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Spring forward, fall back… The clocks have changed and I’m wending my way home through London streets in the dark. I’m struggling to remember to keep the bike lights charged. It’s a time that reminds us that the long nights and cold days of winter are coming. A recent study from Denmark has shown a link between clocks changing for winter and depressive episodes. But hey, I feel okay! One thing I do notice as a dermatologist though is the significant effects of winter on the skin.
It might be cold and wet outside, but winter is drying on the skin. This is because of something dermatologists call ‘trans-epidermal water loss’; in other words how much water your skin loses from its surface by evaporation. Why does this happen?
Firstly, some people just have slightly more dry-prone skin structure because of their genes. It’s a little like a waterproof jacket. Some of us are lucky to have Gore-Tex-like skin with a good barrier function, but some people have skin which is genetically slightly more ‘leaky’, perhaps because they are missing a key protein that holds the skin cells tightly together. If you have naturally more leaky skin, it will lose more water and you will be naturally more prone to dry skin.
Secondly, some people have more natural skin oils, called sebum. Your skin’s sebum glands make water-resistant oils which coat the surface and help keep the skin soft and hydrated, reducing the evaporation. As we get older our skin’s natural oil production reduces, making us more prone to dryness.
Thirdly, outside humidity makes a big difference to skin water loss. The less water there is in the air, the more evaporation there is from the surface of the skin. In winter we spend longer inside, when the central heating is on, the air is dry and the skin loses more water. A little like a drying river bed, as the skin loses water in the dry air, it cracks.
The one sure way of making dry-prone skin worse in the winter is to use soap. Soaps and shower gels, may be natural, may feel soft and smell attractive, but anything that lathers on the skin works as a detergent. And detergents, like Fairy Liquid on greasy pans are great at doing one thing. Taking oil away. This is exactly the wrong thing for dry-prone skin. So instead, put away your shower gels and wash with a moisturizing cream, like Cetraben or Aveeno, which will clean your skin and leave it soft. Make sure showers are not too hot and if possible spend no longer than a few minutes under the water. A hot powerful jet of water blasting on the skin for 20 minutes also washes a lot of the natural oils away. If your skin still has a tendency to dry then put plenty more moisturiser on after the shower and leave it on to settle in.
So to keep your skin looking more like a Trick-or-Treater and less like a Zombie’s it’s best to use a moisturiser when you wash and show your shower gel the door marked ‘exit’.
I’ve written a detailed eBook of detailed Winter Skin Care Tips which you can download below.
The London Dermatologist