You need armor to face the cold


As you hurry each day from your heated car to your heated office or home -- with your extra layers and your cold-weather gear -- you feel like you can barely tell that winter has arrived.

But your skin can.

As the weather gets colder, the air gets drier, and your face bears the brunt.

Dry skin. Cracked skin. Red, irritated, tight-feeling skin.

While your first instinct may be to hide behind a fluffy scarf or cover up with a ski mask, aestheticians, doctors and other skin experts say these are signs that, instead, you should be paying more attention to your skin-care program.

We asked three skin-care enthusiasts to tell us the three most important ways that women (in particular) can prevent problem skin in these colder months.

Here's what they had to say:

n Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.

Hydrating the skin is important year-round, but in the winter, it's especially so.

"The humidity level drops in many places during the winter, causing the air to become dry. Coupled with indoor heating, as well as hot showers and baths, a woman's skin can become stripped of moisture and feel dry, cracked and irritated," said Lynn Laboranti, a registered nurse with Olay Vitamins, which were specially formulated for skin health and beauty.

In order to combat the drying effects of colder weather and cranked-up heating units, it might be helpful to change moisturizers, said Joe Plymale, a skin specialist / educator with Philosophy skin- care products.

"I'd go with something a little heavier, a little more moisturizing formula," Plymale said. "If you're using something that's oil-free, maybe go to something that's a cream."

n Hydrate from within.

That old saying, "beauty is only skin deep," isn't exactly true. If your insides are starving for healthy foods and nourishing liquids, it'll show up on your face, experts said. Especially in the winter.

"It's not just what you put onto your skin, but what you put into your body that makes skin beautiful," Laboranti said. "Feeling good and looking good are intrinsically linked."

To that end, drinking lots of good old-fashioned water is crucial.

"Staying hydrated helps keeps skin soft and supple," Laboranti said.

It's easy to drink your eight glasses a day when it's scorching outside, but skin in the winter is even thirstier. So if you absolutely must have your double latte on the way in each morning, exchange your lunchtime Diet Coke for a big glass of agua. And have the waiter bring you water and wine at dinner tonight.

Getting enough sleep and exercise and maintaining a healthy diet also are important, Laboranti said. Skin-friendly diets are those rich in fruits, vegetables and essential fatty acids, found in foods such as fish, for example. Salmon, mackerel, herring and tuna are good sources of essential fats.

n Don't overcleanse, or overexfoliate.

Throw away that bar of soap! Experts say that many of the cleansing products women use are too harsh for the winter. Soap, which is extremely drying, is one item. Many exfoliators, masks and scrubs also are culprits.

Though it's important to exfoliate (slough away dead skin cells) even in the winter, don't be overzealous about it, said Barry Cohen, a Maryland-based plastic surgeon and chairman of Total Skin Care, LLC.

"You're constantly running a balancing act of wanting to keep your skin hydrated, but wanting to keep your skin turned over," Cohen said. "It's a little bit more challenging in the wintertime than it is in the summer. You may need to go back to [exfoliating] every other day or every third day if you find yourself getting excessively dry."

Cohen also said women can use one of several new products on the market -- including a new line he co-founded called pH Advantage -- that contain a humectant called hyaluronic acid.

"It actually draws water into the skin," Cohen said.

Plymale, of Philosophy, said using "enzymatic" exfoliators -- which slough cells by using enzymes, not harsher beads or scrubbing agents -- are other alternatives in the colder months.

Although we asked for only three tips, none of the experts could resist advising women -- and men -- to remember to use sunscreen even in the winter. The sun's harmful rays are still reaching your face, even if its heat isn't reaching your thermostat.

And be consistent, Plymale said. Maintaining healthy skin should be a daily routine -- not an afterthought when your skin becomes dull, dry or sallow.

"Skin care isn't fast food," Plymale said. "So if you wait too long, you're not going to get the results you want."

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