Winter is starting to take its toll on my clients skin. A fairly late start this year (the temperature is still relatively mild), but it is only a matter of time. If your skin is red, flaky or dull you are probably not protecting your skin enough from the elements (blame central heating, cold, dry air and biting winds), all of which leech moisture from the skin, leaving it dehydrated and vulnerable to premature ageing. Here is my anti-ageing winter survival guide.
Sometimes switching to a more gentle cleanser is all that’s needed to reverse dehydration, especially if your skin feels tight after washing (which seems to be incredibly common). The foaming ingredients in many facial washes can strip away the skin’s natural oils, as does hot water and rubbing, so I recommend a non-foaming, alcohol-free and pH balanced cleanser all year round e.g. Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. One of my clients with a combination skin loves Avene Gentle Gel Cleanser – it is the only cleanser not to make her sensitive skin feel tight. If your skin is normal to dry or very dry, try a cleansing oil or cream because they nourish as well as cleanse. I know that cleansing is not glamorous, but incorrect cleansing can age your skin prematurely.
Dehydrated not dry
Many clients reach for a thick oil-based cream during winter, but this can lead to congestion and dullness. The tightness that many experience (one client thought this was a good thing and compared it to Botox!) is actually dehydration and a warning sign that your skin is ageing prematurely. Dehydrated skin lacks moisture; dry skin lack oil, A dry skin is more prone to dehydration which can occur in all skin types, even an oily one.
When our skin is hydrated there is plenty of moisture to plump up the skin cells, but in cold weather the water in our skin freezes; the middle layer loses its flexibility and shrinks, resulting in flaking on the surface and cracked lips.
Protect during the day; repair at night
People don’t realise how ageing this dehydration can be: cells can’t function as well so they age prematurely and die; collagen and elastin become inflexible because they are no longer bathed in moisture; the skin shrinks, especially around eyes, emphasising fine lines. But much winter redness can be cured by switching to hydrating ingredients to protect skin from the elements during the day and saving the anti-ageing products for over night, an approach not all clients want to hear initially. I always stress looking after the health and texture of skin (which emcompasses the the prevention of premature ageing) before moving on to anti-ageing products and, in the long run, my clients have come to trust this approach.
Layer a hydrating serum
However, the answer is not simply to increase hydration levels. The water content in moisturisers quickly evaporates because the skin’s moisture barrier, (a protective waterproof coating over the skin which keeps moisture in and irritants out) has been stripped away by central heating and harsh winds; also the production of our natural oil sebum (a main part of this barrier) slows during winter. First of all I recommend layering a hydrating serum containing urea/hyaluronic acid underneath, as the lighter texture absorbs more deeply; it does not need to sit on the surface like a moisturiser and prevent evaporation. I have an oily skin and have found that Hyaluronan Facial Serum does not block my pores; my client with combination/sensitive skin also loves it. It contains hyaluronic acid in the first three ingredients(most ingredients lower down than ten are mere window dressing). Then I recommend a moisturiser containing firstly ingredients to strengthen the barrier (cholesterol, ceramides and fatty acids) and secondly a UVA sunblock. Sun damage occurs all year round and should really be called ‘daylight damage’.
Winter skin can look dull so you try exfoliating twice a week. It’s a vicious circle: the skin produces extra skin cells to reinforce the outer layer from the cold, but cell renewal slows down in winter so they pile up on the surface of the skin, absorbing rather than reflecting light, leaving a grey tinge. If there is any tightness or redness however, go back to once a week. Don’t forget that even gentle exfoliation dehydrates the skin slightly, so apply a hydrating mask or hydrating oil afterwards.
Damage to the protective moisture barrier leaves winter skin vulnerable to sensitivity and redness and can exacerbate conditions such as rosacea. Every time we go from the cold outdoors to the warm indoors (or vice verse) our blood capillaries dilate and contract; they can’t cope and eventually lose elasticity which leads to increased redness and blotchiness. Again, swap anti-ageing active ingredients for calming ingredients such as lavender or chamomile and reduce exfoliation until the redness calms down. Less is more with a sensitive skin!
Drinking water is very important in terms of keeping the skin hydrated. However, the outer layer is dead so can’t absorb moisture from the body, relying instead entirely on moisturisers. Its actually better to eat water as well as drink water; the body can hold on to water from fruits and veg more easily than it can drinking water, although we tend not to eat as many fruit and veg over winter. Make sure your diet contains enough fatty acids and omega 3 oils because those on a low fat diet are far more vulnerable to dryness. Apply a lip balm every time your lips get wet, i.e. after a shower, brushing teeth, eating/drinking. I have tried many, but none come close to Lanolips 101 Ointment which contains medical-grade lanolin and vitamin E.