It goes without saying that the cold, drizzly months of winter are no friend to our complexion. So if you’re suddenly suffering from dry skin, you’re not alone. Along with harsh winds and rapid drops in temperature, one of the biggest factors affecting our skin is actually taking place within our homes. It’s officially Time To Put The Heating On (if you haven’t already), and while this keeps our bodies warm and dries our washing in record time, our skin is really taking the hit.
According to experts, central heating is one of the biggest contributing factors to dry skin over the winter months. “Many people suffer from dry, dehydrated skin but it becomes extremely common in the winter because dry, cold air holds less moisture, which means that your skin isn’t absorbing as much as in the summer. When the environment around you is drier, your skin gets drier,” explains Dr Paris Acharya, aesthetic doctor, skincare expert and face surgeon. “Other winter factors can affect this, including central heating – the heaters we turn on when the temperature drops can affect the air, which means that mostly all air that we come into contact with, both indoors and outdoors is dry and lacking in humidity. This results in dehydrated, flaky skin, which is easily irritated.”
So, as cosy as a warm house sounds, it could be causing all manner of skin concerns. Similar to air-conditioning, central heating reduces the moisture levels in their air, causing skin to become dry and tight. “Central heating adds an extra level of stress to managing dry skin, which is especially problematic when you have a pre-existing skin disease such as psoriasis or eczema,” explains Dr Adam Friedmann, consultant dermatologist for Stratum Dermatology Clinics. “Warning signs that your skin might be too dry are if it feels rough to the touch, looks scaly or begins to flake.”
What can central heating do to existing skin conditions?
For those who already have dry skin, or existing skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, central heating can make symptoms worse.
“Use of central heating over the winter months reduces indoor humidity by drying out the air as the temperature rises. This has a drying effect on the skin as it encourages loss moisture from the surface, leading to irritation and flare-ups of conditions like eczema, where the skin barrier is impaired,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Derrick Phillips.
“Most redness and irritation tends to occur when the skin’s protective barrier is damaged,” adds Dr Acharya. Our skin is made up of various different layers, each of which is designed for a specific important function to protect the body. The very top, outermost layer acts like a protective wall, which consists of tough skin cells that are bound together to create a barrier between the deeper layers of skin and the outside environment, preventing toxins and bacteria from entering the body. If this gets damaged, many skin issues can be caused, including redness.” Dr Acharya recommends using products specifically designed to protect the skin barrier, from targeted serums to daily SPF application to prevent further barrier damage.
As well as causing dry conditions inside, central heating also causes problems due to the contrast in temperatures from outside. “The temperature changing from warm and cosy inside to chilly outside, also causes blood vessels to dilate, making the redness of acne and rosacea appear much worse,” says Dr Friedmann.
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What can you to do prevent dry skin caused by central heating?
Rather than turning the heating off altogether and sitting at home shivering, there are some helpful alternatives to try to alleviate skin problems central heating can cause. For starters, it could make a huge difference to your skin if you simply turned your heating off at night. “Leaving the central heating on overnight will result in prolonged exposure of the skin to low humidity levels, resulting in dryness and irritation,” explains Dr Phillips.
It might also be a good idea to try and replenish the moisture levels in the air: “If you have dry and dehydrated skin, you should use a humidifier, especially in the winter months when the air is drier,” recommends Dr Friedmann. A humidifier is a simple device which help to regulate the moisture levels in the air. Traditional humidifiers rely on a tank of water, which boils to emit steam into the air, while more advanced devices use ultrasonic vibrations to create water vapour for a more hygienic and a safer option.
It’s also beneficial to avoid exposing skin to either very hot or cold water: “The mixture of hot water and cold temperatures can leave your skin feeling raw and exposed,” says Dr Friedmann. Make your showers shorter and cooler and stick to warm baths to help you relax and moisturise your skin, especially if you add some nourishing bath oils.
Which skincare is best to nourish dry skin caused by central heating?
“A moisturising skincare routine will ensure that your skin remains hydrated even if the central heating is left on this winter. Look for hydrating cleansers and moisturisers containing humectants and occlusives which will add moisture to the skin, and protect against loss of water from the skin surface,” says Dr Phillips, who also advises to “avoid excessively hot showers and baths, as hot water can strip the skin of natural oils, exacerbating dryness caused by central heating.”
Dr Acharya stresses that serums are also key to tackling dry skin: “Many people think that a moisturiser is enough hydration, however as the weather gets colder and our skin becomes dryer, a serum provides the nourishment that a moisturiser can’t. The molecules in a serum are much smaller than those in a moisturising product, therefore a serum can penetrate deeper into the skin to achieve more effective results.”
Here are the dry-skin-busting ingredients to incorporate into your skincare regime this winter…
“Hyaluronic acid is one of the best ingredients for instant hydration in the winter months. It helps the skin to retain water, with half a teaspoon of hyaluronic acid holding around 3 gallons of water – it’s definitely a vital ingredient for your daily routine,” says Dr Acharya. “I would recommend using it in the form of a serum, applying twice daily to see optimum results.”
“Growth factors are natural substances, such as proteins, made by the skin cells that regulate cell growth to help repair damaged skin as a result of ageing, sun damage or other environmental factors. They play a vital role in maintaining healthy skin structure and function and promote the formation of collagen to provide firmness and elasticity,” explains Dr Acharya. “Using serums with a high concentration of growth factors every day is known to significantly refresh the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and improve skin discolouration and texture – perfect for those experiencing seasonal skin changes in winter.”
“No matter your skin type, I always recommend applying Vitamin C to your skin daily for brightening and collagen boosting – opt for an oil-free formulation if you are acne prone,” says Dr Acharya. “Vitamin C is perfect for autumn/winter routines as it provides powerful antioxidant protection, which can improve DA damage caused by sun and pollution from the summer. It also encourages collagen production to strengthen the skin, preventing lines and wrinkles from forming.”
It might sound obvious, but the moisturiser you choose can make all the difference. As a general rule, if you have very dry skin, the thicker the cream the better. “If moisturisers are too thin, they will evaporate very quickly and leave skin drier,” explains Dr Friedmann. Of course, very thick creams are also more difficult to tolerate as they can feel greasy, but it’s well worth trying in order to soothe the skin.
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