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What do our spleen, lymph nodes, and skin have in common? They are all important parts of our immune system. While 2020 taught us a lot about preventing illness with masks and handwashing, most of us know very little about our body’s first line of defense against germs that cause disease. 

As the body’s largest organ, the skin is made up of three layers.  The outermost layer – the epidermis – is covered by a protective layer of natural oil.  Research has shown that hard water contains high mineral levels that may damage the protective layer and cause skin irritation.  Expose irritated skin to winter’s biting cold, and we can easily cause skin injury.  A break in the skin is not only uncomfortable – think dry, cracked hands – it also increases our risk of infection. We often think of skincare as a matter of vanity, but it is also an essential part of overall wellness. 

Winter’s Special Challenges

  • Cold, bracing winds dry the outer layer of the skin, making it vulnerable to damage.
  • Most homes have forced air heating systems. These remove indoor moisture – adding to skin dryness.
  • The sun may not feel warm in winter, but it still can cause sunburn. Reflection of the sun off snowy surfaces increases the risk of skin damage.
  • Wearing multiple layers in winter can cause itching and skin discomfort. Wool and other textures – along with perspiration under clothing layers – can increase skin irritation.

Protecting the skin that protects us

The good news is that with a handful of changes to our self-care routine, we can enjoy soft, healthy skin year-round. To keep the skin’s protective barrier intact, consider a water filtration system that removes minerals from tap water. Water softener systems have been shown to reduce skin irritation. Healthy skin is less susceptible to the damaging effects of winter cold.  

When autumn turns to winter, try these tips:

  1. Just as the days grow shorter and cooler, so should our showers. That long, hot shower may feel great, but short, cooler showers are less drying to the skin. 
  2. We want to apply lotion while the skin is still damp to seal in moisture. Using a thicker lotion or cream than we use in summer helps keep vital moisture in the skin.
  3. We can use a humidifier to counteract the effects of a forced-air central heating system. Cool air humidifiers increase air moisture and keep skin healthier.
  4. Although the winter sun may not feel warm, it can still damage our skin. It’s important to use a lotion and lip balm with an SPF of 30 or more.
  5. Being aware of our sensitivities to different types of material and removing layers as we perspire can reduce skin irritation.  Never scratch irritated skin.  

A little care will keep our skin feeling its best through the cold winter months. Then, when warmer weather arrives, we will be happy to shed those extra layers of clothing and greet springtime with soft, healthy skin.