Natural Health Tips

How to Keep Skin Healthy and Hydrated in Winter

During the cold, winter months, skin is more prone to becoming dried out, cracked and less flexible. The skin is our first line of defense against the elements, so at this time of year, it needs all the help it can get. Our skin has to deal with harsh environmental factors ranging from chilly winter winds to dry indoor air generated by central heating. The skin works constantly as an outer protective barrier to the potentially hostile environment around us, by regulating the body's temperature and hydration, and protecting it from the outside air. Just like every other part of the body, our skin needs a good balance of nutrients to help it stay in peak condition.

Normally, the surface layer of the skin, called the epidermis, is formed from layers of flattened cells packed with a substance called keratin. These outer keratin layers need to be well hydrated to keep their structure intact and work effectively. Oils produced by the skin help to trap water in this layer, and if this fails then the skin can rapidly lose water and dry out.

As the body ages, the sebaceous glands in the skin, which produce its natural oils, become less efficient. For example, in menopausal women sebaceous gland activity can drop by 40% or more. Sweat gland activity may also drop. As a result, there is less oil and water to keep the skin moist and supple, so the epidermis shrinks and small cracks begin to form. Tiny blood vessels can also break open, leading to microscopic bleeding, inflammation and the formation of ulcers, because microorganisms can enter the body through these breaks, leading to infection. Chemical irritants, such as those found in personal care products, are also able to penetrate the skin barrier, triggering further skin problems like dermatitis.

This is why the skin is more likely to become dry, reddened and feel rough or itchy. This is more so during the winter, when windy conditions and low humidity typical of winter weather further increases water evaporation from the skin, as does a closed, hot indoor environment.

Keep skin Well Nourished

To protect skin from becoming dried out, a balanced diet, rich in antioxidants such as those found in fruits and vegetables, is a good starting point. Juicing is a great way to get more fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.

Vitamin A strengthens the skin inside and out, so it is an important weapon against any invaders. Foods rich in Vitamin A include carrots, sweet potato, pumpkin, eggs, papaya and yellow fruits.

Make sure the body is well hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids. Not only does this plump up the skin, but it helps your immune system too. If the body is dehydrated, the immune system is compromised. Central heating also saps your skin of moisture so it's important to drink plenty of water.

Resist the temptation to turn up the central heating or keep it on constantly. It can suck the moisture out of skin and increase the danger of inflammation. Central heating can also dry up our mucus membranes, which are a major defense against colds and infections. Put on an extra layer instead.

Overuse of harsh perfumes and soaps, or bathing too frequently in very hot water, can remove the skin's natural lubrication, having a drying and damaging effect on the skin. For a natural moisturizer, massage coconut oil into the skin. It is an effective ointment for dry, rough and flaky skin. This is because coconut oil has a small molecular structure, meaning it is easily absorbed into the skin. Coconut oil is also a natural product, free from harsh, potentially toxic chemicals, unlike most conventional body care products.

It's important to eat foods rich in vitamin D at this time of year. Winter sun is usually too weak to produce sufficient amounts of this health-promoting vitamin, so it can be difficult to keep those levels topped up. Foods rich in vitamin D include oily fish, eggs and cheese. Oily fish is also high in essential fatty acids, vital for keeping skin looking hydrated and healthy.

A first step in looking after skin in the winter and preventing it from becoming dehydrated is to remember that good skincare starts with good nutrition. Try to eat food that is in season. It tastes better and roots vegetables are more nutritious in the winter because all their energy reserves are in their roots to avoid the cold. Roast winter vegetables with herbs to concentrate their natural flavors, and eat winter warming foods like soups and stews.