Dry winter air and harsh temperatures zap moisture from your skin, leading to chapping, irritation and dryness. An estimated 81 million Americans are impacted by dry, scaly, itchy skin in the winter, with the worst coming between the months of November and March.1
Many turn to topical moisturizers to help, but while they may offer some short-term relief, they often contain chemicals that do not belong in your body. For instance, 36 percent of facial moisturizers and 34 percent of body lotions tested by the Environmental Working Group were found to be contaminated with a cancer-causing toxin called 1,4-dioxane, which readily penetrates your skin every time you apply it.2
There are natural topical options – coconut oil makes a particularly good moisturizer for your skin – but even better are the natural tools that can support your skin at the cellular level, helping to protect, restore elasticity, increase hydration, promote smoothness and more …
Exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) from the sun (the sun is still bright even in winter) as well as pollutants in your environment contribute to the formation of free radicals, which take a toll on your skin by damaging DNA and promoting the formation of age spots and wrinkles. Antioxidants help to prevent and repair free radical damage to your skin (and elsewhere in your body).
While dietary sources of antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, green tea) are crucial for skin health, there may be some benefit in applying them directly to your skin as well. Those that are particularly important for skin health include:
- Vitamin A: When applied topically, vitamin A may help reduce wrinkles, smooth out roughness and help fade brown spots.
- Vitamin C: Fights free radicals that may cause wrinkles and sagging, and helps protect your skin from UV damage.
- Vitamin E: Both dietary and topical vitamin E helps your skin to keep its natural moisture, making it key for fighting dryness. Vitamin E also helps neutralize free radical damage from UV exposure, especially when combined with dietary vitamin C, helping to reduce irritation.3
- Green Tea: This natural beverage is a potent source of antioxidants, including the polyphenol EGCG. Not only does EGCG help to eliminate free radicals, it also helps to rejuvenate your skin by re-activating dying skin cells.4 Researchers have compared it to a “fountain of youth” for your skin cells.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are healthy fats your body cannot make on its own, so you have to get them from dietary sources. They play an important role in the health of your skin cells and are necessary for both proper skin cell function and appearance.
Fatty acids, for instance, keep your cell membranes healthy, which is the key barrier that not only keeps water and nutrients in (leading to more hydrated, elastic, softer skin) but also allows waste products out.
Further, people with a fatty acid deficiency are more likely to have dry skin, as well as increased water loss across their skin.5 So if you want to maintain moisture for the winter, making sure you’re getting enough EFAs is essential. Look for:
- Omega-3 fats, found in fish, such as salmon and sardines, and fish oil
- Gamma-linolenic acid, such as evening primrose oil
Minerals: Zinc and Selenium
Just as your skin needs antioxidants and vitamins, it also needs minerals, such as zinc. Your skin is in a constant state of renewal, and it needs zinc to help support this process. Your skin takes an extra beating in the winter, which is why including lots of zinc-rich foods in your diet (oysters, pumpkin seeds, beef, crab, lima beans, chick peas) is so important for healthy skin repair and regeneration from the inside out.
Selenium is another mineral to focus on in the winter, as it is a free-radical scavenging antioxidant that can protect your skin from damage as well as help with tissue elasticity. Just a few Brazil nuts a day will give you your recommended selenium intake (or try shitake mushrooms, salmon, shrimp, eggs and garlic).
Natural Herbs and Oils
Certain herbs, when taken in supplement form, as a tea or applied topically to your skin in a cream or oil, work to rejuvenate weather-damaged skin from within. Consider:
- Chamomile: Widely used as a tea to help promote sleep, chamomile also shows promise for enhancing skin health when applied topically. Along with having anti-inflammatory properties, it has been found to improve skin appearance by enhancing texture and elasticity.
- Aloe Vera: Although it’s most widely known for its soothing effect on burns, this soothing also extends to winter skin. A bit of aloe vera dabbed onto your skin will promote cell regeneration and healing, as it’s a rich source of vitamins including A, C, E and B vitamins.
- Lavender: This calming herb is most often inhaled as a form of aromatherapy, but it can also be applied in oil form to your skin, where it is known to help relieve dryness and scales.
For one final tip, while relaxing in a hot, steamy shower or bath may sound like the perfect end to a cold winter’s day, resist the urge to make the water too hot. Hot water quickly removes your skin’s natural oils and can leave your skin even dryer. Stick to shorter showers using warm water instead, and focus on rejuvenating and protecting your skin from the inside out using the tips above.
1. The National Health Interview Survey, Examiner.com February 27, 2012
2. EWG News Release February 8, 2007
3. Linus Pauling Institute, Vitamin E and Skin Health, February 2012
4. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 2003 Jul;306(1):29-34.
5. Linus Pauling Institute, Essential Fatty Acids and Skin Health, February 2012