If you're going through a rough skin patch this Winter, you're not alone. After all, with cold weather typically comes a lack of moisture and, as a result, dry and even scaly skin. That said, there are things you could be doing to make the situation worse. Before you pick up another bar of soap, read on. We asked dermatologists to share which ingredients to steer clear of when choosing skin- and body-care products during cold-weather months.
While it may seem counterintuitive, Daniel Foitl, M.D. recommends putting down the petrolatum-based products in Winter. "The comedogenic properties of petrolatum truly seal off our skin from air, water, or anything else that wants to enter or leave," he explains. "They don't allow ambient moisture to enter our skin. In addition, they can trap oil and dirt leading to blackheads, pimples, and whiteheads."
Traditional soaps — those made with lye and fat — are extremely harsh on the skin. That's because of their high pH, which clashes with skin's lower pH. "True soaps tend to disrupt the acidic pH that the skin needs to function best at (it likes to live at a pH of 5.5 for optimal barrier function, whereas soaps can have a basic pH of 9 in some cases). They also strip the skin of crucial lipids," says Sherry Ingraham, M.D. "I recommend avoiding soap-based cleansers whenever possible, especially during the dry, Winter months," she adds. Instead, Dr. Ingraham suggests looking for cleansers that are pH neutral to slightly acidic and synthetic: "Look for syndets (synthetic detergent cleansers) from brands like Cetaphil, CeraVe, La Roche-Posay, and Aveeno."
"Overuse of astringents, especially those containing alcohol, strip skin of its natural oils," warns Dr. Foitl. This leaves your complexion raw, meaning it's unprotected and vulnerable to contact dermatitis, dry skin, and even infections. "As an alternative, try a toner (such as Neutrogena Alcohol-Free Toner) to balance the pH in skin and enhance skin barriers," he says.
Bonus Tip: "The hotter the water temperature, the dryer and more damaged our skin becomes. To enjoy a nice, warm soak, keep the water less than 98 degrees Fahrenheit, and add a bath oil or powder that protects the skin," says Dr. Foitl. We like Ren Moroccan Rose Otto Bath Oil ($48), which is loaded with soothing rose oil and vitamin E.
4. Heavy Fragrances
"Dry skin is more sensitive to ingredients, and fragrances can be particularly irritating," says Elizabeth Tanzi, M.D., founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care. As an alternative, opt for unscented (or at least minimally scented) products whenever possible.
Don't fall into the trap of adding a cortisone cream to your routine, advises Dr. Foitl. "Many rashes or allergies can be cured with cortisone creams if they are used for the short term (less than two weeks), but with long-term use, skin becomes addicted, and it can take many weeks or months of withdrawal to return to normal," he explains. The withdrawal isn't pretty either: you'd see breakouts, redness, and dryness, while experiencing painful burning. Even worse, cortisone causes permanent skin thinning and loss of collagen (meaning your skin will show signs of aging faster!), as well as broken blood vessels and stretch marks. Yikes! "Be judicious, using only mild cortisones on the face and avoiding overuse unless instructed by a dermatologist," he warns.
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