With winter’s first wallop this weekend comes a whole season of complaining — and I’m not talking about having to shovel your driveway three or more times a day. For underneath all the winter clothes lies a potentially more nagging problem: painfully dry skin.
Winter’s woes can wreak havoc on your skin, making it itchy and flaky, or even red, irritated and infected. Dry skin can quickly escalate beyond esthetics and into a medical concern, especially if you have allergies, diabetes, poor circulation or other chronic conditions. If you notice any unusual changes in your skin the next few months, best get to a doctor. I’m not a professional, but what follows comes from years of experience and reporting on beauty.
Preventing dry skin is much easier than trying to fix it. There’s less moisture in the air in the winter — and, as a result, less in our skin. Indoor heating saps even more moisture from the air, further drying out skin. Humidifiers can help, provided you’ll be in one place for a long time (such as the bedroom). All the layers we wear in the winter only hide the problem.
When you do finally strip down to bathe or shower, the temptation is to make it as hot as possible. But keep the water as cool as you can tolerate: water that’s too hot may burn already sensitive skin. Look for creamy, moisturizing body washes or soaps, and if your skin is flaky or ashy, apply with a soft sponge or washcloth to gently remove that top dead layer of skin cells so that lotions and creams will better absorb.
When it’s time to dry off, don’t rub dry with a towel: rather, pat gently so as not to irritate or scratch the skin. Leave your skin slightly damp so that whatever lotion or cream you use next can literally “lock in” this moisture. But — as you stare down that intimidating wall of moisturizers at your store of choice — how do you decide?
The thickness of a product usually indicates how moisturizing it is; butters and oils feel as such and often remain on the surface of the skin long after applied, while thinner products absorb quickly, but may provide less comfort. Key ingredients that seal in moisture are petrolatum, mineral oil, lanolin, and dimethicone. Glycerin, propylene glycol, proteins, urea, and vitamins help attract water into the outer layer of the skin. If you can’t test the product before buying, it’s best to stick to time-tested, well-known brands.
For extremely dry and irritated skin that is red or even shiny, look for a thick formula in a tub with few ingredients and no fragrance (you may also want to make a doctor’s appointment). If your skin is looking dull, look for a lotion with alpha-hydroxy acid or urea in it — both exfoliate dead cells from the surface while adding moisture. These two ingredients also battle that “chicken skin” women often develop on the arms and legs.
As for facial skin, similar rules apply: use a gentle cleanser and moisturize soon after cleansing. Continue wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 30 — the sun’s rays can actually be stronger in the winter as snow reflects them upwards. UV rays can also affect skin’s barrier function, reducing its ability to hold moisture.
To protect your newly softened skin, stick to clothing made of smooth fabrics like silk and cotton, as synthetics and wool can scratch and irritate. Look for a thick, unfragranced hand cream to protect often-washed and sanitized hands. Lips are also prone to dryness; choose an unflavoured balm so as to reduce the temptation to lick your lips, drying them out further. If the corners of your lips crack, ensure you’re getting enough B vitamins, especially folic acid, to prevent it in the future (you may need a prescription if the crack becomes infected).
Now... where’s the shovel?
A few weeks ago, a reader was looking for a recipe for black bean brownies. While they sound like something I’d make, a search through my files revealed no such luck. But a search online revealed otherwise, and I passed this recipe along. I made them, too, and they’re wonderfully fudgy and satisfying. Black beans are a great source of fibre and of folic acid, to protect your lips.
Gluten-free Black Bean Brownies
1-540 mL can black beans (rinsed)
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup butter or coconut oil
¾ cup sugar
½ cup dark chocolate chips
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. baking soda
2/3 cup of walnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Add all ingredients except walnuts to a food processor and purée. Stir in walnuts. Pour batter into a greased 8x8 inch pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.