Whether you love the cold or hate it (and, let’s face it, you could be forgiven for either), there’s no denying that many of us will need to change our routines during the winter months. You swap your t-shirts for sweaters and your leather jacket for a wool coat – but have you thought about which bits of your grooming routine will need to change?
The truth is that winter can be harsh on your skin for more reasons than you might expect. It’s not just the cold outside that dries out your skin, but the heat indoors too. You need to protect yourself from a heater turned on full blast as much as you do an icy wind. Some of the fabrics you might rely on to help wrap up warm can irritate your skin, especially if you’re prone to eczema or psoriasis – which commonly flare up at this time of year in any case.
So far, so gloomy. The good news is that with a little forethought and self-awareness, you can easily put together the tools you need to keep you looking and feeling your best over the winter months. From keeping an eye on your alcohol intake to stocking up on all-purpose emollients like petroleum jelly, here are some tips to keep your skin healthy:
Work from the inside out
The best way to keep your skin from drying out is to pay some attention to what you’re putting into your body. That doesn’t mean you need to miss out on all the indulgence that the winter season has to offer (eggnog, anyone?) – just apply some self-awareness to the situation. Some things to watch out for:
- Not a drop to drink: When was the last time you had a glass of water? Dehydration is more common than you’d think during the winter season, because the symptoms aren’t as obvious. You’re unlikely to notice sweating like you would during the summer months, and you probably won’t feel quite as thirsty, but you still need as much water as when it’s sweltering outside. Drink plenty of water, especially after enjoying a festive tipple – alcohol is a diuretic, so it’s likely to contribute to dehydration.
- Eat your greens: Wintertime often means heavy meals, often rich in meat and dairy, and of course there’s nothing wrong with enjoying comfort food. But it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your immune system running at full power – and your skin nourished. Leafy green vegetables such as broccoli are rich in things like calcium and vitamin C, and oily fish like mackerel are great sources of essential fatty acids.
- Don’t skip the gym: Slacking off a little is fine if you’re on vacation, but try to make sure you’re doing a few hours of exercise a week. Outdoor exercising when it’s cold and wet out can up the risk of skin chafing and irritation, especially if you’re running or playing contact sports, so add moisturizer to your pre-workout routine if you’re worried. There are anti-friction products you can buy if you’re into specialized moisturizers, but something simple and fragrance-free like plain old petroleum jelly will work fine. (You might have heard that petroleum jelly is bad for you, but don’t believe the hype – it’s perfectly safe to use!)
- Take some time to chill out: A lot of people find this time of year stressful for a whole bunch of reasons. The end of the year means tying up loose ends at work, which means extra pressure and probably overtime. Then there’s all the mandatory socializing that comes along with the holiday season – not to mention gift-giving and, of course, visits with your family. We all know what being stressed out can do to your well-being, so try and find a few minutes each day to take a breath and recharge – it’ll make everything else that much more enjoyable.
Lock it down
The key to preventing winter skin dryness is to make sure you’re protecting the moisture already in your skin. Here are some ways to do that:
- Wet your face a little before you moisturize: Obviously soaking-wet skin isn’t going to absorb cream or lotion particularly well, but if your face is a little damp when you apply moisturizer, it’ll lock in the water already on your skin.
- Use occlusive moisturizers: There are a few different types of moisturizers. Humectants (glycerin is the classic one) draw water towards themselves, so using them attracts moisture to your skin, whereas emollients such as stearic acid help smooth out the skin’s surface by filling in the gaps between skin cells. Both of these have their uses in keeping your skin healthy, but for wintertime you should be looking for something that contains occlusive agents, which lock moisture into your skin. Petroleum jelly is a commonly-found occlusive that you might consider applying to any dry, flaky areas of skin – there’s a myth that petroleum jelly is bad for you, but it’s actually a good option if you want to keep your skin from drying out in cold weather. Other occlusive agents include things like castor oil and jojoba oil.
- Wear layers: This might not sound like skincare tip so much as just good sense, but what you might not realize is that a lot of the fabrics we rely on for warmth during the colder months – wool, for example – can irritate the skin, which is why you might feel itchy when you pull on your warmest sweater. That’s why it’s a good idea to look for gloves made of breathable fibers like cotton or synthetic materials, and to wear layers of soft, breathable fabrics under your heavy knits.
Pay attention to your hair
It seems obvious when you point it out, but lots of people don’t realize that the same factors that dehydrate your body and dry out your skin apply to your hair, too. That means your hair is as prone to drying out as your skin at this time of year, so check out these tips for keeping it healthy:
- Skip the blow-dry: This isn’t going to be possible for everyone – going outside with wet hair in the cold may not actually make you sick, but it sure is unpleasant, and nobody wants to show up at the office looking like they’ve just been through a rainstorm. Still, blow-drying is one of the most effective ways to dehydrate your hair, so if you have an hour or so to spare before you leave the house, consider sticking to towel-drying and a quick comb.
- Use hair and beard oil: If you can’t ditch the blow-dryer, a decent hair oil could help keep your hair from drying out; just a splash before applying any other products will be fine. You could do worse than add a beard oil to your shaving routine, as well. It’ll help keep your beard soft and nourished, and there are some nice oils on the market these days – check out the archives if you want suggestions.
Focus on areas prone to dryness
We might be advocating a holistic approach to grooming here, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t specific areas you should pay attention to during the winter months. Some areas to keep an eye on include:
- Face: Unless you’re wearing a balaclava every time you leave the house, chances are your face is pretty much exposed to the elements, no matter how warm the rest of you is wrapped up. Take a good long look at your face care routine, and make sure you’re using a gentle cleanser and a nourishing, protective moisturizer – one with SPF is best, especially if you’re doing any kind of winter sports, as sun damage is still a risk when it’s cold outside. Check out this article for some ideas.
- Lips: Yeah, they’re on your face, but your lips need slightly different care. Make sure you’re using something on your lips that helps to lock in moisture and prevent them from becoming chapped in the harsh winter winds. Products like petroleum jelly really come into their own here as they’re occlusive, which basically means they keep the skin from losing water. You might have heard questions like “is petroleum jelly bad for you?” floating around on this basis, but the truth is that an occlusive moisturizer doesn’t create a watertight seal – it’s more like a breathable layer.
- Hands: Your hands are the second-most exposed part of your body, even if you wear gloves, and they’re especially at risk during the winter months, when you’re more likely to be washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer. Carry a good-quality hand cream with you (fragrance-free is best, as fragrances can dry out your skin) and use it whenever your hands feel dry. Finally, if you must use hand sanitizer, try to find one that’s alcohol-free – alcohol is just as dehydrating topically as it is when you take it internally!
So there you have it – some advice on updating your grooming routine over the colder months to keep your skin healthy. Stay warm this winter, and remember that the best thing you can do is take care of yourself – whatever that means to you.
About The Author:
John is a writer and shaving enthusiast. When he’s not trying to perfectly replicate the latest popular shaving hack, he’s writing about skin health or traveling.