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Simple Tips to Protect Your Skin This Winter

December 29, 2015

We're fortunate to live in a subtropical climate, making our friends and loved ones to the north jealous of our mild, sun-drenched winters. But all this sun carries with it skin care problems that are somewhat unique to Florida.

Moisturizing is a Must

Floridians are not immune to dry, itchy skin – something dermatologists call xerosis.  This condition is caused when the water content of our skin is depleted.  There are a few factors that contribute to this problem, but one is most important:  any time air humidity around us is low we’re losing water from our skin into the environment. 

Ambient humidity decreases as the days grow shorter, putting us at risk for eczema and dry skin.  A great paradox of our life in the Sunshine State – something new since the 1950s – is that spending our lives in air-conditioned buildings causes the same issues.  Many people don’t realize that air-conditioning both cools and dehumidifies the air, as well as our skin.

Especially in winter, moisturizers are very important to Floridians.  Despite what you may read online or in beauty magazines, moisturizers don’t really add anything to your skin.  Instead they form a seal over the skin to prevent water loss.  Most good moisturizers also contain ingredients called humectants that attract water from the surrounding air or your skin’s deeper dermal layers into its outer layer (called your epidermis) where it belongs. 

It’s important to avoid harsh lye-based soaps, as they have a high pH that irritates skin and removes important oils and lipids.  Instead, use modern alternatives called synthetic detergents (syndets) or combars.  Most major brands out there targeted for use in dry skin fit this description so don’t worry about these technical terms.

Not drinking enough water or taking long, hot showers/baths can compound dry skin problems.  Hot environments dilate the skin’s blood vessels, worsening the loss of water from the epidermis to the surrounding air.

 One important note:  you don’t need an expensive, exotic moisturizer or cleanser.  There is a multi-billion dollar industry designed to confuse and mislead consumers into purchasing unproven and often outlandish products.  Great examples are moisturizers that claim they’re "collagen boosting" or creams containing expensive ingredients that lack the ability to penetrate the skin's outer layers.  Don’t waste your money or time on these gimmicks. A major brand at your local drug store is all you need to help protect and hydrate your skin.  Experiment with a few until you find one that suits you and your skin. 

Sun Protection During the Winter

We can’t let our guard down in winter.  Florida has the second highest rate of melanoma in the country and forgetting to protect your skin increases your skin cancer risk. It may be cooler out, but the skin cancer and premature aging risk remains!

UVA, or Ultraviolet-A rays, cause most skin cancer and photoaging, including fine lines, wrinkles, pigment spots, and dilated blood vessels. UVA is a long wavelength of light that is present all year, especially in our climate. You can get significant amounts of UVA on a cloudy day and it can even zip right through you car’s windows to penetrate deep into your skin. Even though the temperature may be in the 40s, if you’re going out in the middle of the day to your kid’s soccer game, you need sunscreen. 

Remember from my previous post on this blog that SPF numbers don’t tell you anything about UVA coverage, so look for a good quality sunblock that says broad spectrum.  Finally, don’t forget that sunscreen is just one tool in the fight against the sun’s harmful rays – umbrellas, cover-ups, and protective clothing are essential. 

Fixing Skin Care Issues After They Occur

This time of year, in advance of holiday parties and seasonal events, we see an influx of patients who are concerned about a lifetime of sun damage and wish to turn back the hands of time.  While prevention with sunscreen on the front-end is the best strategy, there are things we can do to reduce wrinkles, fine lines and other skin issues after they occur.   There’s just something great about starting the New Year looking and feeling your best!

Simple things like injection with Botox/fillers and fractional laser skin resurfacing are very popular at the end of the year, and actually show tremendous results with minimal downtime - in contrast with buzz-worthy miracle creams that cost a fortune and do nothing except deplete your wallet.

New and innovative concepts in the treatment of photoaging include Juvederm Voluma, an injectable gel that replaces lost collagen, improving deeper lines and loose facial skin.  It lasts approximately two years and is one of my favorite tools in the fight against aging.

I’m also really excited about Allergan’s Kybella, a safe, recently FDA-approved injectable that permanently melts away double-chin fat and tightens the jawline.  It’s a game-changer, and you’ll be seeing a lot about this in 2016.