaner or Sephora Professionnel Daily Brush Cleaner Anti-Bacterial Formula, and dry with a tissue.
KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF YOUR FACEYes, it’s tempting to squeeze a pimple, but just the act of touching your face with your fingers brings pore-clogging oil and dirt to the skin. How not to pop? Get rid of magnifying mirrors, put “Don’t touch” Post-it notes around the house, and grab a squeeze toy to keep your hands busy, especially if certain times of day (morning drive?) trigger the urge. When you do give in, applying over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream right away can help calm inflammation and prevent long-lasting marks, says Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, a professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine.
STICK WITH THE PROGRAMWaiting for a new skin treatment to show results can be a test of patience. “A good anti-aging cream can take six weeks, so don’t give up,” says David Bank, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. That goes for skin lighteners and acne products, too. “But if nothing has changed by week six, the product will never work for you,” says Bank. Time to move on.Originally featured in Allure magazine by Mary Rose Almasi