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Skin Care

The Skinny on Top Winter Lotions

Moisturize, pamper, treat is the mantra for protecting your skin in the winter.

The drastic fluctuations in temperature this winter and the constant barrage of steam heat in our apartments are especially unkind to the skin, particularly the skin of older women. “The worst offenders are the temperature, the wind, and the ultra-drying indoor heat,” points out Dr. Deborah Sarnoff, clinical professor of dermatology at NYU Medical Center. “A post-menopausal woman doesn’t produce a lot of oil in the skin, and the skin is thinner, so it is especially in need of gentle pampering and extra care in wintertime.”

 Sunblock is de rigueur, even though winter sunlight is less intense than summer sun. “Real, physical damage can take place in the harsh weather. The elements cause your skin to become red, dry, and dehydrated and indoor heat is particularly dehydrating” cautions Dr. Haideh Hirmand, a clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery at Cornell-Weill Medical University. “You need to get moisture into the air and into your skin.” Both doctors urge the use of a humidifier indoors; however, even though it may seem contradictory, Hirmand advises using a facial moisturizer and cream that is not water-based, if you are in frigid climes. “For extreme outdoor adventure, a water-based product can freeze on the skin, creating irritation,” she says. She suggests Kiehl’s Cross-Terrain UV Face Protector SPF 50.

She also recommends hydrating masques and any soothing balm for the face, as well as homeopathic lotions, such as calendula oil for irritated skin and shea butter for hands. A cream rich in Vitamin C will help prevent oxidative, environmental damage, and is especially good to use in the winter. 

Dr. Sarnoff also warns not to forget your lips, since the elements are very unkind to the delicate membranes (the lips are comprised of mucosa, not skin); the lower lip is more vulnerable, as the sun beats down on it more. My own favorite: Ducray’s Kelyane Nourishing and Repairing Lip Balm.

If your lips do become chapped and develop a layer of annoying, peeling skin, try Comfort Zone’s Lip Blooming Scrub it gently exfoliates flaking membrane and moisturizes at the same time. I also keep Bite’s Cherry Fruit Scrub handy; it’s great for on-the-go use, but be forewarned, it’s very cherry. 

As for your hands: Sarnoff advises to begin wearing cashmere-lined gloves by the end of October. Don’t wait until your hands are chapped and you have fissures; then you’ll have to deal with healing. (If you’re already at that point, Sarnoff recommends an over-the-counter triple antibiotic ointment for the painful damage.) When you wash dishes, always use cotton-lined gloves; a rubber glove without a lining will cause your hands to sweat, resulting in more irritation. And do not forget to put sunscreen on the tops of your hands when you’re out. 

Other tips: Sarnoff suggests you take take fewer showers, using lukewarm, not hot, water. Before retiring, slather your feet and hands with your favorite, gooey moisturizer and, if need be, sleep with white cotton cosmetic gloves and socks; even pure lanolin can work. To help slough off dead skin and keep the skin on your feet “rejuvenated,” look for a cream with alpha hydroxy acid in it. The skin has natural moisturizing factors—seramides, glycerin, lactic acid—and by using products that contain these elements, you can help restore “the barrier function of the skin—which winter weather can compromise,“ she sums up. “You want to make the milieu conducive to keeping what we have.”

My own favorite lotions

For the last five months, I have been somewhat randomly testing potions and lotions, cleansers and creams, in an effort to see which products left my skin looking fresh, dewy, soft, and supple. I have tried drug and department store products as well as lines sold only in spas, and non-prescription products sold in doctors’ offices. 

For cleansing, toning and eye-makeup removal, I really liked Vichy’s Pureté Thermale 3-in-1. And the price is right. A 200 ml. size is under $20 at Duane Reade and lasts forever. I also love Vichy’s Aqualia Thermal Eye Roll-On Hydrogel and I carry it in my pocket when I’m outdoors for any length of time. It’s a cool little tube with a roller ball, easy to apply. 

For heavy-duty care, I rely on Biologique Rechere’s Serum T.E.W.L. (Trans Epidermal Water Loss), a protective and repairing serum. It makes my skin look good and feel impervious to the weather. (A small vial, 0.3 fl. oz, is $65, but it has many applications and is not meant for daily use.)

When my skin feels dry from the overbearing heat in my apartment, I rely on La Roche Posay’s Hydraphase UV, (another Duane Reade upper-end product). Formulated specifically for dehydrated skin, it is light, sheer, and has SPF 30. For a nighttime eye cream, I like Zelens Triple-Action Advanced Eye Cream, a little pricey at $120, but a 15 ml. jar will last months.

One of my biggest complaints about most sunblocks is that they are all sticky, greasy, and thick. However, one that is not is Cane & Austin’s Ultra Sheer Weightless Sunscreen (SPF 55). It’s oil-free, extremely lightweight—and effective. 

Two other products I really like are from Doctor Babor. While they are relatively expensive, I feel these two are well worth every dime: Derma Cellular Collagen Booster Cream and Ultimate Repair Serum. Both claim to restructure the skin and plump it up from the inside, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, and it certainly seems to work for me; the Repair Serum is engineered to stimulate skin regeneration, calming damaged skin, promoting recovery, and regenerating the skin’s natural barrier.

And, lest we forget, there are a few popular products on the market that are well liked, like the ubiquitous Lubriderm, and the twins, Aquaphor and Eucerin, which are both petroleum-based and highly unguent; they are ideal for slathering on hands and feet when you sleep with gloves and socks. Additionally, I cannot recommend heartily enough Medline’s Remedy Dimethicone Moisture Barrier Cream, recommended to me by a nurse in the hospital to use on my body, not my face. 

Ruth J. Katz is currently the Style Editor of Promenade magazine and has covered service, shopping, and design for more than 20 years as an editor at Redbook, Colonial Homes, Classic Home, The Modern Estate, and New York Home magazines; she wrote for many years for The New York Times and New York magazine and appeared weekly on Fox TV as the Home Services Editor. She is the author of five books.