Boots? Check! Parka? Check! Insulated gloves? Check!

Those of us living in cold climates have a mental checklist we run through to protect our bodies before stepping out into frigid winter weather. Yet the season brings challenges in mild zones as well. Humidity drops in wintertime, and the heating systems of our homes and workplaces suck up what little moisture is in the air.

You can often feel that it's winter, even when your body is comfortably warm usually anywhere above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. For example, it may be 75 degrees outside but if the humidity level drops below 60 percent (either indoors or outside), your skin starts losing the moisture it needs to stay comfortable. You may feel as if you're shrinking - hands tighten, face stiffens, feet crack, legs and arms get dull or ashy. Relief comes in the form of a hot shower.

So the answer to winter skin problems must be to take longer, hotter showers, right? Of course, that was a trick question: in winter, your showers should be short and lukewarm, and you should only wash the vital spots (you know what they are) on a daily basis unless you've been mucking around in a barn all day.

Tips to End Winter Skin Woes

  • To preserve skin oils, use very mild soaps (not deodorant or scented types) or non-soap bars or gels along with warm water.
  • After a brief (5 to 10 minutes only) shower, pat yourself dry. Enthusiastic towel drying will leave your skin drier than it was before the shower, as will letting water just evaporate off of you.
  • Hydrate your body right after your shower to seal in water, and repeat throughout the day. The best products are ointments, such as petroleum jelly (use a little and rub in well), and even vegetable shortening. Next most effective are oil-based products, including baby oil and mineral oil. Creams come next, with lotions being the least effective. Please note it is not recommended to use ointments or oil-based products on you face.
  • For faces, use a product with sunscreen; for lips, petroleum jelly or lip balm. You may need a heavier product than you use in the summer.
  • Protect your hands by re-moisturizing them after each hand washing and wearing rubber gloves when immersing them in water.
  • Electric blankets may dry out your skin even further, so switch to more natural coverings. Avoid heavy clothing made from wool and other rough fabrics, which can irritate your skin.
  • The sun still shines in winter. It's especially harsh in snow, which reflects as much as 80 percent of harmful rays, and in higher altitudes, which increase burn risk. Wear sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of at least 30. For mountain sports, use a face mask and goggles protect your skin from drying, wind burn and frostbite.