Dry skin? During the harsh winter weather, you need more than an extra layer of moisturiser. A holistic approach to looking after your skin also involves lifestyle changes and dietary inclusions as well as additional supplementation.
We usually don’t think of the skin being an organ, but it is. Your skin is the biggest eliminatory organ you have. It regulates your body temperature, removes toxins and pathogens, and acts as a barrier so as to maintain proper hydration. Dry skin is a result of the barrier function losing its integrity.
There are several causes of dry skin. Harsh winds, freezing temperatures, dry climates and a lack of humidity suck moisture out of the skin, leaving it dry, cracked, scaly and itchy. While it’s convenient to crank up the central heating in winter, it makes the internal environment even drier than outside. We generally don’t associate dry skin with winter sun exposure. However when we’re going for a walk or skiing, we’re still susceptible to sun damage, even in winter. As tempting as it may be, showering or bathing for long periods under hot water breaks down protective barriers in the skin, leaving it dehydrated.
Harsh soaps and detergents with high pH levels can also damage the skin barrier function and strip water from the skin, which is slightly acidic at a pH level of 4.5 to 5.75. Deodorants and anti-bacterial soaps are usually the most damaging, as are many shampoos, which dry out the scalp.
While ambient and lifestyle factors have been strongly associated with dry skin, many endogenous factors have also been found to cause dry skin. Low kidney function and kidney failure, an underactive thyroid, dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria within the gut), food allergies, liver congestion, and malnutrition, especially omega 3 fatty acids and zinc, can also contribute to loss of skin moisture.
Dry skin increases with ageing. As we age, the activity in the oil and sweat glands is reduced. In addition, winter dryness strikes where our oil glands are weakest. Cheeks, arms and legs have almost no oil glands and are therefore drier during winter.
Certain medications can also predispose to dry skin, including diuretics, which promote the excretion of salt and water from the body via the kidneys, and anti-androgens, which block oil glands, further dehydrating the skin. Topical medications containing alcohol can also dry the skin.
Your skin can tell a lot about what’s going on in your body. When skin becomes severely dry, it can easily crack, making a perfect gateway for pathogens to enter deep in the body. Especially during winter months when ‘flu bugs and cold viruses are all over the place, we don’t need to give them another way to enter the body. Physiologically, dry skin is thinner, meaning there is reduced blood flow to the skin, resulting in less nutrients and oxygen travelling to the skin.
Now for the good news: there are several lifestyle and dietary inclusions as well as supplements to feed and heal your skin to get its glow back, even in winter.
Lifestyle tips for preventing and treating dry skin
You need to be gentler with your skin in winter. Avoid aggressive treatments such as exfoliation and microdermabrasion during winter when skin is most sensitive. Instead, use an exfoliator that is oil-based and limit exfoliation to once or twice a week. Use hydrating masks rather than clay-based masks as they draw moisture out of the skin. For dry and sensitive skin, avoid using facial products that contain alcohol, as these can strip oil from the skin. Cleanse your face every evening to remove makeup, pollution, sweat and excess oil built up throughout the day. Even if you don’t wear makeup, dirt and bacteria accumulate on your face over the day and gather on your pillow while you sleep.
During winter, consider swapping your regular face and body cleanser for one based on goats’ milk or aloe vera gel, as these are more hydrating and won’t strip the skin of moisture. Avoid taking hot showers and baths or using saunas, as this can rob the skin of moisture. Instead, use lukewarm water for no longer than 10 minutes – difficult, I know. Avoid using shower gels and washes that contain fragrances, parabens and sodium lauryl sulfates, as they can irritate the skin.
Ensure to moisturise immediately after showering while the skin is damp, not only the face, but the whole body too. Not doing this will encourage your skin’s moisture to quickly evaporate into the dry air. Creams and lotions rich in almond oil, olive oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera and calendula help soothe the skin as well as containing SPF, while beeswax, cocoa and shea butter encourage hydration. Applying moisturiser while skin is damp allows moisture to be trapped in the skin rather than evaporating in the air. Don’t forget about your hands and feet – moisturise hands and feet with a heavy-duty hand cream such as cocoa and shea butter just before you go to bed. This allows it to absorb into your skin, leaving your feet and hands soft when you wake up. Coconut oil alone can also be applied to the entire body after the shower as an effective moisturiser. Lips can also get dry and scaly during winter. To keep your lips soft, gently dry-brush them a few times a week with a toothbrush, then apply a lip balm that contains olive oil, coconut oil, shea butter and/or vitamin E.
During the winter months, humidity levels fall below 10%, contributing to not only dry skin, but also a scratchy throat and respiratory infections. There are a few ways to increase the humidity indoors. Use a humidifier or vaporiser in your home and office. Create a steam bath by filling your sink with hot water, then placing a towel over your head as you lean over the sink. You can simply breathe in the steam from a hot cup of tea. You may also place bowls of boiling hot water around your home.
Ensure to use cleaning products including dishwashing liquid and laundry detergent that are free from fragrances, petrochemicals and phosphates to avoid stripping water from the skin.
Get enough sleep
While we’re sleeping, our bodies have a chance to repair and rejuvenate themselves after each day. Ensure you get seven to eight hours of beauty sleep each night, – yes, men too.
Just because it is cold outside, doesn’t mean we should stop exercising. It is well known that exercise improves systemic circulation, including the skin. The delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the surface of the skin boosts hydration and promotes glowing skin.
While using natural moisturisers regularly is helpful for dry skin, your skincare routine is only half the battle. When it comes to flaunting smooth and glowing skin, it’s what’s inside that counts. Some foods and nutrients are particularly effective at promoting healthy and radiant skin.
As obvious and logical as it sounds, drinking more water during winter is crucial to hydrate your skin. However most Australians don’t drink enough water to begin with. Aim to drink at least nine cups of water or non-caffeinated tea per day, or at least until your urine is a very pale yellow. Reduce diuretic beverages such as black tea, coffee, alcohol and soft drinks, as these put a strain on your kidneys and contribute to dehydration. You can also indulge in watery foods, such as soups and broths, while avoiding dry, crunchy and salty foods, as they dehydrate the skin.
Fruit and vegetables
Studies show that a colourful plant-based diet can make your skin look healthier than being tanned. Beta-carotene, the antioxidant responsible for giving red, orange and yellow fruit and vegetables their vibrant colours are essential for skin health – think sweet potato, pumpkin and carrots. Similarly, anthocyanidins found in berries, plums and red onions are responsible for giving them their red and purple pigment, support blood vessel health and delivery of nutrients and oxygen to the skin. Choose fresh, organic and locally grown fruit and vegetable where possible.
Research reveals a strong link between the quality of our skin with the health of our gut. Fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir, can promote the growth of beneficial gut flora. Normalising gut flora has been shown to help against chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and acne, as well as improving skin dryness and collagen production.
Processed and refined foods, wheat, harmful fats such as trans-fats, processed table salt, and dairy products are acidic and inflammatory, which reduces the skin’s integrity. Eliminating sugars, grains and packaged food has been shown to rapidly improve complexion within a few weeks.
Commonly found in oily fish, walnuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and chia, omega 3 fatty acids are essential for healthy cell membranes, helping your skin remove waste and lock in moisture. Additionally, omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, thus soothing irritated skin, and giving you a clearer and smoother complexion.
Dose: Take between 1-3mg of omega 3 marine triglycerides per day. For vegetarians, take 15mg of flaxseed oil. However synthesis of omega 3 is slower.
Australians get more than enough omega 6 fatty acids from vegetable oils, except gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential omega 6 fatty acid. GLA is anti-inflammatory and is involved in skin metabolism by improving skin moisture, elasticity and firmness. The best forms of GLA are from borage oil and evening primrose oil.
Dose: Take between 1-3mg of GLA in the form of borage oil or evening primrose supplementation daily.
Renowned as a ‘skin vitamin’, retinol, the active form of vitamin A, converted from beta-carotene, increases collagen production, helps the skin retain water, protects the skin from sun damage and reduces wrinkles. As previously mentioned, beta-carotene can be found in red, orange and yellow fruits and vegetables. However vitamin A oil can also be applied topically directly to the skin or administered through supplementation.
Dose: Take between 10,000-25,000 IU of vitamin A daily.
As a fat-soluble antioxidant, vitamin E helps scavenge free radicals, protecting the skin from damage, slowing ageing, especially when combined with vitamin C. This vitamin is a natural vasodilator; widening blood vessels to deliver nutrients and oxygen to the skin. Vitamin E also acts like oestrogen, a key hormone for keeping skin plump. Food sources of Vitamin E include avocado, wheat germ, sunflower seeds and almonds. However dietary sources are insufficient for a therapeutic effect; hence supplementation may be necessary.
Dose: Take 100-800mg of natural vitamin E in the form of ‘tocopherol’ or ‘d-tocopherol’. Avoid ‘dl-tocopherol’, as this is a synthetic form.
Zinc is an essential cofactor that helps the body use essential fatty acids better, and is required for the conversion of beta-carotene to active vitamin A. Additionaly, zinc helps regulate oil glands, which are important for keeping skin smooth and plump. It also helps repair skin damage. Dietary sources include oysters, poultry, whole grains and nuts and seeds.
Dose: Take 10-90mg of zinc daily.
As previously mentioned, poor gut health, including food allergies and gut pathogens, can be manifested through conditions including dry skin, eczema, psoriasis and acne. Probiotics have an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut and can correct dysbiosis within the gut, thereby improving skin health.
Dose: Take for 20-50 billion units per day.
Cosgrove MC, Franco OH, SP Granger, Murray PG & Mayes AE (2007). Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women, Am J Clin Nutr, 86(4) http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/4/1225.long
Guenther L, Lynde CW, Andriessen A, Barankin B, Goldstein E, Skotnicki-Grant SP, Gupta SN, Lee
Choi K, Rosen N, Shapiro L, & Sloan K (2011). Pathway to Dry Skin Prevention and Treatment. Journal of Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, 15(0), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4086530/
Wan DC, Wong VW, Longaker MT, Yang GP, & Wei FC (2014). Moisturizing Different Racial Skin Types. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 7(6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4086530/
Share this post