Five Expert Tips for Cold-Weather Skincare
As we put away our bathing suits, golf shoes, and SPF shirts, and take out our sweaters, UGGs, and long johns, we shouldn’t forget that winter weather can be just as harsh on our skin as summer weather. For individuals in cold climates, winter’s damaging effects on skin can be managed with a handful of daily habits. So don’t ditch your summer skincare routine altogether; instead, keep the following tips in mind as we enter the year’s colder, darker months.
1. Continue using sunscreen
Although the sun’s UV levels are much lower in winter, we are still prone to damage from harmful UVB sun because snow and ice reflect 85 percent of the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass. And for every 1,000 meters (~3,000 feet) above sea level, UV levels increase 5-10 percent, so those parts of your exposed skin are at higher risk for getting burned.
The FDA recommends applying 30-50 SPF “broad-spectrum” sunscreen every 2-3 hours while outside, especially if you’re enjoying a day on the slopes or ice. Don’t forget your eyes; be sure to wear goggles or glasses with large lenses and 100-percent UVA and UVB protection. Find a lip balm with SPF in it too and reapply it on a consistent basis.
Remember to consume foods with vitamin D or take a vitamin D supplement – especially important during winter. With fewer daylight hours, many experience a drop in vitamin D levels, particularly in northern latitudes. Vitamin D, which is made in the skin, is necessary for cellular proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis to support healthy skin maintenance.* Vitamin D is also essential for supporting immune function.*
2. Drink plenty of water
Maybe you shovel snow or brush it off your car, or you exercise outside. In any case, if you begin to shiver, slur your speech, have a slowed heart rate or breath, or lose feeling in your hands, feet, and face, then you’re experiencing cold stress. Your body compensates by pulling blood inward to protect the heat it has, leaving your skin and extremities more susceptible to cold weather-related skin and nerve damage, like frostbite, hypothermia, or trench foot. Cold stress can occur even when temperatures are above freezing because humidity and wind speed play a role.
In addition to wearing layers of loose, moisture-wicking, wool clothing, staying hydrated helps. It’s a tricky phenomenon because cold weather decreases the perception of thirst by as much as 40 percent, so you might not feel thirsty or think you need water, even though you’re losing water molecules in your breath. As little as one-percent dehydration can compromise our ability to thermoregulate and accentuates peripheral cooling,1 decreasing the amount of blood flow to our skin.
3. Support skin with antioxidants
Excessive sun exposure runs the risk of taxing your skin’s endogenous (built-in) antioxidant system. Photodamage caused by the sun results in free radicals, forcing the body to deploy its method of producing antioxidants and repair proteins. Overexposure stresses these natural systems and can lead to permanent damage from the sun in the form of skin texture changes, abnormal skin growths, impaired wound healing, and liver spots.
Similarly, in the winter, there are significant environmental contaminants that require the antioxidant system to work at full capacity. For example, air pollutants from firewood, ovens, and cars left on to warm up are trapped in the dense cold air – a weather effect known as inversion. Poor air quality is one factor that can weaken the skin’s epidermis layer, disrupting the physical barrier between the body and the outside world. A weakened skin layer will also lose water, become less elastic, and be itchy – resulting in fine lines, flaky skin, breakouts, and rashes.
Vitamins C (ascorbic acid) and E are antioxidants and help when your body is depleted of its natural ability to defend on its own. Supporting your diet with foods and supplements that contain vitamins C and E will help your internal antioxidant system to create new skin cells and repair damaged ones, limit photodamage, and support strong skin to protect your body from environmental toxins.*
4. Add MUFAs and PUFAs to your diet
Fatty acids can do a lot for our skin and health throughout the winter. Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), found in foods and supplements, support cellular integrity and down-regulate inflammation when skin is exposed to harsh winter elements. Healthy fats are an integral part of the cellular bilayer, regulating what goes in and out of a cell (including water) and helping maintain structure and function. Fish and fish oil provide healthy PUFAs, while olive oil provides healthy MUFAs.
In cold weather, average skin temperature can drop seven degrees F. before core body temperature changes.2 Our body seeks ways to keep its organs warm, including tapping into brown fat (brown adipose tissue) as a fuel source. Research suggests a high consumption of omega-3s stimulates receptors signaling the activation of thermogenesis from brown fat. Brown fat is largely made up of mitochondria, which can also be supported by nicotinamide riboside in dietary supplements.*
Brown fat activation is a good thing; this process is associated with better insulin and glucose control and a better lipid profile, which equates to less risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
5. Take a collagen supplement
Winter weather dries out skin and leaves it more likely to show wrinkles than in the summer. This is due to the low humidity and moisture in the air and harsh cold winds.
A 2020 study examined the effects of collagen in different weather conditions. This randomized controlled trial studied women ages 40-60, adjusting results for temperature, humidity, and UV using weather data from their home locations. Women who consumed collagen had significantly less water loss through their skin, saw improvements in skin hydration, and retained more moisture than women who didn’t take collagen.3*
Collagen supplementation supports hydration, elasticity, and skin strength in as soon as four weeks.* Thorne’s Collagen Plus also contains nicotinamide riboside to support mitochondrial function and plant extracts to support hydration, elasticity, and skin tone.*
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Marriott B, Carlson S. Influence of Cold Stress on Human Fluid Balance. National Academies Press; 1996.
- Ouellet V, Labbé S, Blondin D, et al. Brown adipose tissue oxidative metabolism contributes to energy expenditure during acute cold exposure in humans. J Clin Invest 2012;122(2):545-552.
- Tak Y, Shin D, Kim A, et al. Effect of collagen tripeptide and adjusting for climate change on skin hydration in middle-aged women: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Front Med 2020;7:608903.