Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Let’s face it: Ruthless winds and frigid temperatures can give skin a bad case of winter woes. Everyday exposure to the elements, combined with hours spent in artificially heated indoor environments, often leaves skin flaky, tight, and rough.
The skin is our largest organ, made up of three layers. The visible layer—the stratum corneum—protects the underlying epidermis from dirt, bacteria, and pollution. But wind, dry air, and winter sun rapidly sap moisture from this layer. The result is a dry, flaky surface. Worse yet, harsh detergents and synthetic skin care products can irritate a parched complexion.
What can you do for your skin when the mercury plummets? Use cleansers, face creams, and body lotions containing plant-based moisturizers. Natural emollients such as jojoba oil, shea butter, and squalene (from olives) are similar in chemical makeup to the skin’s natural sebum. Humectants such as hyaluronic acid and vegetable glycerin also help skin attract and retain moisture. As a bonus, research suggests that hyaluronic acid also combats skin irritation and inflammation—two of the problems our skin faces during winter months.
Ceramides—lipids that are found in high concentrations within cell membranes—reduce water loss from the skin by forming a protective barrier. But our skin’s natural lipids wane as we age. Fortunately, applying ceramides derived from wheat germ oil may help to replace what’s lost.
Moisture loss isn’t the only problem in the winter. It’s also important to protect against the winter sun. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, while the intensity of ultraviolet B (UVB) rays diminishes in the winter, ultraviolet A (UVA) rays remain constant all year. That’s why it is critical to apply a mineral-based SPF 15 sunscreen on all of your exposed parts daily.
Supplementing with key nutrients also helps bolster winter skin. Most important are essential fatty acids such as omega-3s, found in cold-water fish and flaxseed. When taken on a regular basis, they create healthy cell membranes that can hold water inside the cell. The more water in the cell, the better hydrated the skin. Omega-6 fatty acids-particularly gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant seed oil-are potent anti-inflammatories that improve skin moisture, elasticity, firmness, and softness.
Vitamins A and E are also key. Studies show that vitamin A, in the form of beta-carotene, is a potent anti-inflammatory that can guard against sunburn. Vitamin E, as gamma-tocotrienol, also protects skin from inflammation and sun damage.
These strategies work to keep skin soft and supple even during the cruelest winter conditions-and all season long.