It’s getting cold, and the livin’ ain’t easy — for our hair, skin, and nails, that is. Whipping winds, dry air, and chilly temps can really do a number on soft skin and hair.
Cold air outside and central heat indoors can strip moisture from strands and pores, making hair rough and skin itchy and dry.
But endure cracked hands no more: Items hiding in the back of your kitchen cupboard could just be the answer.
Hair and skin aren’t just for looking pretty — they’re required for specific bodily functions, too.
Skin is a living organ (one of the largest in the body!) that’s responsible for protecting the body against germs and helping the immune, nervous, and endocrine systems. It’s a remarkable thing.
It’s important to keep these tissues in good condition and working well all year long so they can do their jobs and keep us healthy and safe.
Cracked, flaky, irritated, or inflamed skin is common during winter, though it’s not at all fun. If red, scaly, itchy skin lingers or is causing serious discomfort, be sure to visit a doctor; it might be a more serious dermatological condition, such as dermatitis and eczema.
Barring more serious issues, there are a few strategies that can give your body a break when the mercury plunges.
Sunscreen for life
You may think of sunscreen as just a summertime necessity, but you need it all year-round. Reflections from the snow can actually make winter sun even more damaging and drying.
1. Keep it cool
A 20-minute long, boiling-hot shower might feel great on a cold day, but stick to warm or lukewarm water for 5 minutes or less. Long exposure to hot water can strip moisture from hair and skin.
2. Dress for success
When heading into the great outdoors, dress for the weather with a hat, scarf, and gloves to avoid windburn and prolonged exposure to cold air.
A good mix of layers is key. Use a synthetic fabric as your base layer with a second layer of fleece or wool on top.
3. Stick to healthy fats
At the grocery store, a cart full of healthy monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, nuts, olive oil, flax, sardines, and avocados can help your skin barrier.
There’s even evidence that suggests omega-3s may aid in preventing skin cancer.
4. Stay hydrated
It’s a good idea to stay hydrated, especially in winter, but there’s actually some proof that water may help keep your skin hydrated, too.
A 2018 review of studies suggested that good water intake can help increase hydration in the skin, though the reasons why are currently unknown. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to keep that water bottle nearby.
5. Grab some vitamin C
While at the market, stock up on vitamin C-rich produce, such as citrus fruit and dark, leafy greens. Vitamin C can help boost the body’s production of collagen, a protein that maintains skin and other connective tissues.
1. Moisturizing dry skin on your body
And to not only help retain moisture, but to help rebuild and repair, look for ingredients such as lipids, cholesterols, and ceramides.
Mix a few drops of olive or grapeseed oil in bathwater and hop in, or apply a thin layer of oil to the body after showering (and maybe wear some old PJs to bed).
While in the shower, use a moisturizing soap or body wash to prevent stripping those precious oils from your skin.
Immediately after, apply plenty of that thick cream and crank up the humidifier before hitting the hay.
Slathering on lotion within a few minutes of stepping out of the bath or shower while still damp is most effective for trapping in moisture.
2. Red nose
The holidays are over, so there’s no reason to keep dressing up like Rudolph. When outdoors in cold weather, the blood vessels cut off circulation to the nose. After coming indoors the blood vessels dilate quickly, causing a rush of blood (and a bright red color).
To bring the nose back to a normal hue, apply a warm — but not hot — compress to the skin for several minutes after coming indoors.
Sometimes a winter cold and the tissues that come with it can make the nose raw and chapped, too. When the sniffles hit, use extra-soft tissues and blot the nose; don’t rub it.
Apply a thin layer of moisturizing ointment or lotion to the sensitive area throughout the day, and before falling asleep at night.
3. Rough hair
Hair needs a little extra TLC during wintertime. Hat head can wreak havoc.
Shampooing strips moisture from the scalp and hair, so wash strands every other day or even less frequently. Everyone’s hair is different — if washing once or twice a week is normal for you, consider adding some time between shampoos to take dry winter conditions into account.
And don’t skip the conditioner. Skipping the ‘poo and opting for a quick rinse and conditioning treatment works just fine to keep hair clean and moisturized.
To prevent breakage or other damage, avoid blow-drying and brushing hair when wet because those locks are most delicate when waterlogged. If strands are really parched, comb hair with a few drops of olive oil and a wide-tooth comb after showering.
4. Chapped lips
Keeping a tube of lip balm in an easily accessible pocket is a good first step, but winter winds can take chapped lips to a whole new level.
If lips are flaky, take a clean toothbrush or a sugar scrub and very gently exfoliate to remove excess skin. Slather on a rich lip balm to follow up and keep reapplying throughout the day.
You also may be tempted to use petroleum jelly (or Vaseline) on your lips (or even really dry spots on your face), and you’d be right.
5. Rough and cracked feet
Nothing screams “dead of winter” like gnarly, callused feet with cracked heels. Save some cash and skip the pedicure by exfoliating and moisturizing at home.
Scrub calluses with a pumice stone in the shower once per week to slough off rough, dead skin.
Moisturize feet, especially the heels, every day with thick cream — lotions containing lactic acid and urea are especially effective — and wear cotton socks to bed. It may look nerdy, but sporting socks while snoozing can help creams absorb.
Warmer feet means sweatier feet (ick), and moisturizers are most effective when applied to warm, damp skin.
On the down side, wearing super toasty wool footwear can raise the overall body temperature, sometimes making it difficult to stay asleep all night long. Cotton is best (and nice and breathable).
6. Dry hands
It’s bad enough to have freezing digits, but cracked and painful skin on the hands is the icing on the cake.
To prevent hands from drying out, apply moisturizer after hand washing and several times throughout the day. Keep a bottle of lotion by each sink you use.
If hands are very dry, use cream instead of lotion because the former has a higher oil-to-water ratio and may contain some of those extra-hydrating ingredients we mentioned.
Wearing rubber gloves while washing dishes and cleaning can prevent hands from getting dried out due to excess contact with hot water, too.
To really rehab the skin on your mitts, use very thick hand cream right before bed and then slip on white cotton gloves — the enclosed space will help the moisturizer absorb into the skin.
7. Brittle nails
Dry air saps the moisture right out of nails and leaves them delicate and susceptible to breaks and tears. To treat them, apply cuticle oil or lotion containing those good, hydrating ingredients to your nails before bed and sleep with gloves on to help aid absorption.
Don’t be afraid to reapply throughout the day, too, especially after washing your hands.
8. Itchy, dry scalp
Into skin care on your face? Your scalp is skin, too, and needs just as much love.
Step one in preventing a dry scalp or the dreaded dandruff is to take cooler, quicker showers to reduce the scalp’s exposure to drying hot water. And, think about switching to a dandruff or dry scalp-specific shampoo.
Once a week, before hopping in the shower, massage the scalp with olive or coconut oil. These oils can replenish natural scalp oils.
Sometimes the issue can be caused by product build-up — not winter weather. If you think this may be the case, gently wash the scalp with a clarifying shampoo to clear out the gunk.
9. Irritated, dry eyes
Wind and dry air are not a good combination for sensitive peepers. Sporting sunnies on a sub-zero day might look weird, but the lenses can protect eyes from glare and wind.
Keep a bottle of nonmedicated saline tears or eye drops on hand and use it to refresh eye moisture when needed. Prevent irritation by keeping those well-moisturized hands away from the eye area.
10. Staticky hair
The only thing worse than winter beanie hair is flyaways that won’t stay in a hat to begin with. A dried-out scalp produces fewer oils, which can make hair full of static.
Follow the parched hair tips above and don’t skimp on the conditioner.
If static is a major problem, consider switching up your grooming routine. Brushes with natural bristles help redistribute oils from the scalp to the rest of the hair and also conduct less static than plastic brushes and combs.
During the winter, stick to cotton hats (which conduct much less static electricity than acrylic and wool).
11. Scaly elbows
The skin over high-pressure joints like elbows, knees, and heels is thicker to cushion the essential bones underneath. It’s great to have some extra padding, but ashy, scaly elbows are uncomfortable.
The key to keeping elbows (and other rough spots) soft is to exfoliate once or twice per week and moisturize every day.
Combine a scoop of sugar, a few glugs of olive or coconut oil, and a drizzle of lemon juice to make a quick scrub. After exfoliating, rinse the skin and moisturize with a thick cream.
If the dryness situation is really dire, apply a rich moisturizer and a thin layer of petroleum jelly on top right before bed.
Thick, red skin with flaky white patches that doesn’t go away may be psoriasis. If none of the above treatments work, see a dermatologist for more specialized care.
Kudos to those who enjoy the great outdoors even when it’s frigid. Protect sensitive skin by layering on thick face cream with a high SPF — the only thing worse than windburn is winter sunburn.
If red windburn patches don’t go away, apply a thin layer of over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream on irritated spots as needed. This medicated cream contains steroids that reduce inflammation and stop itching in its tracks.
13. Cold digits
If fingers and toes are still cold despite wooly socks and gloves, it’s time for a different strategy. To encourage blood flow all the way to the hands and feet, keep the core toasty warm with plenty of layers.
Avoid tight garments or jewelry at your joints (hands, ankles, and wrists) that could constrict blood flow.
14. Dry face
It’s unfortunate (but unavoidable) that the body’s most sensitive skin is always exposed to the elements. Definitely take some time this winter to give your mug a little extra lovin’.
First things first: Avoid any face products with SD alcohol or denatured alcohol, which can be drying. Fatty alcohols like cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohol are fine on the ingredient list.
Switch to a gentle face wash. We’re all told to wash our faces twice a day, but that can be too drying. Feel free to swap one of those out for just a quick face rinse with lukewarm water instead.
Follow up with an oil-based face cream with hydrating ingredients like glycerine, ceramides, and shea butter.
When using skin care without active ingredients like vitamin C, retinol, or chemical exfoliants, apply the product to slightly damp skin to increase absorption. Your moisturizer will love a damp base to lock in some extra hydration.