Workplace Solutions Seasonal safety: Winter

Winterize your skin

How does cold weather negatively impact the skin, and how can I protect my skin in the winter?

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Responding is Andreas Klotz, technical product manager, Deb USA, Charlotte, NC.

Wintertime can be very stressful for the skin. The ambient outside air already contains very little moisture because of the low temperatures. In heated rooms, this actually creates what is equivalent to an extreme desert climate for the skin.

The sebaceous glands that create the “natural skin moisturizer” for our skin completely stop producing sebum (fat) at temperatures below 46° F. At the same time, our body tries to keep the heat inside the body by reducing blood circulation in the skin. This means that less moisture and nutrients are transported to the skin from inside the body. No sweat is produced either, so the skin loses most of its moisture within just a few hours, and the lipid content gets low.

Some jobs include alternating activities inside and outside. This ongoing change of warm and cold temperatures puts additional stress on the skin.

With loss of moisture, lipids and moisture-binding substances, the skin becomes dry. First it is only a tense feeling and some light scaling. Next steps are itching, redness, and rough and cracked skin. This can be very painful, especially when the skin cracks around the nails. Along with this, the barrier function of the skin can become impaired. The skin becomes more susceptible to develop rashes caused by chemical substances at home and at work.

Washing can make the situation worse if done improperly. Many people believe handwashing is more effective when the water is very hot. In fact, hot water contributes to dry skin and may even irritate the skin, and it can be demonstrated that handwashing with cold water is as effective as washing with hot water. Long, hot showers and excessive use of soap will also add stress to the skin. Similarly, avoid “simmering” in the bath tub. Use a gentle liquid soap – not bar soap, which may irritate the skin and can harbor germs.

Comprehensive skin care will help prevent your skin from becoming rough, sore or even cracked. An often-mentioned reason not to use skin care – especially by men – is that the products available do not absorb quickly enough and leave residues. A solution for this issue is a using a lighter skin care product during the day and a richer product at night. And skin care does not include only hands and the face: don’t forget the body and feet.

Use alcohol hand sanitizing foam instead of a gel. Agents used to make products a gel formulation can build up on the skin and cause additional discomfort. Use a hand sanitizer with moisture-binding substances to support your skincare efforts.

Do not forget to moisturize from the inside. Drink lots of water to replace moisture that evaporates quickly from the skin under cold, dry conditions. Drink at least 1.5 quarts per day. Avoid sugar-loaded soda products.

Skin also may need UV protection from a sunscreen. UV levels in the mountains and in the snow can be very high, causing additional skin stress and maybe even sunburn.

Winterize yourself; get stocked up with restore creams. Use them regularly and your skin will be fit for the next spring.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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