For many of us, winter brings dry, scaly skin. Over-the-counter remedies and potions can be expensive and ineffective (and often contain toxic - or at least questionable - ingredients). Here are a few commonsensical remedies that might help sooth your skin - and your nerves.
1. Fortifying Snacks
Dan Shapley of The Daily Green suggests seeking out foods rich in fatty acids, such as nuts and oily fish.
Fortify your skin by eating one ounce of walnuts daily. Within two weeks, the natural omega-3 oils will not only keep your energy levels up, but improve the elasticity and natural moisture in your skin.
Luckily, fresh tree nuts are in season - hunt them down at your local farmers' market or natural foods store - and be sure to keep them in the fridge or freezer to preserve freshness throughout the winter.
2. Bundle Up
Natasha Singer wrote in The New York Times that appropriate outerwear is essential in protecting skin against the elements. Seek out gear from eco-conscious companies like Patagonia, which co-founded The Conservation Alliance, a foundation that encourages companies in the outdoor industry to support environmental organizations in their efforts to protect threatened wildlands.
In Grise Fiord, Northwest Territories, where the sun sets in October and doesn't rise again until February, and the winter temperature rarely rises above 16 below, the most reliable skin protection system is outerwear: a wool scarf, a thick hat, warm mittens and a down parka.
"When I go outside, I put on a parka that has a hood lined with fur," [fleece, made from recycled plastic, would be more ideal] said Ray Richer, the general manager of the Grise Fiord Inuit Co-op. "You pull that around your face, and that saves your skin."
3. Humidify Your Home
Singer explains, "It is not the cold itself, but the dryness it brings to the air, that parches the skin, breaking down its natural protective layer of dead cells." This layer, comprised of both proteins and fats, forms an oily barrier that typically retains moisture in the skin. When it dries out, skin is more vulnerable to the elements and prone to irritation, flaking and redness.
Humidifying indoor air is one way to help your skin maintain its moisture balance. Your bedroom is probably the best place to set up a humidifier, which will replenish your skin while you sleep. Singer interviewed Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, who explained,
'Cold winter air that blows in from the Arctic holds less water than very humid tropical summer air, then we pipe that dry air inside our apartments and heat it up, making the already dry air even drier.' The heat causes the air molecules to expand, so you end up with even less moisture in a room than before.
Although a humidifier might not seem like the greenest way to remedy dry skin, as it must be plugged in, it certainly beats a trip to Costa Rica, carbon-footprint wise. And perhaps it will serve as further motivation to install solar panels or a wind turbine on your roof as a means of opting out of fossil fuel consumption and tapping into renewable energy sources.
Seemingly paradoxically, long hot baths can be extremely drying, as they strip the skin of its oily barrier. Apparently the Inuits never took baths for fear of washing away the oils that protected their faces from frostbite. Luckily, taking cool, infrequent baths is also a great way to conserve energy.
4. Dry Scalp?
While closely related, dandruff is not the same thing as dry skin, rather it is very often related to a fungal infection of the scalp which causes skin cells to become over-active (which is why conventional anti-dandruff shampoos, such as Head and Shoulders, contain anti-fungal agents.) Rather than succumbing to harsh, toxic shampoos, Dr. John Briffa suggests in the Guardian that you examine your diet, as the root of the problem might lie in the digestive tract:
I recommend you avoid foods which encourage yeast growth such as sugar, alcohol, refined carbohydrates (like white rice and pasta), along with bread, dried fruit, stock cubes, alcohol, vinegar, soy sauce, peanuts and mushrooms. For at least a couple of months base your diet around meat, fish, fresh vegetables, beans, lentils and some whole grains such as brown rice and oats. I also recommend a supplement containing healthy-gut bacteria (known as 'probiotics') for 2-3 months. This will help to 'crowd out' yeast organisms.
But Emma Edmonds, also of The Guardian, disagrees. She suggests simply rinsing your head with vinegar:
Dandruff is actually caused by an oily scalp (not the over-dry scalp many assume), which can encourage the yeast Malassezia to grow. The trick is to treat it regularly. Vinegar has antiseptic qualities though its pungency means it's probably not a great long-term strategy...
5. Apply Sunscreen
Sunscreen is as essential in cold weather as in hot. Although the sun is somewhat weaker in the winter months in the Northern hemisphere, our dry skin becomes increasingly susceptible to its wrath. Sunlight is a powerful exfoliant, sure to parch your skin. Particularly so if you partake in wintry alpine activities, as the higher your altitude the more vulnerable your skin. Luckily, most sunscreens are also great moisturizers, so not only are you warding off future dry spells but also remedying dry skin already incurred. Dr. John Whyte of Planet Green suggests choosing your sunscreen carefully, however, as
the chemicals used to make sunscreen may not always be great for our bodies or for delicate marine ecosystems. While sunscreen is an absolute must, there are things you can do to choose one that is better for you and the environment.
And don't forget SPF lip balm.
6. And Finally, Moisturize
The Daily Green's Alexandra Zissu is a longtime sufferer of seasonal dry skin and eczema. She suggests some eco-friendly topical remedies that moisturize without irritating:
We also use:
-Weleda's diaper care cream, their calendula cream, and their calendula ointment (it has a higher concentration of itch-soothing calendula)
-Suki's velvet moisturizing cream
-Dr. Hauschka's toned day cream