A guest blog by Ruth Holrioyd of WhatAllergy.com
Does your skin love or hate winter?
You might be wishing you could emigrate every winter to avoid the dreaded cold weather skin flare-up - but most of us don’t have that luxury! It can feel like the seasons are against you if you have sensitive skin.
There are lots of reasons why people with sensitive, allergy-prone or reactive skin experience dry, cracked, sore and irritated skin more often during winter months. Frustratingly we can’t do much about some of them, like cold air and central healing, but there are some really useful strategies that can help your skin cope with the wintery weather.
Here are our ten top tips for protecting your skin during the colder months:
Those cosy nights are drawing in, but unfortunately one of the worst things for dry skin is central heating. It dries out the ambient air, lowers humidity, and can strip vital moisture from your skin. Try keeping the temperature at 18-19 degrees and layering with skin-friendly clothes made from natural materials. Get some cosy throws and soft blankets, dig out the hot water bottle and the lower temperatures will be less drying for your skin.
One study from the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in August 2023 looked at the effect of cold and warm temperatures on itch. They reported that “skin flares, increased outpatient visits, skin barrier dysfunction, development of AD, and asthma exacerbations increase.”
If you can reduce the extremes of low and high, it can really help your skin. So don’t heat your house too much, and wrap up with warm natural layers when you go out in the winter; it might not just be the cold weather itself that is affecting your skin, but instead the drastic changes between inside and out. Sensitive skin that becomes irritated in the heat with hives and urticaria can also become irritated when we experience extremes of cold temperature during winter. We can try to mitigate this by being prepared with easy-to-remove cotton and natural skin-friendly layers.
Mould and damp
If you have any leaks or mould, these can cause allergic reactions that may show up on your skin. It’s never been more important to tackle those damp areas of the house. If you do have sensitive skin and don’t yet have a dehumidifier, it might be time to invest. A passive dehumidifier that works with crystals can help, but for a family home you can find cheap second hand products to try. If you do have a mould problem that seems impossible to tackle, take it one step at a time and start with the easy small things like the window frames. It could be causing asthma and skin issues if mould spores are airborne in your home. Wipe down wet windows, soak up excess water daily and treat mould – there are lots of products out there.
You can also tackle condensation by ventilating bedrooms during the night to allow air flow and prevent build up of allergens, dust and mould spores in the home. Open windows in bathrooms and kitchen while bathing and cooking. If your windows do get a build up of excess water, get some drip catchers and wipe it up each morning to prevent mould build up. I’ve found an e-cloth works best and gets the job done fastest. You don’t need your windows open all day, just an hour or two each day will make a huge difference.
Drying clothes during winter months can be difficult because you don’t always have the luxury of hanging them outside. The excess water can add to the indoor humidity and potential mould build up. Consider getting a heated airer, and hang clothes over two rails to allow faster drying and ventilate when you are drying laundry. If you don’t have a tumble dryer, you can get dryer balls that will help to dry clothes during the spin cycle. Run an extra spin cycle to remove even more excess water.
Switch to eco and natural cleaning products
Look at everything you bring into your home: during winter when doors and windows are mostly shut, indoor air quality can be far worse than you realise. Make sure you use natural candles, or none at all, and switch to natural, perfume-free cleaning if you are sensitive to chemicals and perfumes.
Despite the fact that cold weather exacerbates dry skin, getting outside and feeling fresh air on your skin feels wonderful and is good for stress levels! The more time you are in fresh air the better; our homes get stuffy and can harbour allergens, dust and mould in winter when we shut all the windows and doors.
In winter natural vitamin D reduces dramatically and this can have a profound effect on our skin and bone health. Studies have shown that those living in colder climates such as the UK can easily become deficient in Vitamin D and other nutrients and minerals. Get expert advice on the best vitamin D supplement for you and your family, and dose up over winter!
When it’s really cold outside, using a layer of safe, sensitive skin friendly emollient like Skin Salvation can help lock moisture into your skin, particularly those problem areas of hands and lips that can get really chapped. Wind can significantly dry out and irritate sensitive skin, so salve up before you go outside! Always dry hands thoroughly when you wash them and moisturise immediately after washing. Wear skin-friendly cotton gloves or insert cotton ones inside your favourite woollen gloves. Wool is warm but it can irritate the skin.
Stock up on sleep
Sleep is vitally important for healthy skin, mind and body; getting adequate sleep is even more important during the winter months - it can lower stress levels and help depleted skin regenerate. Strategies for better sleep include using an oil diffuser; keeping your room calm, cool and dark; listening to meditation podcasts; using a weighted blanket; do yoga before bed; using natural cotton bedding; taking antihistamines and/or melatonin. Finally, hydrate a few hours before you go to bed with water or herbal tea, and remember to have a pot of Balmonds by the bedside so you can apply some in the night if you wake feeling dry and itchy.
We hope some of these tips have been useful. Winter can be dark and miserable, but it can also be fresh, clear and beautiful – and that cold air on your skin can feel amazing.
If you can learn to accept your skin flares as they happen, try not to get too anxious and stressed about it and learn to understand what your winter triggers are, winter flares may not be so triggering in the future. You are not alone, and we will continue to search for answers for this baffling time of flarey skin.
Grab your favourite bobble hat and scarf, wrap up in skin friendly layers, protect your skin and enjoy those fresh, crisp winter days!
The impact of temperature on the skin barrier and atopic dermatitis:
Ruth Holroyd is an author, blogger and writer about allergies, anaphylaxis, asthma, eczema and topical steroid withdrawal. Sharing health and food issues for various clients and running the award-winning blog www.whatallergy.com. She won the Free From Food Awards Hero Award 2021 and has written two books: ‘Anaphylaxis: The Essential Guide: An Action Plan For Living With Life-Threatening Allergies’, and a poetry collection for people with eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and topical steroid withdrawal, called The Shape of Skin. Both are available on Amazon.