As the cold weather sets in, banish dry, itchy skin with these simple tips.
It’s nearly that time of year when the temperature drops and cold winds, central heating and low humidity can dry skin out, leaving it vulnerable to itchiness and flaking. It can also exacerbate conditions such as eczema and dermatitis.
Dry skin typically experiences a breakdown of the skin barrier functions due to inflammation, as well as a build-up of dead skin cells. The number one solution is to keep skin well hydrated.
Eat plenty of essential fatty acids (EFAs), particularly omega-3 (found in avocado and oily fish) and omega-6 (found in nuts, wholegrains and flaxseed oil), which keep skin hydrated and clarified. A deficiency in both of these may result in dry, inflamed skin, whiteheads and blackheads.
“EFAs are important building blocks for the wall of every cell in our body,'” says nutritionist and naturopath Tabitha McIntosh, of Awaken Your Health. “There is growing evidence that they assist in keeping skin moisturised, smooth and healthy. They also have anti-inflammatory effects and can relieve eczema symptoms. Good sources include oily fish, raw seeds and nuts and avocados, plus supplements of pure fish oil, flaxseed oil and evening primrose oil.
“Your skin is also reliant on good hydration. Avoid dehydration by drinking eight to 10 glasses of water daily and minimising your intake of caffeinated drinks and alcohol.”
“Use a gentle cleanser that won’t strip the skin, followed by a quality moisturiser that will dose skin with lipids and reinforce its protective barrier,” says Liza Curwen-Begg from Eden Day Spa. Choose fragrance-free formulas to help counteract potential irritation.
Exfoliate weekly to counteract the build-up of dead skin cells.
“When skin is cold it doesn’t function as well,” Curwen-Begg says, “so the natural shedding slows down. Products become less effective, as the barrier of dead cells prevents absorption.”
Follow with a hydrating mask that will infuse the epidermis with moisture and help to soothe any stinging or itchiness.
Extend your skincare
Choose your body cleanser carefully, exfoliate weekly and moisturise your whole body after every shower.
Swap your daily body lotion for oil, which seems to have better affinity with the skin, as it is close in structure to our naturally occurring sebum.
If your skin doesn’t improve, visit a dermatologist to check that you don’t have eczema or dermatitis.”Eczema and dermatitis are interchangeable terms for itchy, scaly and inflamed skin,” says Dr Greg Goodman, an associate professor at the Dermatology Institute of Victoria.
“There are many forms, most of which worsen in winter due to an upset barrier function. Anything that changes the lipid layer aggravates the problem.”
Then there is rosacea, which is usually a genetic condition. It can be triggered by both internal (emotional) and external (environmental) stress. It causes the cheeks, the skin across the nose and sometimes the neck and décolletage to redden and can even lead to permanent broken capillaries and acne rosacea, where pustule-like blemishes occur.
Establish your rosacea triggers and try to avoid them. They could be sleep deprivation, alcohol (in particular red wine), spicy foods or hot liquids. Don’t steam your skin and never smoke. Keep out of the sun and use a good sunblock every day. Anti-redness creams will help too. Look for skincare that is calming, strengthening and healing, and that targets weakened blood vessels.
“Avoid any product that contains active ingredients such as acids or vitamin A,” Goodman says. “Azelaic acid, green tea and other antioxidants are ideal. Always use non-irritating cleansers and moisturisers and a water-based or light liquid sunscreen applied daily is essential.”
Goodman says you should make sure that any product you apply to your skin can be easily removed. “You don’t want to apply anything that is too thick, that requires a lot of rubbing when cleansing,” he says.
Use a humidifier to replace the moisture lost from the air. If you’re in a warmer area, try placing a bowl of water in the corner of each room.