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Winter Skincare Tips for Women Over 50

07 February 2023

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Does your winter skin feel like it’s a size too small or like you’re wearing an itchy sweater you can’t take off? Winter is tough on your skin from head to toe. Cold temps and dry air conspire to steal every iota of moisture, leaving skin feeling tight and flaky. Indoor heaters also dry out the air. Nice hot showers, while soothing and delicious in the moment, strip skin of some of its natural oils.

If you are a woman, say around 50 years old give or take, winter skin can be extra challenging. You may be pre- or post-menopausal, and some of the habits of your youth (ahem, sunbathing) are coming back to haunt your skin, plus you’re losing precious, skin-plumping estrogen and collagen. 

Estrogens are a group of hormones produced mainly by women’s ovaries, though fat cells and adrenal glands are responsible for producing a small amount of estrogen production. These hormones are important for normal reproductive and sexual development in women, but also support the skin, hair, mucous membranes, heart, blood vessels, brain, pelvic muscles and more. When estrogen production rises in an adolescent female, puberty happens and secondary sexual characteristics like the growth of underarm and public hair occurs. For your skin, estrogen promotes water retention and plumpness. As we age and estrogen production wanes, skin looks thinner and even crepey. 

Your skin’s collagen, once abundant, has been decreasing since your twenties, exacerbated by things like sun exposure, smoking, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep and not enough exercise. Collagen is often called the ‘glue’ that holds our bodies together and makes our skin look plump and firm. It’s a protein that serves as one of the main structural components for your bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, skin and hair. With aging, collagen in the deep skin layers changes from “a tightly organized network of fibers to an unorganized maze,” as the folks at Harvard describe it.

So it’s a double whammy. Skin is dry from the weather, indoor heat and hot showers and it’s dry and less firm due to aging plus estrogen and collagen loss. Winter need not be the season of your skincare discontent, however.

We’ve assembled some tried and true measures you can take right now to soothe and smooth throughout the colder months:

You are what you eat. Your skin is an accurate reflection of what you put on your plate. Smoother, healthier skin happens largely from the inside out. A diet filled with ‘good’ fats like avocados and nuts, plenty of lean protein and a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables will improve your skin’s appearance and, more importantly, its health. This is true at any age. In the winter, though, vegetable-heavy fare like cold salads chockablock with fruits and veggies may be less appealing. The solution is literally a solution: SOUP! Stews and soups are an excellent way to warm up, they help you stay hydrated and when they’re heavy on the veggies, they can be deliciously healthful! 

You’re also about 60 percent water. The Journal of Biological Chemistry tells us that our lungs are about 83 percent water, brain and heart clock in at 73 percent and skin contains 64 percent water. It may seem easier to drink plenty of water in warmer temperatures, and harder to remember to drink up in winter months. Dehydrated skin can sag and droop, making us look tired and/or older than we are. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is: About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men. About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. You know those soups we were just talking about? They count toward your water intake goal. So does a nice cup of tea. Keep a glass of water nearby and sip all day. Your skin will love you for it.

Moisturize. And then moisturize. Moisturizing creams and lotions seal in water to help your skin maintain its protective barrier. Apply moisturizer after you bathe, and again several more times throughout the day. Opt for fragrance-free formulations. Key ingredients to look for include glycerin, which attracts moisture from the atmosphere into your skin; ceramides, AKA fats found in the skin, because they absorb quicky and seal in water; hyaluronic acid, whose molecules swell after they absorb water, helping the skin appear plumper; lactic acid, a double agent, exfoliates and hydrates, making it a great flaky skin banisher and shea butter, a fat extracted from the nut of the shea tree which is full of several fatty acids. 

SPF 30 or more for the skin win! Sunscreen is just as important in the winter as it is in the summer. You can definitely still get a sunburn and sun damage in the winter. The sunscreen in some cosmetics is not always enough. If you’re going to be outside for more than a few minutes, add a layer of sunscreen (SPF 30 or greater) to all exposed skin.  

Cover up your skin. Hats, mittens, scarves and cozy coats keep you warm and they protect your skin from frigid, arid winter air. Dry air sucks the moisture right out of your skin, leaving you vulnerable to damaged, cracked, itchy skin. Which nobody deserves.

Stay out of the tanning bed. Really always, but especially in winter. You may have heard that using a tanning bed will boost vitamin D production during short, dark days, but the damage your skin will sustain is much greater than any benefit.

Easy on the exfoliation. While it is important to continue your exfoliation regimen in winter, relying on chemical exfoliants like lactic acids is a gentler practice than using, say that apricot scrub we all used in high school. Oilier skin can generally handle more vigorous exfoliation, but better to start with a gentle routine and moisturize heavily afterward.

Shorter, cooler showers. While a hot bath or shower can feel great in the winter, try to refrain. Those can strip your skin of important oils and leave you itchy and ashy. Bite the bullet and use warm or lukewarm water instead, including when you wash your face and hands. Shower quickly. Use gentle, unscented soap. Immediately after the shower, while your skin is damp, apply rich moisturizers to lock in hydration. You should use a generous dollop, enough to leave the skin feeling well hydrated, which means you may need to apply more than you do in summer months.

Load up on the lotion and layer the moisturizers. It bears repeating. If it isn’t already, make moisturizing your whole body a daily routine. Switch from a foamy face cleanser to a cream or oil cleanser. Ditto your regular moisturizer, whether for body or face. If your summer go-to is a lotion, bulk up to a cream.  Consider layering your treatments – thinnest serums first, then a moisturizer cream and top it all off with a slather of sunscreen.

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