Thirsty Skin

Keys to Avoid Winter Dehydration

By Sherina Jamal

Originally published in Skin Deep, December/January 2005.

We’re typically concerned about dehydration during summer’s simmering months. But winter has a unique set of characteristics that make us particularly susceptible to dry skin. Because of the cooler temperatures, we’re less apt to feel thirsty and drink a proper amount of water, even if our skin is in dire need. We’re also less likely to notice the effects of the sun on a cool day, which can lead to overexposure of UV rays. And the arid heat of furnaces warming the indoors may also take its toll and dry out already taxed skin.

Dehydration causes an imbalance in the skin’s pH levels, disrupting the delicate chemical balance between acidity and alkalinity. Such an imbalance reduces the skin’s ability to produce sebum and hold moisture and compromises the skin’s protective shield. The cells in the inner layers of the skin become dry, and the result is flaky, red, scaly skin that is susceptible to premature aging and wrinkles. This can lead to more serious conditions, such as eczema. Furthermore, dry skin easily accumulates dead cells on the surface. This buildup causes a dull, uneven tone and creates a barrier that
prevents the skin from accessing moisture from its under layers.

Fortunately, specific steps can be incorporated into spa treatments and home care to counteract the effects of winter’s dehydration.

Hydrating Products

Many products on the market, particularly inexpensive drugstore brands, are created with high percentages of water. This sounds good, but they don’t actually penetrate the epidermis, and they do little for hydrating the skin. Instead, look for the following active ingredients, which have the ability to replenish the skin’s outer layers while working internally to help absorb and retain moisture.

Antioxidants — including vitamins C and E, green tea, and grapeseed extract — contribute to healthy, hydrated skin by combatting free radical damage from environmental factors and strengthening the skin’s collagen and elastin levels.

• Magnesium ascorbyl phosphate is a very stable form of
vitamin C gaining popularity for use in skin care products,
helping to improve in the skin’s overall texture.

• Vitamin E is a natural moisturizing agent that improves the skin’s barrier protection. Topical use soothes dry skin and eases conditions such as eczema. Opt for products containing the natural form of vitamin E, D-alpha tocopherol, rather than the irritant alpha tocopherol acetate (vitamin E combined with acetate).

• Green tea is composed of polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that appear to stimulate cellular activity and diminish the moisture blockage caused by dead skin cells.

• Grapeseed extract contains proanthocyanidins, which help to maintain internal cellular function and strengthen blood vessels. Topical use improves the skin’s overall texture.

Papaya (papain) enzymes work to gently “peel” away dry and dead skin cells from the surface, making way for the production of new, healthier cells. Gentle enough to use even on sensitive skin types.

Hyaluronic acid (HA), also known as glycosaminoglycan, is gaining popularity as an anti-aging dietary supplement. HA is present in both the dermis and epidermis and maintains high levels of water in the inner layers of the skin. As we age, HA production decreases, making both topical and internal supplementation a wise choice.

Fresh seaweed replaces the essential minerals — iron, copper, zinc, cobalt, boron, manganese, and magnesium — often depleted in dehydrated skin. Apply a seaweed-based mask and cover with a heated wrap or blanket to penetrate and hydrate the skin.

Muds and clays made of superfine particles, such as Canadian glacial clay, have the ability to penetrate, thoroughly nourish, and cleanse the skin from the inside out. Some clays can also increase circulation, as they encourage the flow of nutrients and moisture within the tissues. For best results, apply to the skin as a mask for 15 to 20 minutes. (Note: Avoid drying clays such as kaolin and bentonite that absorb excess oil.)

Remember, just because a product lists these ingredients on its label doesn’t necessarily mean it contains enough to provide therapeutic benefit or the ingredient is of high enough quality to be effective. Do your research and review the studies behind your selected product lines. Always read the labels and look for natural ingredients, such as pure carrier oils, essential oils, and vegetable-based ingredients. Avoid products with a high percentage of synthetics, such as propylene glycol, petroleum, chemical detergents including sodium laurel sulfates, and artificial colors and fragrances.

Winter skin dehydration can be managed and even prevented with tailored skin care therapies and products. And with a little marketing effort, you can offer your clients seasonal solutions during these arid months.