The winter season on the West Coast brings rain, and usually milder temperatures than the rest of Canada. With all this rain, you might think that the moisture in the air would help with the dryness that lots of us feel in the winter, and while it might help, it likely isn’t enough for most of us.
Colder temperatures outside also mean higher thermostat settings indoors, and that means drier skin for most of us. The winter time is when we should pay the most attention to the moisture (or lack thereof) in our skin, especially our faces, which are exposed to all the brutal elements of winter. Let’s be clear: taking care of your skin, the largest organ you own, is not just for women, nor is it just for cosmetic purposes. Chronically or severely dry skin, can lead to increased risks of infection, inhibited wound healing, skin fissures, and is a significant predictor in both men and women, regardless of age, of skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis. As we age, our skin naturally tends to lose elasticity and moisture, becoming more prone to wounds, along with a decreased ability to fight off infections internally – a dangerous combination. So what can we do to help prevent this cascade of dangerous events? The answer is simple: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize.
Choosing the right moisturizer is a bit of an art, and can be a daunting task when faced with the vast selection of an average drugstore. Start by paying attention to your skin type: is it mostly oily? Dry? A combination of both? Are you prone to acne or breakouts? Are you sensitive to certain products, or tend to experience skin irritation easily? Even if you cannot pinpoint the exact ingredients that irritate your skin, your pharmacist can help you choose a hypoallergenic and non-comedogenic product (one that doesn’t block your pores). Pharmacists pay special attention to ingredients in a product – this gives a good idea of how a product should feel on the skin, what skin issues it can address, and how it achieves the effect. For example, 2 different products marketed as a “Moisturizer” can be either a water-in-oil or an oil-in-water preparation. In addition, one may use active ingredients such as hyaluronic acid to increase its moisturizing potential on the skin, or silicone derivatives to create a temporary barrier on the skin, preventing it from being washed away easily. Acne-prone sensitive skin can be particularly tricky this time of year, as many people treat this condition with concentrated salicylic acid products, which can further irritate and dry out the skin.
As you start your journey towards healthier skin, keep in mind that what is good for the body may not be best for the face. Often, creams designed to be used on the body contain ingredients that would be unsuitable or unpleasant on the face, and vice versa. There are products that would be equally good on the face as on the body, but they are few and far between.
The best choice of skin moisturizers depends mainly on patient-specific factors, and the right questions must be asked before selecting a suitable product. Some general rules of thumb to keep in mind, from a pharmacist:
- Choose a soap-free cleanser for daily use on the face, and pay attention to the soap used on your body – does your skin feel tight, itchy or irritated after drying off? This could be a sign that the soap is over-drying your skin.
- In the daytime, use a product with sun protection (SPF 15), even in the winter months. Although UV rays are not as strong as in the summer months, they can still cause imperceptible damage & changes to the skin over time.
- Always test out a new product on a small area first, especially if active ingredients include potentially irritating acids.
- Consult your pharmacist: Come prepared with your main skin concern. During your discussion, make sure the right questions are asked, and you feel comfortable with their knowledge of skincare, when a recommendation is made and accepted. Don’t be afraid to set a budget for your purchase! Effective skin care products don’t have to cost a lot.
Wishing you all a happy & healthy West Coast Winter!
Cindy Chen, R.Ph.
 Augustin, Matthias & Kirsten, N & Körber, Andreas & Wilsmann‐Theis, Dagmar & Itschert, G & Staubach-Renz, P & Maul, J-T & Zander, Nicole. (2018). Prevalence, Predictors and Comorbidity of Dry Skin in the General Population. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology. 10.1111/jdv.15157.
 Tur E (ed): Environmental Factors in Skin Diseases. Curr Probl Dermatol. Basel, Karger, 2007, vol 35, pp 1-13