Winter, You Crack Me Up (And It’s Not Funny)

By Tamara Jane and Donna Lee Schillinger

Cracked lips, dry, chapping hands, perpetual thirst at night: The problem is less moisture in the air during the winter months, but the solution is not as easy as “add moisture.” If it were, water would solve the problem of static cling, right? Add moisture, yes, but we have to moisturize smart.

Maybe you think you’ve got that covered. Are you the kind of person who doesn’t leave home without lip balm or hand lotion? Your seasonal addition might actually be an indication that what you’re doing isn’t really working that well.

Smart moisturizing involves controlling your environment as a first step, because after all, that’s what causes the dryness. Secondly, it involves using the right lotions and potions in the right way.

Climate Control
You might not have any control over the thermostat at work or school, but when you can, keep the rooms you most frequently habitate cooler – like around 68 degrees. Cooler air creates an anesthetic effect as it causes your blood vessels to restrict. The dry heat that comes from heating systems sucks moisture out of the air. You’re better off adding layers, even indoors, than cranking up the heat. And this is a more economical and greener solution to mitigating winter dryness as well.

If your work environment is unbearably dry, invest $15 in an inexpensive humidifier if the boss will allow you to plug it in near your work station. Humidifiers don’t just put moisture back into the air, they actually improve health during winter months by keeping your mucous levels normal in nose and throat. Sounds gross, but that slimy stuff is your best defense against virus and bacteria.

Use a warm mist humidifier at home – where you’re in control – and especially at night when a long draught can really sap your internal moisture levels. If you heat with wood, place on top of wood stoves or hang from the hearth a fireproof kettle or Dutch oven, without a lid, full of water so your heat source also adds humidity to the room.

There’s only so much moisture you can add to the air, I mean, it’s your humidifier against the world! But you are in total control of how much moisture your body gets. During winter months, a lot of people decrease the amount of liquid they consume because they don’t sweat as much. This is a mistake. Drink the same 64 ounces a day that you were supposed to be drinking in the summer. And if your intake of hot beverages drastically increases in winter months, and they happen to be caffeinated, be sure to replace double in water what you drink in caffeinated beverages, as they zap the body of hydration.

Lotions and Potions
Yes, to keep your skin and lips moisturized, you’re going to have to spring for some products. Smart choices will address the problem better and go light on your pocketbook.

Lips can be the hardest to keep moisturized and smooth. They can become chapped or start to peel, crack and even bleed. And your lip balm could be part of the problem. What? It feels like the solution when you apply it, doesn’t it? Stop right now and get your lip balm and look at the list of ingredients. Does it contain alcohol? If so, your lip balm is part of the problem. No ingredients listed? Assume the worst and start from scratch. I’m not going as far as to say that it’s an industry-wide conspiracy or anything, but I can assure you that minds far more brilliant than my own who develop these products know that alcohol will have a drying effect on your lips. So do yourself a huge favor by finding a brand without alcohol and dumping all the rest in the trash. If you want a completely natural solution, try shea butter, coconut or olive oil. Too radical (or boring)? Search for natural lip balms at Cosmetic Setting your lip care straight might seem a little costly upfront, but it will pay off big time in healthier winter lips (summer ones too!) and overall, less lip balm needed.

If you bite or lick your lips a lot, stop! Biting your lips removes the protective cover which causes further drying. Licking your lips doesn’t help to moisturize them at all. The more you lick, the dryer you get because you’re just coating them with something that evaporates easily. Try instead dabbing a cool, wet washcloth on your lips for a few seconds, then secure the moisture with some lip balm.

If you drool in your sleep (or for that matter, while you’re awake…) apply zinc oxide to your lips for extra protection during peek drooling hours. Zinc oxide is the thick white stuff lifeguards put on their noses in winter. It’s more widely available in summer, but you should be able to find it in a pharmacy.

If none of this seems to be working for you and you don’t already take a multivitamin, try adding one to your morning routine. Dry lips can be a sign of a vitamin deficiency. They can also be indicators of some more serious health concerns, so it’s worthwhile mentioning to your primary care physician.

Dry or chapped skin is not as complicated as lips. Get several tubes or tins of good, thick shea butter moisturizers and carry one in the purse, keep one at work, one by the bed and one in the car then apply after each time you wash your hands. For deep treatments to repair your skin, put the butter cream on generously and then wear gloves, socks or other covering you don’t mind getting a little greasy to bed. A couple of nights of glove therapy followed up with the above-mentioned daytime routine should set you right.

I know everyone is crazy about hand sanitizer during flu season, but that stuff will dry your skin out terribly. It’s alcohol-based. So if you must use it, moisturize afterward.

Adding water to your skin doesn’t really hydrate it. Frequent bathing in winter dries the skin. If you don’t sweat or otherwise get disgustingly dirty throughout the day, consider bathing every other. When you do bathe, cooler water temperatures are better. Hotter water is more effective at washing away oil on the skin – good for the oily zone in the face – not good for the body overall. As you towel off, do so only to the point of being damp, not completely dry, then secure the remaining moisture to you skin by adding a thick lotion.

Finally, for some fun relief from dry skin, have a home spa night and try some unconventional, inexpensive home remedies for replenishing moisture like a banana or avocado/lime facial.

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