Winter Is Coming! Guide to Winter Skin
All you need to know - from A to Z
A. Vitamin A
It's hard to find a derm who doesn't love vitamin A in the form of topical retinol, one of the most effective weapons in the antiaging arsenal. When converted by the skin into retinoic acid, vitamin A boosts collagen production, stimulates cell turnover, and reduces the size and secretion of sebaceous glands, making it a potent cure-all for wrinkles, uneven skin tone, and acne. While stronger retinoic acids are available only by prescription, retinol—a milder form of vitamin A—is widely available over the counter.
Derived from the nut of the African karate tree, shea is one type of butter you can pile on guilt-free. It mimics skin's own lipids, protecting it from irritation and speeding up its repair process.
Talk about a wake-up call: Applied topically, vasoconstricting caffeine reduces redness and deflates undereye puffiness. Plus, the extract of the coffeeberry has 10 times the antioxidant power of other polyphenols such as green tea and pomegranate.
D. Vitamin D
Just a few minutes of sun exposure is enough to soak up a hefty dose of UVB rays, which help skin synthesize vitamin D, a proven deterrent to osteoporosis and heart disease. There's no excuse for a bake-off, though—salmon and milk restock the nutrient without the risk of that other D: sun damage.
Essential in moisturizers, emollients such as glycerine and dimethicone can have both humectant and occlusive abilities—attracting water to the skin while preventing evaporation. And by filling in cracks on the epidermis, they create a soft and smooth surface.
The skin's collagen-producing factories, fibroblasts slow down with sun exposure and age, giving way to wrinkles and slowing down the wound-healing process. Jump-starting them is a surefire way to recover firm, youthful skin. Among the treatments designed to do just that: topical peptides and retinoids, skin-plumping hyaluronic acid injections, and laser and LED therapies.
First praised for its ability to ease joint pain as an oral supplement, glucosamine is now lauded as one of beauty's most promising pigmentfixers. A more stable form of the compound, n-acetyl glucosamine, works topically to reduce the amount of melanin in cells, diminishing age spots and uneven pigmentation, while stimulating collagen production.
To keep skin cells plump and your face radiant throughout a dehydrating winter, look for creams rich in hyaluronic acid, which draws moisture from the air and holds up to 1,000 times its weight in water. Try this old-fashioned fix: After bathing, apply body lotion while skin is still damp to lock in liquid and fortify the protective moisture barrier of the epidermis.
You take it for a pounding headache, but do you remember to pop ibuprofen—an all-purpose inflammation-fighter that helps reduce redness and swelling in skin—before waxing, after a sunburn, and to shrink a sudden breakout? Also, recent studies have found that daily doses of anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and aspirin—though they can be tough on the stomach—could reduce the risk of skin cancer by quelling inflammation and inhibiting an enzyme known to stimulate blood vessel growth.
Sapphire, malachite, and citrine have tumbled out of their velvet boxes and into superluxe skin salves. Diamonds—buffed into tiny, pharmaceutical-grade beads—make top-shelf exfoliants. And tourmaline, which has piezoelectric (i.e., energy-generating) properties, may help push other ingredients deeper into the skin.
Ketchup is a surprisingly potent source of lycopene, the red-hued antioxidant proven to reduce the incidence of heart disease and cancer. Applied topically, this carotenoid boosts skin's natural sunburn defenses by up to 30 percent.
L. Light Therapy
Ultraviolet rays may be skin's foe, but other light frequencies are proving to be its best friend. Available in derms' offices and even as at-home gadgetry, light emitting diodes (LEDs) release a UV-free beam that increases collagen production. Certain hues have specific effects: Red and yellow reduce fine lines, redness, and hyper-pigmentation; blue kills acne-causing bacteria.
M. Mineral Oil
This clear, odorless emollient may be derived from petroleum, but contrary to the claims of some skin-care purists, it's considered one of the safest, least irritating moisturizers, with zero toxicity. Plus, since the oil can't become a solid, it won't clog pores.
"Nano"- size minerals and vitamins have been ground down, electrically combusted, or laser-sliced to less than 100 millionths of a millimeter. Nano sunscreens such as zinc oxide protect as effectively as old-fashioned blockers but blend into skin without chalkiness—no more lifeguard stripes.
Yet another reason to love Italy: These unsaturated fats—found in salmon, tuna, sardines, some vegetable oils, and walnuts—are a Mediterranean mainstay. The little lifesavers help build cell membranes, ensure that blood clots correctly, lower the levels of triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream, and work from within to keep skin supple and to protect against sun damage.
For full-throttle solar defense, look for sunscreens that guard against both UVB (sunburn-causing) and UVA (aging) rays. Broad-spectrum potions mix physical blockers such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide with a chemical block such as avobenzone (aka Parsol 1789). Getting the level of SPF promised on the bottle requires vigilant application: Experts recommend a shot-glass-size dose to coat from head to toe.
Our bodies naturally produce this antioxidant co-enzyme, which appears to work by improving the function of mitochondria, the powerhouses that generate cellular energy. The popular antioxidant idebenone—a synthetic cousin of CoQ-10—boosts skin's defenses by mopping up free radicals and quelling inflammation.
Could meditation zap your zits? Possibly. Stress doesn't just raise blood pressure—it also spikes cortisol, causes inflammation, and increases cellular oxidation (hello, wrinkles, sagging, and acne). Dermatologists are increasingly recommending yoga, therapy, and hypnosis—in some cases, even antidepressants—to calm not just the mind, but the complexion as well.
The flaky "alligator" effect triggered by winter's indoor heating, whipping winds, and low humidity doesn't just look bad—dry skin is itchy skin. An OTC oral antihistamine that blocks the same chemical that causes allergy flare-ups can help, but the best solution is to stick to non-soap, moisturizer-rich body cleansers, gently slough off dead cells, and slather on high-emollient creams. For instant itch relief, try a calming, oatmeal-based lukewarm bath (hot water can be even more drying).
High in oil-stripping alcohol, old-fashioned toners could be drying and irritating—not to mention counterproductive, since dehydration could lead to an increased supply of the oils they were intended to eradicate. These days, however, gentler formulas help restore skin's post-cleansing pH balance while providing an extra layer of hydration before moisturizer is applied. To treat while you quench, look for calming, aloe- or antioxidant-packed formulas.
The first organic compound ever to be synthesized (in 1828), urea is a skin-care basic that works as both a sloughing agent and a high-emollient itch-reliever to treat dry skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. On the horizon: stronger synthetic urea peels, which break apart dead skin-cell bonds like an acid but penetrate even deeper.
V. Vitamin B
B12 may increase energy, Bc (folic acid) protects against birth defects, and, when applied topically, B3 (niacin) improves skin's moisture retention, helps recruit DNA-repair enzymes, and may also raise collagen-producing energy. Niacin also reduces irritation when used in concert with other actives, such as retinoids.
Not only is vino believed to be the force behind French Paradox—the nation that dreamed up béchamel and bérnaise has an astonishingly low incidence of heart disease—it also has skin benefits that scientists continue to uncork. Red wine is rich in flavonoids, plant compounds that improve blood flow to the skin, and resveratrol, an antioxidant with significant anti-inflammatory properties that has also been shown to inhibit tumor development and contribute to healthier, longer-living cells.
With all the OTC antiagers out there, when is it time to turn to the pros? High-concentration retinoids require a prescription, as do therapies for conditions such as psoriasis and eczema. And even the most ardent DIYer should check in with a derm for an annual skin cancer check—doctor's orders.
A single-celled fungus that ferments sugars? Yeast may not sound pretty, but it's a source of the antioxidant beta-glucan, which may help tissue repair. Prescription-only azelaic acid, derived from yeast, treats acne, rosacea, and even excess pigmentation.
Cellular turnover increases at night, making skin more receptive to active ingredients. But beware of burying your face in the pillow. Over time, the rubbing and reduced circulation can break down collagen and cause wrinkles—the best excuse for high thread count (i.e., smoother) sheets we've heard yet!
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