Essential Winter Skin Care; 2 simple tricks to healthy winter skin

Cynthia Bailey, MD|December 15, 2009

ElephantRoughSkinAlmost every patient that I saw last week had dry skin; chapped hands, scaly arms and legs and some folks even had early signs of dry skin eczema (itchy red scaly patches). When the weather turns cold and you turn on your indoor heater, it’s time to start a good practice of hydrating skin care! There are 2 steps to hydrating skin care:

  1. Cleansing your skin without stripping all its natural oils
  2. Moisturizing immediately after cleansing with an effective product

These 2 steps are simple, the tricky part is knowing how to actually pick the right products and how to use them effectively. Dry Skin Care Step 1 The first step to treating dry skin is cleansing without drying.  We love clean and with a few cleansing ‘tweaks’ you can have really clean AND really moist skin. Dry Skin Cleansing 101:  The big point here is mild cleansers, sparingly applied and totally rinsed off with warm water! Harsh foamy soaps strip your skins protective natural oils. Hot water makes this worse in the same way it’s better for washing greasy dishes.  As your skin loses its oils it becomes even more sensitive to drying out from contact with harsh soaps, more vulnerable to chapping from the weather and more likely to be irritated by harsh chemicals that you can normally tolerate like house cleaners.  The end result is itchy, dry, chapped skin. Use only mild cleansers for your winter skin care such as;

  1. The many lovely glycerin soaps and  soaps made from natural oils such as olive oil.  These are available at specialty boutiques or natural food stores.  My personal favorites are Avalon Organic Botanicals Glycerin Hand Soap, Calming Zinc Bar Soap (a medicated olive oil based soap with retained natural glycerin that can be used on the face and body), and Whole Foods’ 365 Vegetable Glycerin Bar Soap (a deal at about $2 a bar).
  2. Soap-less cleansers that clean without the irritating foaming ingredient sodium laurel sulfate.  Toleraine Cleanser is an excellent example of a non-foaming ‘soap-less’ cleanser. Sodium laurel sulfate is the foaming agent in cleansers and has other names including sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laurel sulfate.  Adding oil to a harsh foaming cleanser doesn’t compensate for its irritating effects  so don’t be fooled by fancy claims.  If your skin feels dry and tight after bathing then your cleanser is too harsh for you!

In addition, all soaps and cleansers need to be rinsed completely off the skin using warm water.  Avoid really hot water.  Remember, hot water strips oils more that cooler temperatures. Also, only apply soap to areas of your skin that need to be cleaned. These include the areas with body odor glands and a lot of oil glands.  We all know where these are:  the armpits, groin, buttocks and feet have body odor glands, oil production is greatest on the face, ears, upper chest and back. Remember mild cleansers, applied where needed and rinsed well with warm water! Dry Skin Care Step 2 Exposure to harsh winter weather and dry air means using a skin moisturizer is a must! Dry Skin Moisturizing 101: Even if you’re perfect at follow my cleansing recommendations in Part 1, you’re going to need moisturizers.  The big news here is timing and product quality.  Moisturizers work by holding water inside the layers of your skin right after you bathe.  The water evaporates fast meaning that for effective hydration, you have to apply moisturizers within 3 minutes after toweling off following bathing/washing your skin! Simple… but key. Product quality is more complicated.  The most effective moisturizers add oil, bind water and strengthen the skin barrier.

  1. Oil ingredients include petrolatum and mineral oil.  You can also find products with natural and food based oils including shea butter, jojoba oil and sesame seed oil to name a few.
  2. Water binding ingredients include glycerin (as in Daily Moisturizing Face Creams and Dry Skin Hand Cream), lanolin or wool alcohol (Bag Balm and  Eucerin products), hyaluronic acid (Replenix CF Cream) and the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s) which are lactic acid (Amlactin Cream) and glycolic acid (Glycolic Acid Anti-Aging Face Cream 15% and  Glytone products)
  3. Barrier strengthening ingredients work by tightening the outermost cell layer of the skin called the stratum cornium.  They make the skin smooth and polished.  My favorite barrier enhancing ingredients are the alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s). My elbows and knees are a great example of the power of AHA's, they are velvety soft after years of using Glytone Body Lotion. For the face, I like Glycolic Acid Anti-Aging Face Cream 15% (normal skin) and Glytone Facial Cream #2 (dry skin).  You need to know that AHA’s can be irritating to chapped skin.  For chapped skin, moisturize for a month or two first with a gentle non-AHA moisturizer (such as Daily Moisturizing Face Creams, Nivea Cream or Dr. Hauschka’s Rose Body Moisturizer or Rose Day Cream) before you start using an AHA product.

I recommend that in the winter you use a heavy moisturizing product with a high oil content (except on areas of your skin that are acne prone).  Apply a thin layer of your moisturizer immediately after you’ve bathed/washed your skin and toweled dry. The best way to apply moisturizer is to put a small amount in one palm, briskly rub your palms together to warm and spread the moisturizer over the palm surface, pat the product over the general area to be covered, then rub it in well.  Apply only what you can rub into the skin.  There’s no need to feel greasy or sticky after moisturizing. My favorite winter hydrating skin care moisturizer regimines:

  1. For your hands: Wash with a glycerin soap and use Dry Skin Hand Cream after as many of your daily hand washings as possible.   If your hands chap anyway, give them a hydrating drink with a heavy lanolin containing ointment like Bag Balm at bedtime and cover them with cotton gloves overnight.
  2. For your body: Use my Antiaging Body Kit 2 or 3 times a week.  For the other 4 or 5 days of the week wash with a glycerin soap and moisturize with a pure oil like jojoba oil or a heavy cream like Nivea or some other wonderful rich and creamy product that you’ve found.
  3. For your face: Wash with Noble Zinc or Toleraine Cleanser then use the Replenix CF Cream twice a day.  In the morning follow the Replenix CF Cream with Glycolix Facial Cream (use the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Oily to Normal Skin if your acne prone and the Daily Moisturizing Face Cream for Dry to Normal Skin if you’re not acne prone) then Citrix sunscreen.  At night follow the Replenix with either your Glycolix Facial Cream, or your antiaging skin care treatment products (glycolic acid or Tretinoin).

If you found this post helpful, you may also want to read: Chapped Lips: The Remedy Depends on the Cause Dermatologist's 3 Simple Steps for Sandal Ready Feet by Spring Dermatologist's Simple Tips for Athlete's Foot Fungus Treatment Brilliant Skin Care For The New Decade Pandemic Of Dry Hands: Hand Sanitizers, The Swine Flu And Tips To Save Your Hands Dermatologist's Tips For Dry Flaky Skin on Your Face and Scalp-Tis the Season for Seborrheic Dermatitis Making Sense Of The Vitamin D Dilemma And Sun Exposure Photo attribution: <div xmlns:cc="" about=""><a rel="cc:attributionURL" href=""></a> / <a rel="license" href="">CC BY 2.0</a></div>

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