Living in the northwest it’s easy to forget the sun exists during the winter. Most days are dim, usually drizzly and almost always cloud-covered. It’s easy to remember to take care of your skin when your arms and legs are playing in the warm rays of the sun but when you’re bundled under scarves and rainwear, our self-care falters. We care for our children’s skin often better than our own. Winter brings a slew of skin harms with it. Giving your skin the TLC it needs during these dark months will keep it healthy (and looking great) once it’s time again for spring exposure.
Dry Skin And “The Itch That Rashes”
Our skin gets dry in the winter for a variety of reasons. Cold temperatures, lack of humidity and recirculated air (hello office heater!) can all contribute to dry, scaly spots. Winter is also a time when we see an increased risk for eczema flare-ups, a chronic, relapsing condition that brings incredibly dry, itchy patches of skin. The icing on the cake is that eczema primarily affects kids! A recent study suggests at least 10% of children in the US suffer from eczema, the “rash that itches.” A patch gets started, a child can’t help but itch it and the rash blooms. Between 2000 & 2010 pediatric cases of eczema came close to doubling and while this condition not only affects how skin looks and feels, it can have a direct impact on a child’s quality of life. Nearly half of kids with eczema report a severely negative impact on their quality of life, including sleep deprivation (from the itching), activity restriction and even depression. If your child suffers from eczema, talk to your pediatrician to create an action plan for combating these dry months and hopefully avoiding such severe tolls and trolls on everyday life.
Protecting Your Skin Year Round
Even though there isn’t sun to be seen, there are still plenty of UVA rays penetrating the clouds and reaching our skin. UVA rays don’t vary throughout the year and contain radiation thought to cause aging, wrinkles and damage to the immune system of the skin. If you’re up in the mountains the danger of sun exposure is even greater because of the altitude and all that reflective, wonderful snow … that fresh powder reflects up to 80% of the sun’s rays and UV radiation increases 4-5% every 1,000 feet above sea level. Not sure how strong the sun will be at your vacation destination? The EPA has a detailed UV index for the entire country that gives an outlook up to four days in advance. Download the app and check out the maps — the index incorporates climate, latitude and weather.
4 Ways To Keep Your Skin Healthy This Winter
- Use daily sunscreen. SPF 30, broad-spectrum (covering UVA and UVB rays) is great when outside but many daily moisturizers for the face include SPF 20 or above which can be great for regular office and school days. A quick reminder here that SPF only refers to UVB protection while broad-spectrum refers to protection from both UVB and UVA. UVB burns burn the skin (rarely in winter) and UVA ages the skin.
- Set up a humidifier. The excess moisture helps keep skin moisturized in your dry-as-a-bone home and protects not only dryness on outside skin but also dryness in mucus membranes in the nose, preventing nosebleeds. Remember to change water daily to prevent mold growing in humidifying machine. And while you want to humidify the air around your skin you’ll also want to hydrate from within — you’re much more wrinkly when dry or dehydrated than when you’ve had adequate water. Although no good data to back up the 8 cups of water a day, more really may be merrier this time of year.
- Use creams and barriers. Over-the-counter creams are best for keeping moisture in the skin. One trick to remember is to purchase creams that you have to “scoop out” as they have less water in them, therefore providing a better barrier for the skin. Avoid scents and smells, colors or claims for “baby” or “children.” In general most pediatricians and dermatologist recommend a few OTC creams that lack any extra ingredients or special claims for children. If your child has dry skin remember that applying creams to whole body immediately after bathing can combat the dryness that comes from hot baths. If your child is one of ten with eczema, review your skin action plan with your pediatrician when in next!
- Don’t forget your lips: Your lips are also susceptible to those harmful UV rays, dryness and sunburn! And although cancers of the lip comprise only 0.6% of all cancers in the US, a chapstick or lip balm with SPF will keep your lips safe from the sun preventing dryness, sun damage or freckling.
This post was written in partnership with OTC Safety.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @OTCSafety #OTCSafety for more info on health and wellness.