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Body Beautiful: Five tips for protecting your health by protecting your skin

Winter weather can be cruel to skin. [Adobestock image]

Baby it’s cold outside! And all that cold air means dry skin, which can mean a less healthy you. Think of it this way, your skin is your armor. Properly cared for it can keep out dangers, such as microbes that cause disease but when it breaks down, your defenses are weakened. 

Skin that is irritated by the elements or chemicals, such as harsh soaps, dry air or wetness, is likely to crack – and cracks make you more prone to infection. 

But it’s winter, which means it’s cold and flu season, which means a lot of hand washing, a.k.a. soap and water, two things that can lead to chapped, dry hands. Hot showers seem like such a good idea on a cold morning but hot water can drain your body of its natural moisture from your head to your toes. Low humidity is another winter companion that is no friend to your skin or health. Neither are hot drinks that contain caffeine, which is both a stimulant and a diuretic. Both play a role in robbing your skin of vital hydration and the time it needs to repair itself while you sleep. 

So, what are you to do? Don’t worry, you don’t have to give up your favorite latte or avoid soap and water but you do have to choose well. 

Choose to hydrate. Water, plain and simple, is your best resource for hydrating from the inside out. Aim for eight cups of water per day [64 ounces]. If that’s completely beyond your immediate ability, try this: drink a cup [8 ounces] of water first thing in the morning to replenish hydration lost overnight. Then, match each warm beverage with an equal amount of cool, plain water. Finally, add in a cup of water at lunch and dinner and drink a minimum of 4 ounces prior to bed. At minimum, you’ll have consumed 36 ounces, which is an excellent start. 

Choose soaps that are made to be gentle or those with added moisturizers and nutrients. And when washing your hands or body, use warm not hot water. 

Keep your skin dry. That means thoroughly drying your hands after washing and your body after showering or bathing. Also, change out of wet clothes as soon as possible. Wet clothes affect your body’s ability to regulate its internal temperature and can create friction that can lead to skin irritation. Layering can help to create barriers between you and the elements, which is why our mothers piled on the clothes before letting us out in the snow. Thankfully, layers are lighter now, but mom still knows best. 

Lotion up. Investing in high quality lotion can not only help heal cracked, dry skin but prevent dryness and irritation in the first place. Use lotion on your hands, arms, legs, feet and face, but not the same lotion. Different body parts have different needs and different moisturizers achieve different results, so do a bit of research before buying a lotion based strictly on something irrelevant like how it smells. Choose one the absorbs quickly and leaves your skin feeling hydrated for hours not minutes. Use lotion even when your skin doesn’t feel dehydrated. A good habit is to apply body lotion after showering and/or before bed, and to apply a facial moisturizer immediately after washing your face. And don’t forget that hydration for your lips, in the form of a protective balm, is important, too.

Use a humidifier. Humidifiers can be particularly effective for treating dry skin, nasal membranes, throats and lips. They can also ease some of the symptoms caused by the flu or common cold. But to be effective they must be maintained. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for cleaning and caring for your humidifier. A good rule of thumb is to wash the water tank and filter system every two to three days during usage to prevent bacterial growth. When using a humidifier, aim for humidity levels in the range of 35-50% as recommended by the Mayo Clinic and other health experts.

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