By Pam O’Connor
Have you noticed your skin has been feeling dry or flaky? If so, that’s because our skin is usually drier at this time of year.
I’ve certainly been using a lot more massage oil or lotion lately on my clients!
It’s important to take extra care of our skin in winter, especially if you have lymphoedema, diabetes or skin conditions such as eczema.
Why is our skin drier in winter?
In winter the humidity is lower – the air outside is colder and drier, making the water in your skin evaporate more quickly. Windy conditions make this worse.
Using heaters indoors also dries out your skin, especially the heaters that blow hot air. Our mucous membranes also dry out, resulting in dry throats and chapped lips.
We tend to take longer hot showers and baths in winter, but this can strip your skin of its protective oils and allow moisture to escape.
When it’s cold our blood vessels constrict or become narrow, thus less blood supply and nutrients delivered to the skin means it becomes less healthy.
Taking care of our skin
The skin is our body’s first line of defence against infection so looking after our skin is important for a healthy immune system.
Most soaps and cleansers are highly alkaline and too harsh. Our skin is slightly acidic with a pH level of around 5.5, so it’s best to use soap-free washes to protect the skin’s acid mantle.
After your bath or shower, don’t rub but pat the skin dry gently with a soft towel and immediately apply the right moisturising body lotion while the skin is still slightly damp to help lock in the moisture before it dries out.
Dry carefully in-between toes but to avoid the risk of fungal infections, don’t apply any moisturiser.
Avoid using abrasives such as scrubs or loofahs that may damage the skin. Simply use your hands to lather up.
Drink plenty of water. Our bodies are made up of about 60% of water so healthy skin needs to stay well hydrated even though we may be less active and less thirsty in the cooler months.
As we get older our skin becomes thinner and loses its elasticity so it’s even more important to protect it from damage.
Our harsh Australian climate means we have a high incidence of skin cancer so make sure you check your skin regularly and make an appointment at the skin doctors at least once a year.
The right products
With so many skin care products around it can be rather confusing to find what’s right for your skin.
Look for a natural skin care range with no colours, perfumes, parabens, petrochemicals, paraffin, propylene gycol, sulphate surfactants (SLS) and detergents – to avoid irritation to sensitive skin. This is particularly important for people with problem skin such as eczema.
You will usually find soap-free washes in a different section or aisle in supermarkets and chemists to normal soaps and cleansers. Some of these soap-free alternatives include Nutri-Synergy, QV, DermaVeen, Sukin, Alpha Keri, Dermal Therapy, Dermeze, and Hope’s Relief.
As someone who has lymphoedema I know it is absolutely essential to look after your skin if you have this condition as you are highly susceptible to cellulitis, a serious bacterial infection of the skin.
Swollen limbs can result in skin changes including dry, cracked skin creating an entry point for infection. Cracked heels and in-between toes are a popular breeding ground for bacteria to flourish in an already-impaired lymphatic system, so the feet need particular attention.
Many people with lymphoedema wear compression garments so natural moisturisers with fast absorption are best for skin comfort as well as protecting the garment’s elasticity.
People with diabetes often experience less sensation in their feet due to nerve damage or reduced blood circulation, so daily care is needed to avoid infection or non-healing wounds that may lead to amputation.
The risk is higher for people who have had diabetes for a long time, high blood glucose levels for an extended period, smokers and those who are generally inactive (Diabetes Australia). Moisturising the feet is important to avoid dry skin causing damage. Getting your feet checked by a podiatrist regularly is recommended.
Next time you come in for your appointment at Lime Physical Therapy, make sure you pick up a free sample pack of Nutri-Synergy products for dry skin. The pack includes samples of cleanser, moisturisers and Skin Repair for damaged skin.