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Health & Exercise Forum

Protect your skin during winter recreation

Mar 3, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyMany people in Northeast Pennsylvania enjoy outdoor winter activities, but it’s easy to forget that frigid air, wind, snow and sleet can play havoc on your skin.
It's critical to be aware of the time spent in the cold no matter what age you are and to recognize the importance of making skin protection part of your daily regimen. Dry, red, flaking, itchy and scaly skin can make you crazy and uncomfortable. And dry, cracked skin is an opportunity for a variety of bacterial, fungal and viral infections to enter your body.

Here are 10 winter skin safety tips for outdoor, active lifestyles, offered by health Web site

  • Limit use of soap. Excessive use of soap and water during cold months can strip away the skin's natural oils. Use cleansing creams, gentle skin cleansers or bath lotions with moisturizers instead of harsh soap. After the use of a good skin product, your shin should feel soft and smooth, not tight or dry. Nondetergent, fragrance-free, neutral-pH products are kind to winter skin. Experiment with several mild soaps, such as Cetaphil, Aveeno, Neutrogena, Basis or Dove, until you find the right one for you.
    Dr. Ted Stampien, a Clarks Summit dermatologist, recommends that shower gels should be avoided because they contain alcohol.
  • Soak your skin with moisturizers. One proven method to prevent dry skin even when using regular soap is to moisturize your skin immediately after bathing to trap water in the surface cells; then gently pat dry. For severe dryness, Dr. Stampien recommends that you apply a second coating of moisturizing cream after you pat dry. He notes that creams are more moisturizing than lotions or gels.For extremely dry skin, apply baby oil or almond or vitamin E oil to moist skin. Also, if your skin is so dry that it itches, apply 1 percent hydrocortisone to the area, followed by a thick moisturizing cream. Try thicker creams such as Eucerin and Lubriderm, and use cosmetics with moisturizers.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. When the winter sun is reflected off snow and ice, it can be very strong on an unprotected face, especially the cheeks and lips. While SPF 15 is considered adequate protection, dermatologists recommend a minimum of SPF 30 for most people. Choose a sunscreen with ingredients that block both UVB and UVA rays. Dr. Stampien says patients with sensitive skin or eczema typically tolerate sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium oxide, such as Blue Lizard, Solbar and Neutrogena, and that these patients should avoid sprays and gels, which usually contain alcohol that can sting upon application.Ultraviolet-blocking ski goggles or sunglasses with wraparound frames can protect your eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes.
  • Do not soak in the tub. The longer you soak in water, the more skin oils you lose. In winter, it's wise to limit baths and showers to 5 minutes and use tepid water. Avoid very hot water. Also, wash your face only once or twice a day in winter. Cool-water wiping without soap is recommended if washing your face more often.
  • Try to avoid a hot, dry house. Keep your house temperature at 68-70 degrees and use a humidifier for 40-50 percent humidity levels in rooms where you spend a lot of time, such as the kitchen, living room and bedroom.
  • Wear skin-friendly fabrics. Natural fibers such as cotton and silk are skin-friendly. But dry-technology products like those made by Nike and Under Armour wick sweat away and prevent chafing.
  • Proper diet can protect your skin. As with all matters of health and wellness, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grains, seeds and nuts is essential. Additionally, certain foods such as avocados offer niacin, an inflammation-reducing agent that can improve complexion. Yellow and orange produce, such as carrots, cantaloupes and apricots, are also recommended.Keep in mind that alcohol and caffeine are diuretics that can cause the body and skin to lose fluid and nutrients. Stay hydrated.
  • Live healthy. Smoking causes vasoconstriction of the blood vessels, which limits blood flow of oxygen and nutrients to the skin and other tissues. Daily exercise to improve circulation and adequate sleep to replenish and recharge your body also contribute to health.
  • Avoid dry feet. Low humidity and cold temperatures can lead to skin breakdown and cause dry, scaly and uncomfortable feet. Coat your feet generously with lotion and sleep with cotton socks to maintain moisture. Remember, dry and cracked skin can invite bacterial, fungal and viral infections.
  • See a dermatologist. Skin conditions can be a symptom of a much more serious underlying medical problem. If problems persist, seek medical attention.

CONTRIBUTORS: Ted Stampien, M.D., is a dermatologist in Clarks Summit; Joanne Zenker, M.D., is a dermatologist at Lackawanna Valley Dermatology Associates in downtown Scranton.