Beat Winter Skincare Blues

 The Natural Barrier Function.  Image courtesy of DIYGlowingskin.com

The Natural Barrier Function.

Image courtesy of DIYGlowingskin.com

Brrr.....Biting wind and icy temperatures are never a good combination for skin, especially when combined with warm homes and central heating during the winter months. The constant fluctuations in temperatures can play havoc with your skin, compromising its integral protective barrier function. Skin feels dry, rough and tight; and looks dull and grey as it tries to balance internal moisture levels.

Around this time of year, most people are tempted to slap on heavier lotions and potions in the hope of staving off dryness. If your winter skin plan involves an extra rich helping of Shea Butter or coconut oil being slathered on your face, stop now as there are better ways of keeping your skin hydrated during winter months.

The Natural Barrier Function - what is it?

Skin cells are arranged like a strong wall with bricks and mortar - cells being bricks and the mortar being lipids (fats). Together they form an impermeable barrier to trap water, stop moisture escaping from cells and stop irritants and pathogens from entering the skin.

Whatever the weather, all skins loose moisture through a process called Trans Epidermal Water Loss. During winter, this increases making it more challenging for your skin to balance internal hydration as we go from warm to cold and vice versa. The resulting effect is an impaired barrier function with increased dryness, tightness, roughness and dullness.

Although the epidermis and dermis are very intelligent systems with a natural ability to moisturise, fine tune and adjust to various environments, sometimes they need some help to ensure the barrier function doesn’t break down(see image above), because if that happens, all manner of sensitivities and inflammation can occur.

So what can you do to help?

Fortify the Natural Barrier Function to prevent loss of moisture and balance internal hydration. A well functioning barrier will keep moisture within the skin.

Here are my tips for successfully getting your skin through winter, maintaining health and radiance:

·      Smart Moisturising

The temptation is to apply a heavy cream, but this can actually be too much for your skin taking it from 0 to 10 too quickly. Around 5 there may be a malfunction in the form of a breakout. Thick heavy creams can be too occlusive, smother the skin and clog pores, weakening their ability to function normally.

Go for light serums and thin lotions that you can layer easily to hit the moisturised and balanced sweet spot. Look for serums with encapsulated growth factors, antioxidants and peptides. This means they are able to penetrate the skin more effectively for improved skin health results.

·      Include Poly Hydroxy Acids

Poly Hydroxy Acids are the newest baby in the Hydroxy Acids family. Whilst they still contain exfoliating elements like older relations, they have more water in their molecule formation which means they are also über hydrating and act as humectants – attracting and drawing moisture from the atmosphere to your skin. Exactly what you need in winter months to strengthen your skins barrier function and combat Trans Epidermal Water Loss!

Ingredients like Gluconolactone, Lactobionic Acid and Maltobionic Acid are the favourite children in this family (keep the analogy going!). They are found in copious amounts in the NeoStrata Restore Range and they score top marks to keep skin protected and moisturised.

·      Be cautious with facial oils

A facial oil won’t moisturise your skin so the idea of including it in your winter skincare for extra moisture is a falsehood. A facial oil will form a seal/barrier on your skin to slow down trans epidermal moisture loss. Thus your skin will feel more comfortable because you’re not losing moisture.

The problem lies in the fact that the skin is an excretory organ and needs to be able to excrete oil, sweat and old skin cells freely. With an oil forming a barrier on the top of the skin, this function is unable to happen effectively and the skin easily becomes susceptible to break outs and a sticky breeding ground for bacteria.

Therefore if you want to include an oil in your skincare you need to ensure you have applied proper hydrating products first,  use the oil sparingly and make sure it’s the right kind of oil for your skin type.

·      Upgrade your exfoliation

Include a nightly vitamin A treatment (Retinol) in your skincare routine. Vitamin A is the gold standard of exfoliation and does wonders for your skin to maintain a gentle turnover of dull, dry and underperforming skin cells. My hands down favourite is NeoStrata Retinol + NAG Complex with an encapsulated delivery system for better penetration into the skin and the NAG (N-Acetyl Glucosamine) is a gentle exfoliating skin plumping ingredient that diminishes  the appearance fine lines and evens out skin tone.

If you cannot or don’t want to use Vitamin A, you can still exfoliate using an Alpha Hydroxy Acid product like NeoStrata Smooth Surface Daily Peel pads which has a glycolic acid base. Nowadays, there is no need to use grainy exfoliation lotions can be so hard on delicate skin.

Tip – to keep your exfoliation on track throughout the year, follow my Layered Exfoliation™ approach: Use an exfoliating face cleanser with an Alpha Hydroxy Acid e.g. Glycolic/Lactic Acid, followed by serums and moisturisers that contain gentle exfoliating Poly Hydroxy Acids like Lactobionic acid and Maltobionic acid and use a Vitamin A treatment at night. This is a more progressive approach to exfoliation, rather than an aggressive once a month treatment.

·      Stimulate your skin

For the best hydration boost, skin needs to be stimulated from within to produce more of the gel like water content (Hyaluronic Acid, Glycosaminoglycans) it needs to function properly and keep cells in good working order. This also stimulates more collagen for a firmer, plumper and lifted skin tone.

This is where a professional aesthetician comes in as they can administer advanced stimulation treatments such as chemical peels, mesotherapy, dermal rolling, laser, LED and other electricals which cause minor trauma to the skin but multiplies its hydration abilities and also boosts your natural radiance giving you a healthy glow.

It is important to note that the vast majority of Hyaluronic Acid serums cannot penetrate the skin as molecularly they are too big. They sit only on the top most layer of skin providing temporary relief from dryness. 

Tip - play an active role in your skin routine. If you’re guilty of just slapping on your lotion and hoping for the best, it’s time to get more active with your hands and fingers to lift and stimulate your skin. E.g. - apply and firmly massage your cleanser into your skin for at least two minutes. This will boost blood supply to the skins surface and your face will appear brighter.

At the end of applying products use your fingers to lightly and rhythmically tap across your skin. This wakes up and revitalises tired muscles.

·      You are what you eat

It goes without saying that no matter the quantity or the prices of lotions and potions that you apply on your skin, if your diet is lacking, unhealthy skin will still show through. Hence, the importance of eating a colourful wholesome diet full of fresh food packed with nutritional support.

It’s important to also stay properly hydrated with water. All your vital organs need water to operate properly and your skin is the last in the line to get any of this water you drink, nevertheless it needs this crucial amount it gets.

Without water, your skin cannot perform important functions efficiently, like the shedding of old skin cells – they will stay on the surface of your skin causing dullness and an irregular texture leaving hyperpigmented cells clinging on for dear life.

If you work in an office with central heating on blast, keep your water glass topped up and have regular sips through the course of the day. Better yet, Rejuvenated do an excellent night supplement - H30, which supplements internal hydration whilst you sleep.

Vitamin C and D are also great supplements to take all year round, but more so during winter. Non acid Vitamin C is essential for healthy collagen and gives your skin a brightening boost. The latter is key for strong bones and with the lack of sunshine during winter months; there is a case for supplements. Darker skin tones absorb less Vitamin D from sunlight than Caucasian skin, so an extra helping is necessary.

The advantage for skin is that sufficient intake of both these vitamins will help improve sallow and dull looking skin.

So.....

Winter skincare isn’t necessarily about including more or heavier products into your skincare regime. It mainly about encouraging your natural moisture reserves and maintaining a healthy natural protective barrier to keep those moisture levels intact.

Being smart with your products and ingredients, choosing progressive exfoliation techniques, advanced treatments with a skincare professional and keeping hydrated through food and drink are all straightforward ways to better skin health during the cold season.

Dija Ayodele