With the cold outdoor air and the dry indoor heat, winter can wreak havoc on your skin. Winter is the best time then to step up your skincare routine and find new ways to protect your skin against the harsher elements. In this article, Rebekah Fedrowitz, a board certified holistic nutritionist, tells us how to keep your skin hydrated in winter with 5 simple changes to your daily routine.
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The beginning of winter feels cozy as we celebrate the holidays, snuggle by the fire, and first don coats and scarves. But as we get further into the season, the cold, barren days can start to take a toll, especially on our skin. Between the low temperatures, reduced humidity, and dry indoor heat, our skin can feel dehydrated, chapped, and itchy. In the worst of cases, it can even become cracked and bleed. We find ourselves not only layering on sweaters, jackets, scarves, and hats, but also lotions, creams, and balms to help us weather the winter with less discomfort.
Our skin is the outermost layer of our bodies, and it’s natural to want to approach its care from the outside in. What we put on our skin matters tremendously, from the type of products—such as lotions vs. creams—to the quality of the ingredients in the products we use. We also need to consider other things that come in contact with our skin, such as hot water, fabrics, and environmental particles. All these external factors are important and should be an element of our comprehensive skincare regime; however, to have healthy skin, we must also support it from the inside out.
Although our skincare regime helps mitigate winter skin problems, there are additional steps we can take to help our skin stay healthy, beginning with our diet. Diet is foundational to all aspects of health, and since skin is our largest organ, it isn’t exempt. Many common skin problems— including issues like dry, itchy, or cracked skin—can be improved by the foods we do or don’t eat.
Here are five ways our nutrition can support healthier skin this winter.
1. STAY HYDRATED
Our skin is about 64 percent water, so it makes sense that healthy, hydrated skin requires ample water intake, but that can be challenging in the winter months. Between lower humidity and cooler temperatures, we often don’t feel as thirsty or drink nearly as much water in the winter. To stay well-hydrated, aim to drink half your body weight in ounces each day. That means if you weigh 150 pounds, you would drink 75 ounces of water, plus more to offset caffeine or alcohol intake and water loss from activities like exercise or sweating. If you struggle to drink plain water, try naturally caffeine-free herbal teas or fruit and herb infused waters that can make water more appealing.
If you’re already drinking plenty of water but still notice signs of dry skin or overall dehydration, you may benefit from incorporating additional electrolytes to help your body better utilize the water you drink. A few ways to increase electrolytes include adding good, quality Himalayan or Celtic salt to your food, drinking coconut water (with no added sugar), or adding an electrolyte powder.
2. EAT PLENTY OF GOOD FATS
Although we no longer shy away from fat in our diet like we did during low-fat diet trends, many people’s diets still lack good quality fats and oils. To help your skin retain moisture, eat a wide variety of foods that contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, including coconut oil, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, grass-fed butter, wild-caught salmon, whole eggs, whole olives, and raw nuts and seeds (almonds, pecans, sunflower seeds). If you’re not sure how to add these foods to your diet, try an avocado omelet cooked in coconut oil, top a salad with nuts, seeds, and an olive oil dressing, or try lightly baked salmon topped with an olive tapenade. Avoid fried foods and poor quality fats (i.e. many vegetable oils, margarine, or hydrogenated fats) because those tend to have the opposite effect on your skin.
3. INCREASE YOUR VITAMIN D
Vitamin D levels drop in many people during the winter, especially those with health conditions. It’s too cold to be outside, and when we are, we’re covered from head to toe with so many layers that the sun couldn’t possibly reach our skin. Not to mention that the sun doesn’t seem to make an appearance as often in the cold months anyway. (That last part isn’t necessarily a scientific fact, but it certainly seems true to me.) But vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining healthy skin, so it’s important to do what we can to support our vitamin D levels throughout the winter. The good news is that some of the foods that boost healthy fats are also good sources of vitamin D, including salmon, cod, egg yolks, and whole milk products. For some people, dietary vitamin D isn’t enough, and when that’s the case, a vitamin D supplement can provide additional support. A health professional can test your vitamin D levels and—when necessary—supplement accordingly with a vitamin D and K blend.
4. AVOID SUGAR
While vitamin D is winter’s nemesis, sugar and winter go together like hats and scarves. Holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s day lead to cookies, cakes, and candies galore, as well as warming cups of hot chocolate and regular cravings for sweets to bring joy to dreary days. All of this excess sugar can be bad for your skin, potentially leading to reduced collagen, increased inflammation, and disrupted gut health. Unfortunately, reducing our sugar intake isn’t as easy as simply avoiding a cookie or piece of candy. From salad dressings and hummus to kale chips and protein bars, sugar finds its way into almost everything, and many people inadvertently over-consume sugar on a daily basis.
One piece of advice is to swap packaged foods for whole and homemade foods whenever possible. Preparing foods makes it easier to omit sugar in many recipes—such as salad dressing—or significantly reduce sugar in other recipes—such as cutting the sugar in a cake in half. You can also swap refined cane sugar for dates or honey. Although they still count toward your total sugar intake, they provide more nutritional value and other potential health benefits.
If watching your sugar consumption is a new concept, spend a week or two counting how much sugar you consume through all of the food you eat. This total should include both natural sugars (i.e. sugars found naturally in fruits and vegetables) and added (i.e. sugar that is added to a food). Aim to keep your total (meaning both natural and added) sugar intake to no more than 100 grams per day, and your added sugar to no more than 40 grams. Less would certainly be okay, and some days you’ll end up having a little more (hello, holiday parties). Don’t feel trapped by these numbers, but rather use them as a guide. Consuming a balanced diet that includes ample fruits and vegetables is the best way to stay satisfied and nourished while keeping sugar levels in check.
5. SUPPORT GOOD GUT HEALTH
Digestive health impacts almost every aspect of our health, including our skin. From absorption of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients like collagen to its influence on hydration, detoxification, and good bacteria, our skin relies on well-functioning digestion to get what it needs to be healthy.
Good gut health starts with a balanced diet full of whole foods that contribute quality fats, protein, and fiber. A well-rounded diet not only provides the body with the nourishment it needs, it also helps us feel more satisfied so we don’t have as many cravings for things like sugar and inflammatory foods. Beyond eating good foods, it’s equally important to avoid foods your body doesn’t tolerate well, whether that’s because of intolerance such as lactose, or a food sensitivity such as gluten. Eating reactive foods can increase inflammation and decrease digestive function, both of which can negatively impact skin.
Another important way to support our digestive system and thus our skin is by eating foods that provide beneficial probiotics, like yogurt or kombucha. Probiotics can contribute to a healthy gut flora, which has been found to be supportive of skin challenges that can become worse in the winter. Eating a balanced diet and increasing probiotic-rich foods may be all you need, but in some cases, a broad-spectrum probiotic supplement can also be helpful.
ADDITIONAL FOOD REMEDIES FOR WINTER SKIN
Feeding your skin can also go beyond the foods you eat. Some foods are helpful to use on the skin to soothe and protect it against the winter weather, such as honey, apple cider vinegar, or coconut oil. Many common skincare products contain harsh or toxic chemicals that end up doing more harm than good for your skin and your health. Instead of lathering on layers of chemicals, use something like coconut oil and honey to cleanse and moisturize. Or, look for natural skincare options that incorporate food-based ingredients for a non-toxic way to promote healthy, hydrated skin. If you’re unsure of what ingredients to favor or avoid, I recommend using the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep app to search for specific products or ingredients.
Whether winter is your least favorite time of year or you love the cold and snow, we can all help our skin weather the season. As you look at your body and health more holistically, it’s easy to see how everything works together, including your skin and the foods you eat. Here’s to healthier plates and more vibrant skin all year long!
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