Winterize your skin. We tell you how.

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You do it for your house and car. Why not do it for your skin? You can winterize your skin in five easy steps—with an inexpensive and plentiful ingredient. It will help keep your skin moist and plumped up through the harshest of winter weather.

You may be surprised to learn that the best ways to keep your skin soft and moist throughout a cold, windy winter do not involve expensive creams. The key to moist, supple skin is something that you have in your home in abundance and use every day. It’s water.

Skin 101: the facts

Before we get to the five easy steps, let’s review the facts:

Moisturizers don’t actually moisturize

The name “moisturizer” leads us to believe that it actually moisturizes the skin. On first application, it may smooth the skin’s cuticle and hence appear to be moisturizing our skin. But this is a fleeting effect. The primary purpose of a moisturizer is to seal in the skin’s moisture. It achieves this in one of two ways: it either attracts moisture to the skin with a humectant (most commonly glycerin) or it prevents water from evaporating from the skin with an occlusive (most commonly petroleum jelly). More about these ingredients later.

Most serums are a waste of money

The name “serum”—which makes the product sound concentrated and, one assumes, more effective—is a product marketing concept that allows cosmetic companies to charge much more per ounce of product. Popular serums are advertised to contain collagen, vitamin C, algae, and extracts of rare fruits and flowers, to name a few. But they don’t reach the deep layers of the skin. That’s because of something called bioavailability. For any topical compound to be effective, it must penetrate the skin where it can act on living cells. This depends on the compound’s bioavailability, the proportion of the compound that the body can actually use.

Even if ingredients could penetrate your skin, the substances would be challenged by changes in, for example pH, polarity, solubility, your immune cells, as they move to your skin’s deeper layers. Products that are able of achieving this deep penetration (for example, topical pharmaceuticals) are typically regulated as a drug in North America.) As a result, most cosmetic products are extremely limited in their ability to penetrate the skin and mostly remain on its surface.



The one exception is when the serum is an exfoliator. Exfoliating serums often contain AHAs (short for Alpha Hydroxy Acids). These are fruit acids which naturally occur in fruits and plants. These acids help remove dead skin cells by very gently sloughing off the surface of the skin’s corneal layer – the effect is a bit like a chemical peel you might get at a salon or cosmetic institute. Exfoliation is good for your skin. We discuss it more in the five steps below.

(One of the best descriptions of what moisturizers and serums actually do is from the Eco Well, a site committed to making accurate information about cosmetics and sustainability in beauty more accessible to everyone. To learn more, check out “Do your cosmetic products penetrate the skin?”.

The five steps. And they all involve water!

1. Drink as much water as you can tolerate.

You’ve heard this time and again. Water is good for your body and particularly good for your skin. Your body is 70% water—in the winter it is especially important to continue to replenish it. Why is the winter any different? There is a good chance that without the heat of the summer sun and outdoor activity, you may not feel thirsty and don’t drink as much water. But you are still becoming dehydrated.

Get a source of good, pure tasting water and drink it all day long. Reusable metal sports bottles are ideal for keeping it cold and not polluting the environment. If you are not a still water drinker explore other options, like sparkling water or those with zero calorie fruit essences.



2. Make sure your night cream is a barrier cream.

Barrier creams prevent water from evaporating from your skin. It’s water that keeps your skin plumped up and supple. Barrier creams contain occlusive ingredients that increase moisture levels in skin by providing a physical barrier to water loss. The classic cosmetic occlusive agent is petrolatum, or petroleum jelly (like Vaseline). It is a by-product of petroleum products and was first used as a cosmetic ingredient in the late 1800s. It is the most effective occlusive agent, capable of blocking 98% of water loss from the skin.

Occlusive ingredients are ideal for dry and very dry skin types. If you would rather take a more natural approach, cocoa butter, mango and shea butter as well as beeswax are also very effective barrier cream ingredients. The challenge to finding the right barrier cream is to find one with occlusive ingredients to prevent water loss but isn’t too thick or heavy. If it’s not pleasant to use, you’re not going to do it. (which is why we don’t recommend smearing Vaseline on our faces at night).

3. Mist your face before applying your day and night cream.

Most cosmetic lines feature facial misters which many people may consider an unnecessary and costly expense. The good news is you can make your own with a very fine atomizer and a pure water like Fiji–the company maintains it is untouched by any human until you open the bottle. (It also contains silica, a natural detoxifier, but this is a topic for another article).

The principle behind the misting is that the cream you apply over it holds the dampness against your skin, making your moisturizer more effective. The trick is that your face should not be wet. The mist should be so fine that you can feel it but it is not dripping. You may have to hunt for an atomizer that will dispense the water in a very fine mist.



4. In the winter, don’t use chemical exfoliators on your skin.

As we mentioned, exfoliation is good for your skin. It encourages blood flow to your face, which is good for skin flushing and circulation. And, it removes dead skin cells from the surface of your skin to give your skin a brighter, smoother look.

There are two ways to exfoliate: manually with scrubs or with chemical exfoliators. Don’t let the word chemical scare you off. We use it simply to distinguish between manual exfoliators and those that you leave on your skin. In the harsh winter weather, you are better off using mechanical exfoliators, which include facial cleansing brushes, scrubs, and wash cloths. This is not to say chemical exfoliators are not useful. Research shows them to reduce existing wrinkles and fine lines and prevent or slow down the emergence of the new ones.

The chemical exfoliators backed by the most evidence are retinoids (e.g. tretinoin a.k.a. Retin A) and vitamin C family (L-ascorbic acid and some of its derivatives). However, because they exfoliate by sloughing off the top layer of your skin, they tend to leave your skin dry and peeling. You can tolerate them much better in the warmer months than in cold, windy weather. Use manual exfoliators during the winter and wait until the warmer months to use chemical ones.



5. Use a humidifier in your bedroom at night.

This is an old school remedy that can’t be beat. We’ve all heard about English skin, admired because it looks fresh and moist. That’s because it rains a lot in England and in places like Vancouver and Seattle. Rain and the accompanying humidity are good for your skin. So even if you live in a dry, hot climate or one where it gets cold and dry in the winter, you can create a moist environment while you sleep.

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