Skin Care Essentials for Winter
What would be the best place for a dermatologist to open a practice? At the base of one of the valley runs in our Alpine ski resorts. There’s no place on earth where you find more skin problems: sunburn, frostbite, dry skin, even acne from using the wrong cream. We consult with experts on how to avoid these conditions, so that you (and your skin) can enjoy your last skiing trips of the winter, problem-skin free.
It’s a popular mistake to use sun protection only when it’s sunny. “Even in complete fog, you should cream your face”, says Rita Absmeier, owner of the beauty salon Santa Margerita in Munich. At the very least she suggests using a light moisturizer, which usually has a protection factor of 4 to 15.
And if it’s sunny, this obviously won’t be sufficient. The German Industry Association for Skincare (IKW) in Frankfurt recommends a minimum protection factor of 30 to 50, especially when doing winter sports, as snow reflects the dangerous UV radiation. IKW deputy general manager Birgit Huber suggests analyzing your skin before you even enter the slopes. To do so, visit the website http://www.haut.de/service/hauttyp-bestimmung, complete the form about your skin and continue to an online map. Choose your destination and get the necessary protection factor for your individual skin type.
If you’re still not sure, better to err on the high end, Absmeier says. Many people underestimate what the sun can do to you in winter, because your natural skin protection is switched off. If you get sunburned in summer you’ll recognize it immediately, since your skin becomes hot. In the cold you don’t recognize it -- at least not until you enter your hotel. And by then, says dermatologist Dr. Patricia Ogilvie, owner of the private medical clinic Skin Concept in Munich, “It’s too late”. According to Ogilvie, it’s especially important to take care of the “sun terraces” of your face: the nose and upper parts of your ears and lips, which are very exposed to the sun. “On really sunny days forget your vanity and cream those parts with the strongest sun blocker you can find,” advises Ogilvie. “Even if the white color looks funny”.
Unfortunately many creams are greasy and therefore problematic for people with acne. “They block the pores and even help bacteria to grow”, Ogilvie warns, adding that a fat-free emulsion might be your best bet. Make an appointment with a dermatologist and ask him or her about your particular needs. But never ever forego sun care because you’re afraid of breaking out. Inflamed pores and acne scars react sensitively to the sun; without proper care, they rapidly produce brown pigments and become dark spots on your face. Which is really no better than a face full of pimples.
If you don’t apply protective cream in conditions of wind, frost and snow, your skin will cool down rapidly. If it starts to hurt and turn red and/or numb, you have hypothermia. Hypothermia, in turn, rapidly leads to frostbite (recognizable by swelling and very red skin). This is obviously extremely dangerous. Go inside immediately and find a heat source to warm the skin. If that’s not an option, look for some kind of shelter and hold your hands to the affected area to warm it. (If the affected area is your hands, put them in your armpits.) Never ever rub the area with snow. Some guides recommend doing so, but it actually aggravates frostbite.
The cold triggers a host of reactions in the skin: small blood vessels under the skin contract; the surface of the skin gets less oxygen and fewer nutrients and reacts more sensitively; and the sebaceous glands reduce fat production. For all these reasons, skin suffers the most in winter.
IKW expert Huber recommends drinking at least 2.5 liters of water during an average ski day to avoid dehydration, forgoing long baths and showers (since hot water also dries the skin) and using appropriate care products. The richest creams are oil-based -- they’re the thickest, protect best against the cold and help defend the skin against wrinkles, which are fostered by frost. “If you’re looking for the best protection”, says Huber, “look for explicit ‘cold creams’.”
Water-based creams offer fewer protections against the cold, but they still help. The notion that they cause frostbite is a myth, based on the idea that they consist of pure water. If you don’t have cold cream on hand, or if you find it too greasy, water-based creams are better than nothing.