It’s chilly, the heater’s on and your skin’s dry, itchy, cracked or inflamed with eczema. To banish the winter skin blues, read on

1.    Where we live…

‘In winter, in areas such as the Highveld, there’s so little water in the air that moisture’s practically sucked out of our skin,’ explains Dr Bradley Wagemaker, dermatologist and medical analytics director of Lamelle Research Laboratories. ‘Whereas, those living in humid areas near the coast have different skin needs. And then there’s each person’s inherent skin tendency – where some of us are generally more prone to dryness – because we lack a sufficient waterproof barrier in our skin to stop moisture escaping.’ In other words, for those of us who are inclined to dry skin and live in a dry area, the moisture will practically fly out of our skin in winter, and for this we need products that contain lipids (oils) to trap water in the skin.

Description: Most creams contain water and oil

Most creams contain water and oil

‘Most creams contain water and oil, and while in summer we may have only needed a lotion or a gel (with more water than oil-based ingredients), we should now look for creams with the opposite – a higher oil to water ratio,’ Dr Wagemaker explains.

2.    Know your oils

Old-fashioned cold creams deliver lipids to the skin to help improve its own barrier. They tend to contain mineral oil or petroleum (as found in Vaseline) and are safe and effective. These days, carrier oils such as calendula, almond, chamomile and grape seed are commonly seen on the labels. All of these form a layer over the top of the skin that helps to trap water – and don’t cause acne, as is often commonly misperceived.

Description: Carrier oils such as calendula, almond, chamomile and grape seed are commonly seen on the labels.

Carrier oils such as calendula, almond, chamomile and grape seed are commonly seen on the labels.

Humectants attract water from the lower to the higher layers of the skin, and emollients seal in moisture as a water proofing barrier would. Go for products that include these ingredients to boost moisture.

3.    Concentration and reputation

Remember, it’s how much of the ingredient that’s included in a cream that ultimately makes it effective or not. ‘Something like 0.1 percent won’t do anything to help your skin. Use between 5 and 8 percent (or higher) as a guide to an effective concentration,’ says Dr Wagemaker, who also suggests you go by a product’s reputation rather than sweat too much trying to understand labels.

For example, most trusted baby oils, shampoos and creams contain mineral oil – a non-reactive, harmless synthetic ingredient that works effectively.

4.    Hand cream 101

Hand creams often contain water-based ingredients, which doesn’t always mean they help the skin attract and trap moisture. And how skin feels after rubbing it in is also not necessarily an indication of effectiveness. This is because many hand creams contain silicones that create the illusion of absorption by leaving a powdery after-feeling, whereas others tend to leave the hands feeling greasy. The key is to choose one with a high concentration of Shea butter and urea (a good exfoliant and moisturiser).

Description: Use fragrance-free products if you have sensitive skin

Use fragrance-free products if you have sensitive skin

‘It’s also about how you apply it,’ says Dr Wagemaker. Instead of applying hand cream on the palms where the skin is thick and it’s difficult for the product to penetrate, squirt it onto the back of your hands (where skin is thinner) and gently rub them together. It’ll penetrate more easily and they won’t feel greasy. Although, if you have eczema, cream will be absorbed on the palms because your skin’s oil barrier has been disturbed.

Use fragrance-free products if you have sensitive skin, because natural fragrances can also cause allergies. And remember to apply sun protection on top of your hand cream, even in winter. Chemical sunscreens can cause allergies, so if you have sensitive skin, avoid moisturiser/SPF combo creams that contain penetration-enhancing ingredients and sun protection.

5.    Foot fixes

Cold conditions can cause or worsen foot skin problems, so it’s important to give your feet some extra love by soaking, exfoliating and treating them to moisture masques in winter. Wearing a pair of leather boots will help prevent these problems, whereas those made from synthetic material can trap heat and moisture and cause odours or fungal infections.

6.    Lip balm laws

Remember to avoid licking or rubbing your lips in winter, even on a serviette, as it removes your skin’s natural oils. Only apply a little amount of lip balm when absolutely necessary, otherwise your lips become dependent on it, getting dry the moment you stop using it. It’s a fairly well-kept secret that nipple and nappy creams such as Bepanthen are fantastic for lips.

Description: Remember to avoid licking or rubbing your lips in winter

Remember to avoid licking or rubbing your lips in winter

7.    Eczema

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin allergy. If it’s chronic, you’ll suffer from problematic dry skin characterized mostly by redness and inflammation. To heal this you need your skin barrier to be restored vie treatment with lipids – your doctor will advise you about this and on whether you need to treat any infection that may have arisen. In general, it’s best to:

o   Avoid long, hot baths that sap the skin’s moisture.

o   Use only cream, not foaming cleansers (e.g. aqueous cream).

o   Self-treat with lipid-rich creams if you’ve only had it for a week.

o   Consult a doctor if it hasn’t cleared up in two weeks.

Did you know?

You can suffer from dry skin and acne simultaneously. Acne is caused by an over-production of sebum, but you could have a deficient skin barrier in conjunction with acne. A dermatologist may then prescribe a cream with lipids to help restore it.

Why do Italian women have great skin?

Simple – they use olive oil for everything! For a homemade remedy, rub sugar and olive oil into your hands to make them beautifully soft.


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