Has your skin been playing you up in this awful weather we've been having?
Carolyn Coombs, our specialist in relaxation treatments, has had many clients suffering dry or sore skin this winter. In this article she helps you identify which skin condition you are experiencing and gives advice on how to treat it.
Skin suffers in winter because of exposure to the elements, central heating, air conditioning and extremes of temperature. Clients often complain of dry skin, when it is actually dehydrated. Truly dry skin is lacking in sebum, the oily, waxy substance produced in the dermis. It is typically flaky and itchy, and exacerbated by harsh winter conditions. The skin is dry, not because of anything that you are doing to it, but because it just produces less sebum than 'normal' skin. Someone with dry skin will have been fortunate enough not to have suffered spots as a teenager and won't suffer from greasy hair as the sebaceous glands on the scalp also produce less oil. Generally, dry skin is just something you are born with, but certain medications, chemotherapy for example, can cause previously well behaved skin to become dry.
Dehydrated skin is lacking in water. It may be caused by simply not drinking enough- goodness knows it's hard to drink two litres of water a day when it's piddling down outside! As I write this in the early afternoon, I realise that my fluid intake so far today has been two mugs of tea, one of coffee and a quick slurp from my water bottle when I had got bored of doing a shoulder stand in yoga this morning. Must do better. Dehydrated skin can be caused hot, dry climates, but also by central heating, air conditioning, and being outside on cold windy days. Skin might appear red and sore with some flaky areas (around the sides of the nose, or the hairline, for example). It might feel dry to the touch and tight after washing, but still have congestion (blocked pores, blackheads, the odd spot). But, it is not necessarily dry skin. You can have oily, normal or dry skin that is dehydrated. At this point, can I implore you, if you have any dry patches or areas of redness that don't ever go away, please see your GP to get them checked out- it could be a sign of a basal cell carcinoma.
Now then, having decided whether you are dry, dehydrated, or indeed both, what do you do about it apart from leave the country for warmer climes? Let's start with the body. Unless you are into open water swimming, or go out running with exposed limbs, your body isn't being attacked by the elements. However, central heating can still cause water to evaporate from your epidermis, the upper layer of the skin. There's no point in whacking on fancy body lotion without first exfoliating, that means getting rid of the dead skin cells on the surface. You need to do this whether you are dry or dehydrated once or twice a week and do it gently. If you want to buy body scrubs, or make your own with oil and sugar, crack on, but they will leave your shower in a right old mess. I prefer to use a shower gel with a Japanese nylon wash cloth (purchased online), or an old fashioned loofah. Use body lotion every day on arms and legs (I don't bother with my back as my skin is oily). It's better to use the cheap stuff every day than expensive once a week. Dry skin benefits from thicker 'body butters' and richer creams containing shea butter. If you are dehydrated products containing hyaluronic acid (more of which in a minute) can help.
For the face, whatever skin type, I recommend cleansing with a balm or cream cleanser and removing the product with warm water and a flannel. This will gently remove the dead skin cells from the surface. This may be all the exfoliating someone with dry skin lacking in sebum needs. For those with dehydrated skin that is not dry, a toner containing glycolic acid used a couple of times a week will dissolve the dead cells on the skin's surface in a far kinder way than a scratchy facial scrub. Next, I would recommend a serum containing hyaluronic acid. This is a substance found naturally in the skin that helps retain water. Put moisturiser over the top of the serum to seal it in, or use a fancy oil at night if you prefer. In the morning give the moisturiser 5 minutes to sink in and then whack on some sunscreen as you can still get sun damage to your face in winter.
There you go - winter skin sorted. I haven't recommended any particular brands here, because I'm not one of those Instagram influencer types, neither am I a beauty therapist. However, all of my training as a massage therapist and the fact that I inhale beauty blogs and podcasts nearly as much as I read books (and I read a lot of books) means that I've learned about the structure of the skin and it's care, so do feel free to ask me for recommendations at your next massage appointment.