Seasonal Skin Care

Eyes have the reputation of being a window to the soul, but it is hands that speak volumes about who people really are, where they live, and how they spend their lives.  Unfortunately, as the seasons change, temperatures cool and humidity drops, a soft, supple, well-manicured hand might quickly become rough and weathered.  You can do a lot, however, to maintain youthful-looking hands as Jack Frost moves in to take his toll.

The stratum corneum, or outer layer of skin, is the first line of defense against exposure to the external world.  Low humidity draws moisture out of this layer and leaves the living epidermis beneath it vulnerable.  Keep humidity levels up in your home and drink plenty of water to maintain healthy skin.  Mayo Clinic suggests about 8 cups of water for an average adult – more as necessary for exertion, climate and health issues.  If allergens and bacteria can reach the deeper living epidermis, eczema and intense sensitization can occur.  The more skin breaks down through a lack of care, the less resistance there is to external threats.

Since winter is the season for colds and flu, it’s also the time to pay special attention to hand-washing.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 20 seconds of washing to prevent the spread of germs.  Try singing the ABC song in your head to be sure that you have washed long enough.  To prevent the dry, chapped hands that may result, avoid excessively hot water, use a mild moisturizing cleanser such as Dove, Cetaphil or its generic equivalent, or an alcohol-free bath gel, and rinse completely.

Sharron Davis is the lead esthetician at Calistoga Ranch’s luxury Bathhouse spa in California’s Upper Napa Valley and has insight to seasonal hand care.

“Don’t wash your hands with antibacterial soap unless you absolutely have to,” she warns.  “Antibacterial soap actually strips the natural oils from your hands.  On the rare occasion that you must use it, be sure to use a heavy moisturizer on your hands afterward.”

Any soap or chemical left on the skin can be an irritant.  Be sure hands are completely dry before heading outside.  Residual water can lead to chapped hands in cold, dry weather – an invitation to raw skin and infection.

Moisturize after washing, but use caution:  Some lotions feel and smell nice, but fragrance can be acidic and result in drier hands.  Curel, Eucerin and Aveeno all have fragrance-free lotions that are excellent moisturizers, especially the gentle baby lotions.  Vaseline and antibiotic ointments treat severely weathered hands, and century-old moisturizers that originated in harsh environments remain popular, too.  Corn Huskers Lotion emerged in 1919 Iowa for corn huskers’ weathered hands, and Bag Balm hit the market in 1899 Vermont for chapped cow udders.  Both are effective hand remedies.

Use sun block in addition to a regular moisturizer to help prevent the spots that generally appear after age 55.  These are attributed to sun exposure, smoking and poor diet and appear where too much lipofuscin exists in the skin.  Pure lemon juice as well as over-the-counter products that contain hydroquinone can help fade spots and lighten skin.  Doctors can perform chemical peels, laser resurfacing and plastic surgery to remove these “age” or “liver spots,” but the best plan is to prevent them from appearing by using a sun block of SPF 30 or higher and keeping a healthy diet.  Orange foods high in vitamin A aid in protecting the body from harmful UV light.

To lock moisture in, soak your hands for 20 minutes before you pat dry and apply lotion or cream just before you go to bed.  Slip your slathered paws into some soft cotton socks or sleeping gloves that you can find at most drug and beauty supply stores.  The moisture will soak deeply into your skin as you sleep.  For a lighter nighttime treatment, forgo the hand covers, but don’t ever pass on the moisturizer.

“If you are the type of person who tends to sleep with your hands against your face,” says Davis, “your hand moisturizer needs to be ‘face worthy’.”

Many spas use sugar rubs in their hand treatments to exfoliate dry skin.  You can generate the same results at home with 2 tablespoons of sugar mixed with a few drops of water and lemon juice.  Sugar is softer on the skin than salt, but either could work in a pinch.

To enhance your at-home-spa experience, rub a non-petroleum oil onto the hands and cover with a hand cream.  Wrap the hands in plastic bags and cover with hot, wet towels for about 10 minutes to open pores and allow increased blood flow.  Spas often use paraffin baths, which are also available for home use, to treat weary hands.  Melted paraffin solidifies onto the hands in at least five heat-trapping layers that have a similar effect to the bags and hot towels.  Increased circulation moisturizes the hands, and the heat treatments help to soothe aching joints associated with age and colder winter temperatures.

Deep cracks or fissures are likely to form on the hands in this dry time of year and can be aggravated by interaction with chemicals, paper and cloth.  Protect them with Band-Aids or Liquid Band-Aids or use an unexpected trick and cover the cracks with Crazy Glue.  Be sure your fissure is clean, though, or you could trap an infection that might become quite painful.

Darlene Granger of New Auburn, Wis., has been managing deep fissures for decades.

“Gloves, at night, over fully lubricated fingers add comfort and some healing,” she said, “but two days in the more humid climates of Hawaii or Florida is the best fissure-healing treatment I have found!”

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