Dr. Sarah King, ND
The weather is changing and if you’re anything like me, your skin is too. With colder weather comes dry, flaky skin. Some of us struggle with multiple rounds of moisturizing daily, trying not to use hot shower water (an impossible feat on a cold December morning), and debating the benefits of “barrier” protection vs oil-based moisturizers.
Sometimes, particularly with flaky skin, oils alone just don’t do the trick; In my experience they tend to just sit on top or push the flakes around. Other times it’s hard to keep up with moisturizing thickened and cracked skin – especially if you work in the elements or wash your hands a hundred times a day.
So how can you help your skin this winter?
Hydrate your skin from the inside.
Make sure you’re drinking enough water. Dry mouth, dry eyes, dry skin? You’re likely in need of some hydration. I find the best way to make sure you’re drinking water throughout the day is to keep a bottle with you – preferably with a straw for easy sipping.
Your skin cells may need extra support in the form of essential fatty acids (EFAs).
A deficiency of EFAs can cause changes in skin morphology. In patients with atopic eczema, studies show that there is a reduced conversion from (dietary) linoleic acid to gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).1 Taking GLA in the form of Evening Primrose Oil (EPO) showed a significant clinical improvement in eczema lesions, especially in reduction of itching.1 Essential fatty acids are also needed to protect the skin barrier. A deficiency of these fatty acids can increase skin permeability – meaning your skin is losing water, perpetuating dry skin.2
Eliminate food sensitivities – especially dairy.
Notice a relationship between certain foods and eczema flare-ups? Dairy is often the number one culprit, but anything can cause patches to appear or worsen. Talk to your naturopath about a modified elimination diet for your skin.
Shower gently: glycerin-based soaps are amazing for sensitive skin.
I recommend soaps that have similar ingredients to the moisturizers discussed below. Scentuals makes a great bar soap with coconut oil, olive oil, palm oil, and beeswax. Anything containing sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate tends to be irritating to the sensitive-skinned.
Finding the right topical.
Everyone is different. What works for your skin might not work for your other dry-skinned friends. So what are your options?
- Non-petroleum emollients: Beeswax and castor oil. For those who want to avoid petroleum-based products, these 2 ingredients can work wonders. An amazing alternative for sensitive skin, they protect and moisturize. Alba and Live Clean both make a “non-petroleum jelly” safe for use on more sensitive areas like lips and face.
- Other natural moisturizers: Shea butter, coconut oil, sweet almond oil, olive oil. I find that the best moisturizers are those that have a combination of at least 2 different types of oils. Add an emulsifying wax (like beeswax) and you have yourself some pretty happy skin! Shea butter is great for healing, moisturizing and can be used on blemished skin.
- What about petroleum jelly and mineral oil? These barrier emollients can be useful for slightly cracking skin or those who work outdoors in the winter. Containing petrolatum or mineral oil, they are to be applied right after showering to help “lock in moisture”. Both can be quite occlusive to skin cells, and they don’t actually moisturize the skin itself but protect and keep existing moisture in. A common complaint is that they feel greasy – and they do! Their safety and toxicity has also been questioned, and long-term use is discouraged. Those with especially sensitive skin or acne should avoid these products as they can irritate the skin. I would still recommend using a non-petroleum barrier if you’re not sure of the quality of product and its refinement.
Dry, itchy and/or eczematous skin can be a long and hard battle, Test out different moisturizers and emollients to find out what works best for you. I have no affiliations with any of the above-mentioned companies. I’ve struggled with eczema and dry skin since I was an infant and the products listed above are in my bathroom right now.
Dr. Sarah King is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor, graduating from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2014. Prior to completing her medical studies, she attended Nipissing University where she received her Honors Bachelor of Science in Biology. Sarah has a passion for women’s health and is a birth doula in Durham and Toronto Region. She treats a wide variety of health conditions including menstrual disorders and hormone balancing, fertility, prenatal care, digestive concerns, skincare and mental health/anxiety. Outside the office Sarah is an avid runner with a love of the GTA’s best forest trails. She also continues to improve her yoga practice and teaches breath work as part of stress management counselling to her patients.
- Horrobin, D.F. Essential fatty acid metabolism and its modification in atopic eczema. 2000 Am J Clin Nutr. 71(1): 367s-372s
- Vincent, A.Z. and Chapkin, R.S. Biological significance of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the skin. 1987 Arch Dermatol. 123(12): 1686a-1690