Out in the Cold

Keeping your skin healthy all winter long

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  • Written by
    Nancy Sokoler

Fortunately we don’t encounter frigid temperatures or snowstorms here in the temperate South Bay. But even in milder climates, skin still needs TLC during the winter months. “It’s not so much the cold temperatures that affect our skin but the lack of humidity typical of winter,” says Scott Rackett, MD, a dermatologist with Manhattan Beach Dermatology. “The Santa Ana winds we get have single-digit humidity, and it’s that lack of moisture that dries out people’s skin.” 

The skin is your body’s largest organ. Show it the care it deserves during the winter and all year through. To avoid the dry, red and itchy skin that tends to occur this time of year, we need to help the skin retain moisture. Here are some suggestions.

Use Kinder Cleansers

Constantly washing hands, using hand sanitizers and showering daily dries the skin by stripping off the body’s own oils and moisturizers, says Dr. Rackett. Soaps that promise to get you squeaky clean or that have strong fragrances can be harsh on the skin. The same goes for antibacterial soaps. 

Instead use milder soaps and ones with added moisturizers. Dr. Rackett recommends Cetaphil, CeraVe and Aveeno as brands that cleanse without drying. Note the difference between unscented and fragrance-free: Unscented soaps may still contain fragrance intended to mask the smell of something in the formula. Fragrance-free means that no extra fragrances were added. 


After washing your hands or body, use a towel to gently pat the skin dry and then immediately apply moisturizer. “People generally don’t apply enough moisturizer to their skin,” says Dr. Rackett. “You want to see it glistening on the skin and wait for it to absorb.” 

Moisturizers come in several forms. Lotions, the thinnest, usually come in pump bottles. Creams, which are thicker, often come in tubs. Ointments, like Vaseline, are the thickest and most hydrating and typically come in a tub or tube. Since ointments can leave a residue, consider using them at night. Dr. Rackett notes that oils hydrate well, and his patients seem to like coconut oil. But the best moisturizer, he says, is the one you like to use on your skin.

Don’t Forget Sunscreen

Sunscreen isn’t just for beach days. Apply it each day to your face, arms, ears, neck and chest. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using sunscreen that is waterproof, protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and has an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or more. Don’t be stingy; most people only apply half of the recommended amount of sunscreen. 

“Use daily moisturizer and sunscreen even if you work in an office,” says Dr. Rackett. “You can still get sun exposure while you’re driving, if you sit near a window or when you walk to lunch. Sun exposure is cumulative, and small amounts add up.”

More Skin-Saving Strategies

Taking shorter showers not only conserves water; it also spares the skin. Bathing or showering for longer periods can strip away the skin’s moisture. Keep temperatures lukewarm rather than hot to avoid washing away the skin’s natural oils.

Consider using a humidifier to increase moisture levels in the air. Be sure to monitor humidity levels and keep your humidifier clean.
Remember to protect your lips, which get frequent sun exposure. Use a lip balm with sunscreen and reapply throughout the day. Dr. Rackett suggests coating lips with Vaseline or Aquaphor at night. 

A Note About El Niño

Rainy, gloomy weather benefits the skin by adding moisture and humidity to the air. If you get soaked, be sure to towel off. Air-drying lets water evaporate into the air, drawing moisture not just from the surface of the skin but from the layers underneath. Don’t forget the moisturizer.