By Steve Edwards

Winter is hard on your skin. Even the healthiest of us have a rough time coping as the days shorten and the thermometer begins to drop, which is why words like dry, chapped, itchy, and flaky are often associated with snow, wind, and cold. Here is a 10-step program to help your skin survive the winter.

  1. Hydrate. This is, by far, the most important thing you can do during the winter. When it's cold, it's hard to drink enough water. For one, you don't get thirsty. But even when you are, drinking cold water can cause your body to revolt, creating a catch-22 that can leave your skin dry and itchy. Our bodies are mainly made up of water. Here are some of the roles that water performs:
    • Regulating body temperature
    • Carrying nutrients and oxygen to all cells in the body
    • Moistening oxygen for breathing
    • Protecting and cushioning vital organs
    • Helping convert food into energy
    • Assisting the body to absorb nutrients
    • Removing waste
    That's a tall order of functions; and the organ that's most affected when deprived of water is the largest one, your skin. It's hard to convince yourself that when it's cold you often need as much, if not more, water than you need when it's warm. This is because cold air is drier than warm air. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that artificially heated air is drier than naturally heated air, creating a need to hydrate even more.

    Do keep in mind that water need not be cold, or even just water. You can hydrate with almost any liquid, but most have added ingredients (sugar, caffeine, alcohol, etc.) that will hurt you in other ways. This makes keeping an assortment of herb teas an excellent winter accessory choice.
  2. Exercise. Most of us work out to keep healthy and/or look good in a bathing suit. If that's all you thought exercise did, welcome to the bonus round. Working out also does wonders for the skin by toning, reducing stress, and increasing circulation. Increased circulation means that your blood can deliver oxygen and nutrients to your hide.

    Exercise also makes you sweat, which flushes toxins out of your system. Additionally, it releases sebum, a mixture of fatty acids, waxes, triglycerides, and cholesterol that acts as the skin's built-in moisturizer. Researchers at Eberhard Karls University in Germany believe that sweat also releases dermacidin, an antibiotic that limits disease-causing bacteria, thus reducing your chances of getting a skin infection. So pop in that P90X®, Turbo Jam®, or Rockin' Body® video for healthy skin!
  3. Moisturize. Try doing it as soon as you get out of the shower, and do your best to make this a ritual. Post-shower, when your natural oils have been washed off, is a vital time for moisturizing. Even if you're pressed for time, taking a minute to add moisturizer to your entire body is worth it, since your skin absorbs it best when it's warm and damp. You don't have to limit this to once a day—your skin would be pressed to get too much lotion—but after a shower is by far the most effective time.

    Try finding products free of fragrance and parabens. Also, don't buy products that contain mineral oil or petroleum. Both of these will clog your pores and can trap sweat and dirt, thus causing acne. For your face, you should also try to use a moisturizer that contains sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (more on this in #7).
  4. Take hydrating baths. While soap dries your skin, there are ingredients that, added to a bath, will help hydrate you. Baking soda works if your skin is very dry and itchy, but as a precautionary measure, choosing a hydrating bath substance makes more sense. A perusal of any skin care aisle will provide you with myriad options.
  5. Shower less. Soap and water do more than just wash away dirt. Soap removes natural body oils that do more than just protect our skin; soap removes body oils that help us fight off environmental toxins. Our preoccupation with cleanliness can actually have an adverse effect on our health. Not that you shouldn't bathe, but doing it more than once per day is excessive, especially if you're not sweating profusely. And if your skin feels dry and itchy, opting for a moisturizing bath is the prudent call.
  6. Take your vitamins. Vitamins and minerals do all kinds of things for your skin. Zinc and protein speed healing and reconstruct damaged tissue, as does vitamin C, by aiding the production of collagen—the protein-building blocks vital to all your connective tissue. Vitamin E helps with circulation, which flushes out toxins. Both vitamins C and E deliver antioxidants, which are believed to fight against sun damage, smoke, and the dreaded hole in the ozone layer—although they are by no means a substitute for sunblock and a good hat. To ensure you get all the vital nutrients you need every day, it's a good idea to take a premium multivitamin like ActiVit®, which includes 200 percent of your daily value (DV) of vitamin C and 100 percent your DV of vitamin E.

    Fatty acid supplementation, like fish oil, also helps ensure that your nutritional profile is strong and ready to combat the evils of winter (Core Omega-3 is a great way to meet your fish oil needs).
  7. Use sunscreen. Most of us are conditioned to add sunscreen while skiing or going to the beach, but daily sunscreen use on your face and neck should be practiced. Many facial moisturizers have sunscreen as an ingredient. Because they are more expensive, it makes economical sense to have two bottles of moisturizer, one for your face and neck, and one for the rest of your body.

    Make sure your sunscreen is broad-spectrum in addition to having a high SPF. It should protect against both UVB rays, which cause superficial sunburn and skin discoloration, and UVA rays, which penetrate deeper into the skin, accelerating aging and causing skin cancer. Make sure you don't forget your ears and the back of your neck when applying sunscreen as they are prime real estate for skin cancer. Don't forget your lips, either—try to use a lip balm with an SPF 15 or higher to avoid drying and burning. The stuff's cheap, so keep a tube in your car, at your desk, at home, etc.
  8. Eat fruit. All the damaging effects of cold, dry air create free radicals—nasty little oxidized molecules that are believed to cause tissue damage at the cellular level. Among other things, free radicals contribute to the development of cancer. The best way to neutralize them is with antioxidants, like the ones you get from many fruits and vegetables, including oranges, berries, leafy greens, and beets. You'll also find antioxidants in green tea and some in tasty items like chocolate. But fruit, which is harder to find during the winter, is the best natural source of antioxidants and has a number of other hydrating and health effects to help keep winter's ill nature at bay.
  9. Humidify. When Mother Nature isn't cooperating, it can make sense to use man-made solutions. Humidifiers come in all shapes, sizes, effective ranges, and prices. From the poor man's solution of boiling a large pot of water to highfalutin units that can make life in an igloo mimic life in the Amazon jungle, the principle is the same: to add moisture into a dry environment.
  10. Skin-friendly couture. Cottons, silks, and other skin-friendly fabrics that glide over your skin can help lessen the irritation of winter. Unfortunately, many traditional fabrics that keep you warm can also make you feel like you're wearing a Brillo pad when the northern winds begin to blow. When you can, layer with something soft as a base.