Winter Beauty Cheat Sheet: How to Protect Your Skin and Hair

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Winter is out to sabotage your skin and hair, and outdoor conditions aren’t the only culprits. Escaping from the damaging effects of harsh winter winds can’t just be done by heading inside, because space heaters and central heating rob skin and hair of needed moisture. The same thing happens when people take long, hot showers and baths that are especially looked forward to in the winter. The news isn’t all bad, though, because with changes in diet and habits, people can improve the health of their hair and skin.

Dermatologists say there are simple daily routine changes that we can make to keep our skin from drying out. In a press release for the American Academy of Dermatology, Stephen P. Stone, MD, FAAD, a professor of dermatology and director of clinical research at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine at Springfield, offered tips on how to keep dry skin from being a nuisance in winter months. “Keep your baths and showers short and make sure you use warm, not hot water,” he said. “Switching to a mild cleanser can also help reduce itching, and be sure to gently pat the skin dry after your bath or shower as rubbing the skin can be irritating.”

Stone also said to read a product’s label carefully. Alcohol-based toners, deodorant soaps, and products with fragrances added in can irritate dry skin, making the problem worse. For cracked hands that can’t be soothed by regular moisturizers, Stone said to dab a bit of petroleum jelly on right before bed. If you’re really keen on introducing moisture into the air, use a humidifier in your home.

The Colorado Dermatology Institute explains that using mild soaps is important year-round for skin. When a soap is too harsh, the skin can be deprived of natural oils, worsening a dry skin condition. That said, changing soaps may not be enough, and people might look to a moisturizer for added oomph. But not all moisturizers are created equal. In general, the Institute placed ointments at the top as the most moisturizing, then creams, and finally lotions. Moisturizing skin within three minutes of bathing is ideal, and so is using one of the treatments before going outside.

Small changes and remedies can aid hair in winter months, too. Nick Chavez, owner of the Nick Chavez Beverly Hills Salon and a QVC hair care expert, told WebMD that hair is susceptible in both winter and summer but suffers more in the cold because people don’t take necessary precautions. Boston salon owner Marc Harris finds that products with soy protein and panthenol are the best ways to replenish hair health during cold winter months. ”For me, the product has to contain essential fatty acids and humectants — not only because they are best at moisturizing hair, but because they help attract and hold moisture in the hair, which can be a real challenge in winter weather,” Harris said.

Conditioning packs will not work for everyone, Harris adds. People with thin hair should avoid them because it is too heavy for their hair. Instead, using a conditioner and light leave-in conditioning spray are key steps in the repair process. ”But it has to be very light or it will weigh down fine hair and make it flat and limp,” Harris said.

Chavez and Harris both say to turn to the kitchen for hair help. An easy, effective remedy for dried-out locks is to treat them with vegetable oils. Chavez favors olive oil and Harris is a fan of safflower oil, but both agree you can reap rewards using the oils on your hair.

To apply an oil to your hair, place a few drops in the palms of your hands and rub your hands together until the skin on your palms is glistening. Then, starting at the ends, run your hands up through your hair to the scalp. This can be done any time you feel your hair is looking parched. Another method is to treat the ends of your hair with hand cream.

Of course, oils aren’t the only kitchen aids — you can also eat your way to healthier hair and skin. Jo Lewin, a nutritional therapist, said to BBC GoodFood that nutrients are essential parts of a hair-healthy diet. You can keep your locks thick with protein and iron, and be sure to get plenty of vitamin C to have strong hair. Omega-3s and vitamin A will prevent your scalp from dehydrating. Zinc and selenium offer even more scalp-saving properties, and vitamin E provides overall protection.

Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A and C as well as biotin, which prevents frail hair. They are in season during the winter months, and so are oranges, persimmon, and pears, all of which contain vitamin A and C.

Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, adds B vitamins to the list. The vitamins help create oxygen-carrying red blood cells, ensuring hair doesn’t become brittle or weak because it is oxygen deprived. For foods high in B vitamins, Bauer recommends pork, salmon, eggs, chicken, oatmeal, and low-fat dairy foods. Many of these foods are also high in protein, another hair booster. Oatmeal has another benefit in zinc. But if a morning bowl of oats is not your preferred breakfast, other sources of zinc include oysters, cashews, yogurt, and lobster.

Most of the nutrients that are a boon for healthy hair will improve your skin, as well. Selenium is great for protecting skin cells against free radical damage, WebMD says. Omega-3s and Omega-6s battle dry skin because they assist in the creation of the skin’s natural oil layer. These essential fatty acids also foster younger, healthier-looking skin. But by February, your skin may already be worse for wear from the weather. In that case, turn to antioxidants to combat damage that has been done.

To add fatty acids into your diet, start eating walnuts and salmon. You can also look for ways to incorporate flax seeds into recipes, as well as olive oil. Fruits and vegetables tend to be high in antioxidants, and winter produce is no exception. To be seasonably smart with your choices, buy apricots, beets, squash, and peppers. Water, always in season, helps your skin in the winter, too. It keeps your blood flowing, improving circulation and the look of your skin.

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