As winter weather visits us once again, so does the problem of “winter skin”- that dreaded skin dryness on the face, hands, and feet. For many of us, winter skin means more than just an uncomfortable, tight, dry feeling: our skin becomes so moisture-deficient it begins to chap, flake, and even crack.
“The low outdoor humidity and the dry, heated indoor air combine to rob the moisture content from our skin,” said Dr. Michael A. Smith, M.D. senior health scientist with Life Extension, one of the world’s leading organizations dedicated to extending the healthy human life span. “This moisture loss not only results in dryness and cracking, it also can contribute to the development of fine lines and wrinkles on the complexion.”
Dr. Smith said the process for successfully increasing skin moisture levels in the dry winter months (or during any time of the year) is not as simple as applying a cream or lotion to restore lost moisture. To understand how we can best repair and even prevent winter skin, Dr. Smith said we need to first understand what skin ceramides are and how they affect skin composition and moisture levels.
“Skin ceramides are a type of skin fat, a major component of the skin’s surface, and they reside in the top skin layer called the epidermis,” said Dr. Smith. “If you think of your skin as a brick-and-mortar wall, the bricks would be the skin cells and the mortar would be the matrix that holds the skin cells together, of which the ceramides are part.”
“If that mortar or that matrix begins to break down because you start losing some of the components, such as the ceramides, the skin cells will begin to separate, rupturing the skin’s moisture barrier and allowing rapid moisture loss.”
Dr. Smith said there are several factors that reduce the skin’s ceramide levels and destroy the skin’s ability to retain moisture. The first factor is the aging process.
“As we get older we don’t produce enough skin fats,” said Dr. Smith. “Other reasons for low skin ceramide levels include lifestyle issues like poor diet, alcohol consumption, smoking, chronic stress, and exposure to environmental toxins.”
“Ceramides can be found in many plants and animals, but the ceramides most resembling the ceramides found in human skin are found in wheat germ oil,” said Dr. Smith.
“While these supplements can be taken at any time to improve skin hydration and appearance, right now would be a good time to start building your ceramide levels to keep your skin’s moisture content high not only during the dry winter months but year-round,” said Dr. Smith.