How to Moisturize Dry Winter Skin

January 16, 2015 Updated: January 16, 2015

Everyone knows skin is the body’s largest organ, but we sometimes forget it is also a vital organ; as vital to our overall health and well-being as healthy lungs or a healthy heart. In addition to helping regulate the body’s temperature, one of the key roles of our skin is to act as a barrier, keeping essential nutrients, including water, in the body.

So protecting our skin with effective moisturizers isn’t just about maintaining youthful looks (although that’ s a fortunate side effect), it’s about maintaining good health. Where I work, we say the three most important things you can do to keep your skin looking and feeling healthy and youthful, are moisturize, moisturize and moisturize. But all moisturizers are not created equal, and some may even do more harm than good, so here’s what you need to know about effective moisturization during the cold, dry months of winter.

Is Your Skin Dry or Dehydrated?

These two terms are often used interchangeably, but clinically, are very different conditions. Dry skin is caused by having too little oil, while dehydrated skin lacks water.

Dry skin is often genetic, but can also be caused by using harsh cleansing products with sulfates that strip your skin of its natural oils. Because oils help form the protective barrier of the skin, a lack of oils can also cause the skin to lose water too.

Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is typically a result of damage from environmental elements like the wind and sun, and these are the conditions that are most responsible for causing the visible signs of aging – fine lines and wrinkles, lack of radiance and a loss of elasticity.

Now Choose the Right Moisturizer for Your Skin Condition

Theoretically, we want to ensure our skin is hydrated with the right balance of oil (sebum) and water. For dry skin caused by too little oil, look for products that contain high concentrations of jojoba oil or olive oil. Jojoba oil can help regulate the production of sebum, so if your skin is oily, it will moderate production, if it is dry, it will increase production. Olive oil is one of our skin’s favorite skin care ingredients. We tolerate and absorb it well, it doesn’t clog pores, and it even helps skin to naturally exfoliate. In Europe and Middle East, women have been using pure olive oil directly on their skin for centuries. Sophia Loren is said to bathe in it!

For severely dehydrated skin, look for products with ceramides, which are a type of fat found in all skin cells. In the right proportion they will help to fortify your skin’s natural barrier, preventing water loss. There are four or five types of ceramides in our skin cells, and new research has shown that they must be in the proper ratio in moisturizing products to have a beneficial effect, so shop for a reputable brand.

A Few Important Dos and Don’ts:

Regardless of your skin type, your sex and your age, healthier looking and feeling skin is possible all year round. It takes a bit more work in the winter, but will definitely be worth the investment:

Don’t use a harsh cleanser, they can be enemy number one. If your skin feels tight and parched after cleansing, you have probably stripped some of the oil out in the process, and this is what leads to those nasty lines and wrinkles.

Do look for cleansers that do not contain sulfates (sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate). They are just as effective at removing surface impurities, and can even help strengthen your skin and make it healthier.

Do exfoliate, at least once a week; twice is ideal. Removing dead skin cells will not only make your skin look less sallow, it will help your moisturizers penetrate better.

Do moisturize. And moisturize and moisturize and moisturize. Every night. And every day. Regardless of skin type.

Do moisturize at night, it’s when your body is at rest, allowing your skin to better absorb, and benefit from, the nutrients in your skin care.

Don’t buy moisturizers that contain mineral oil or petrolatum. These ingredients sit on the surface of your skin, clog your pores, and prevent your skin from ‘breathing.’

Do eat a healthy diet, you will feed your skin the nutrition it needs from the inside, helping it to naturally maintain hydration and a youthful appearance.

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*Image of “girl” via Shutterstock