With extreme cold warnings and record snowfalls reported all over the country, is it any wonder that our skin tends to go a bit haywire in the winter? The dry, heated air indoors and the crisp winds outdoors mean our skin never gets a break. But this doesn’t mean you’ll have to wait until summer to find relief. For the first part of our blog series on common skin ailments, we’ll tackle one that affects almost everyone: dryness.
What causes dry skin?
At its simplest, your winter skin is caused by low levels of moisture in the epidermis (the outermost layer of skin). While it can happen anytime, dry skin tends to be exacerbated by the low humidity levels during the winter months. The air pulls moisture from the epidermis, causing parched, scaly skin that looks flaky and feels tight and itchy. But there’s a biological factor too. Our skin cells are made up of lipids and proteins. When there’s an imbalance or injury to these components, it causes moisture to evaporate more quickly from the skin, resulting in that characteristic winter roughness. Genetics can also come into play. If your family members tend to suffer from dry skin, you’re more likely to experience the same.
Treating dry skin holistically
It’s easy to slather on cream from the drugstore and be done with it, but a long-term solution requires a comprehensive approach. While lotions can temporarily take care of the surface symptoms, I like to consider topical treatments in conjunction with dietary changes and the use of supportive herbs, applied topically and ingested for internal benefits.
You’ve heard it again and again, but drinking more water can make a huge difference by hydrating from within. 3-4 litres daily is not only ideal for improving your skin’s condition but also for good health overall.
Consuming healthy fats can also help. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are vital to cell membrane maintenance and function, and provide nourishment and hydration for smoother skin. These fats are found in vegetable oils, fish, nuts, and eggs.
Finally, I also recommend the use of bitters to support a healthy digestive system. These are herbs and plants that taste bitter and stimulate the digestive juices. These include dark leafy greens, dandelion leaf, and lettuces (particularly arugula, radicchio, and mustard greens). Aside from being delicious, these foods stimulate digestive enzymes to efficiently break down the rest of your meal, making it easier for your body to reap the nutritious benefits.
These elements form a great jumping-off point to eating for better skin. It also forms the foundation for treating other skin conditions, such as eczema (more on that in a later post – stay tuned)!
Topical balms play an essential role in your overall treatment plan. The products you pick should contain anti-inflammatory properties, promote healing and manage itchy skin. Chickweed and plantain leaf are two multi-function herbs that tackle both itch and healing, while marshmallow root, St. John’s Wort and Calendula have a healing and anti-inflammatory component. For an excellent, all-purpose emollient, our All-Heal Salve contains herbs to handle general irritation and dryness, as well as soothing angry skin. Our Body Butter and Rosehip Seed Oil are other beautifully moisturizing options that can help maintain your skin’s condition while restoring its water and lipid levels.
For internal use, I recommend herbs that support the nervous system, such as skullcap, oat straw, and chamomile. Herbs that cleanse the blood and improve immune function can be helpful in this regard as well. Nettle leaf, burdock root, red clover and Echinacea are all good options. I like to use these herbs in a tea, and our Mom-to-Be tea contains skin healing herbs from both categories. Despite its name, this loose leaf blend isn’t just restricted to prospective mothers! It can serve as a warm pick-me-up for anyone when the mercury dips. Freshly brewed herbal tea can be consumed as part of your overall hydration strategy, and will give you some variety from just plain water.
Your skin is your body’s largest organ – make sure to take care of it! Harsh Canadian winters mean that it’s hardly an option to turn off the heat, but dry skin doesn’t have to be part of the package. Enjoying a healthier diet and using supportive herbs can go a long way in improving its condition, particularly when it’s cold out.