Why does winter cause so many people to develop dry skin? Even thinking about it can make skin itch. Frigid air, drying indoor heat, and relentless winds takes precious moisture out of skin and gives nothing in return. Other times of the year, when there is more humidity in the air, skin doesn't have to work so hard to retain its healthy, radiant appearance. But in winter everything changes; substances in skin that would normally keep water content normalized are depleted and the skin's lipid (oil/emollient) capacity isn't enough to provide protection.
Healthy skin can be pictured as a multi-layer cake covered by a single sheet of clear plastic food wrap to keep it fresh. The plastic food wrap prevents the layers underneath from drying out through evaporation. Skin's outermost layer acts a lot like plastic wrap for the cake (and is actually about the same thickness). Our outer layer of plastic wrap (called the stratum corneum) is weakened, when the environment is less than friendly and zaps the water out of skin. The result is dry, uncomfortable, itchy, and sometimes even cracked, sore skin. (Source: University of Iowa, Virtual Hospital, www.vh.org/adult/patient/dermatology/winterskin/.)
Making matters worse, there is a lot of confusion about how to care for dry skin. For example, using soaps or drying cleansers, taking long baths or hot showers, or overscrubbing skin with loofahs or overly abrasive scrubs is just asking for more skin woes. Having a game plan can help avoid winter dry skin from now on.
Every day and night your skin requires certain basics to defend against any environmental conditions. When skin is healthy and functioning normally, the surface feels and looks smoother (because it is) and is therefore better able to hold on to water and keep skin cells intact, preventing dehydration. So the following recommendations are for year-round care and then a few extras when the humidity drops to zero, and your skin needs a little more help to behave.
You still need sunscreen: Daylight, even dim, obscure daylight causes skin damage which means it slowly becomes less and less able to hold moisture or feel smooth. Sun-damaged skin has minimal ability to function in a normal, healthy manner.
State-of-the-art moisturizers: If you do use a moisturizer it should be filled to the brim with antioxidants, water-binding agents, and anti-inflammatory ingredients. Anything less leaves your skin incapable of warding off the environmental causes of dry skin. Dove Essentials, Clinique, and Neutrogena have some of the best, most reasonably priced options.
Apply and reapply moisturizer: You can't use too much, so when your skin starts feeling dry, put on more. Be diligent about reapplying moisturizer every time you wash your hands. Don't forget to keep a moisturizer in your purse, at your desk, and in every bathroom in your home.
Avoid soap, use only gentle cleansers: This can not be stressed enough. Never use a cleanser that is harsher on your skin than the weather outside, and that includes from the neck down. Do not scrub skin, you can't scour away dry skin.
Avoid soaking in the bathtub, Jacuzzi, or taking long showers: As wonderful as a leisurely bath or shower feels, too much water is bad for skin. Inundating skin with water breaks down the substances that keep skin cells intact. Keep showers or baths short.
Dry skin gently after taking a quick bath or shower (remember the shorter the better): Do not rub or be overly agressive with your towel. This will only break down skin and result in more dryness.
After bathing or showing, apply a moisturizer as soon as you can: Skin is more vulnerable after it is clean (all the water and even gentle cleansers can remove essential substances that keep skin soft and smooth), the sooner you get a moisturizer on will help keep any moisture on the surface of skin from escaping into the environment.
Get a humidifier: Low humidity is the cause of most weather-related dry skin, whether it is winter or a desert environment. Humdifiers are relatively inexpensive, last a long time, and work for the whole family. If you have a large home, you may need two or three humidifiers to gain benefit.
Avoid putting oils in your bath water: It does not make much sense to pour bath oils into bath water because most of the oil goes down the drain. It also makes the bathtub slippery and dangerous. Bath oils also encourage you to soak for longer periods of time in the tub and that isn't good for skin. Oils are best applied when you get out of the bath or shower.
Exfoliate: I know this sounds strange, after all you want to keep your skin cells from flaking, but a well-formulated AHA or BHA exfoliant can help cell turnover, which is not (or at least should not be) the same as skin cells becoming flaky. Helping skin do what it should do year-round (turn over the top layer and replace it with newer, smoother cells that can better protect skin) is a great way to prevent dryness. Cell turnover is a primary function of healthy skin, but due to sun damage (almost everyone has some amount of sun damage) skin needs help doing this efficiently. An exfoliant can assist beautifully.
Use olive oil: At night, after you've applied your moisturizer, massage a few drops of extra virgin olive oil over stubborn dry areas. Olive oil is not only incredibly emollient (and it will absorb if you don't use too much) it is rich in antioxidants and that is great for skin.
Don't forget your lips: Lips are the least capable of staying smooth and soft when the air becomes dry. They lack the lipids and cell structure the rest of the face has and, as a result, are far more vulnerable to the effects of dry air. During the day and night be sure to put an emollient lip gloss or lip balm on your lips. Be sure it doesn't contain any irritating ingredients—peppermint and menthol can cause irritation and that won't help dry lips.
Never use products that contain drying or irritating ingredients: But you already knew that one, right?
Source: Paula Begoun