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TODAY
updated 11/30/2006 11:40:36 PM ET 2006-12-01T04:40:36

You winterize your home, your car and even your wardrobe. But what about your skin? Protecting your skin from the harshness of the cold weather is vital and easier than you think. Dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie was invited on the “Today” show to give advice on how to protect skin during the harsh winter months.

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The winter months pose unique challenges to maintaining healthy skin. Constantly switching between indoor air and the harsh and cold winds of outdoor air removes moisture from the skin. While lotions and creams replace some of that moisture, it's better to prevent the moisture loss in the first place.

Skin that's dry, cracked, or irritated is vulnerable to infection, and that's why dermatologists say it's important to change your skin care regimen along with the seasons in order to boost your body's natural defenses.

What works in the warm, humid months of summer may leave your skin dry and chapped during the cold, dry months of winter. In humid conditions, the skin soaks up water from the air, but when the humidity falls, the skin loses a natural moisture source.

Here are a few ways to winterize your skin:

  • Use a humidifier in the bedroom or living room once the relative humidity inside drops below 60 percent.
  • Hot showers are a no-no: The cold temperatures may make a long, hot bath or shower sound like heaven, but hot water can wreak havoc on your skin. Instead take lukewarm showers, patting gently afterward with a towel and applying a moisturizer within three minutes of stepping out of the shower to lock in moisture.
  • Look for lotions or creams with any of the following ingredients: petrolatum, mineral oil, linoleic acid, ceramides, dimethicone or glycerin.
  • Keep well hydrated. This may be easier to remember during the summer months, but drinking lots of water keeps the skin moisturized and flushes the toxins out of your body.
  • Use lip balms and lipsticks with moisturizers.
  • Use sun block. Although the skin is less exposed in the winter, ultraviolet rays can be particularly intense on a clear winter day. Even when cloudy, UV rays still penetrate. If you go skiing UV exposure is even greater, so use a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB radiation.
  • Brittle nails can be helped by using Vaseline to moisturize and a nail polish with nail protein. Also, keep nails short so fungus does not get in.

All of the above will help maintain healthy skin for the most part, but there are some conditions like eczema, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis which flare up particularly during the winter months. For these you should see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.

Jeanine Downie, M.D., is the director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, N.J., and is an assistant attending physician at Mountainside and Overlook Hospitals. She is the author of “Beautiful Skin of Color.”

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