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How to Winterize Your Skin to Avoid Dry Spots, Cracking and Other Winter Damage: 9 Natural Tips

© Health Realizations, Inc.

Jack Frost does more than nip at your nose ... he nips at your whole body, leaving about 81 million Americans suffering from dry, cracked skin each winter, according to the National Health Interview Survey.

Dry winter air and frigid temperatures can strip your skin of oils and water, damaging the protective outer layer. Once the protective layer is damaged, your skin can quickly become cracked, itchy and irritated. Dr. Lisa Benest, a board certified dermatologist, explains on The National Skin Care Institute's Web site:

"The Department of Dermatology at the University of Iowa Hospital describes healthy skin as 'a multi-layer cake covered by a single sheet of clear plastic food wrap to keep it fresh'.

The plastic food wrap prevents the frosting and underlying layers of the cake from drying out by preventing loss (evaporation) of the water from the cake into the air. It is the moisture in the cake that gives it its freshness. The outermost layer of the skin, which acts like the plastic food wrap and is about the same thickness, is called the stratum corneum.

The stratum corneum consists of dead skin cells embedded in a mixture of natural oils (lipids) that are made by underlying living skin cells. These natural skin oils keep the water inside our body from escaping into the air and also keep irritating substances and germs from entering the body.

Both the skin oils and the dead skin cells hold a certain amount of water in the stratum corneum and it is this stratum corneum water that helps keep the skin soft, pliable and smooth."

Dry, cracked skin is not only painful; it can leave an opening for germs to enter your body. Fortunately, there are natural methods you can use to keep your skin supple and soft even in the middle of a cold, icy winter.

Natural Tips for Preventing and Soothing Dry Skin

1. Eat Plenty of Omega-3 Fats
These healthy fats help moisturize your skin from the inside out. Some healthy options rich in omega-3 fats include walnuts, wild salmon, and ground flaxseeds. You can also take an omega-3 fat supplement such as fish oil or krill oil. Foods rich in vitamin E, such as dark leafy greens, can also be hydrating to your skin.

2. Drink Lots of Water
Your body's cells need water to stay hydrated, so keep water with you and drink it regularly -- before you get thirsty to avoid becoming dehydrated. If you're exercising (or pregnant or breastfeeding), you'll need even more fluids so drink more water. When you shower, make sure the water has been filtered to remove chlorine, which can further dry out your skin (and potentially contribute to serious health problems).

3. Use Natural, Moisturizing Soap
Alcohol-based soaps and cleansers can dry out your skin quickly. In the winter, your best bet is a rich, creamy cleanser or bar soap, which will remove dirt and bacteria while helping to add moisture to your skin.

For the cold winter months, we suggest finding handmade, natural soaps like those from Vermont Soap Organics. Soaps that utilize all natural ingredients in their soapmaking are best, such as those with glycerin, a natural humectant that adds more moisture to your skin. Most commercial soaps remove their glycerin, selling it as a by-product in their other higher-end lotions and creams.

Often lasting about twice as long as conventional bars, organic soaps are extremely moisturizing and soothing. Your skin will drink in the conditioning, moisturizing goodness of such handcrafted soaps. For the ultimate moisture, try the Butter Bar, which is said to be best dry skin bar.

4. Add a Humidifier to Your Bedroom or Office
Humidifiers can be a saving grace to dry skin, lips and noses during the winter heating season when moisture is scarce. However, be sure to clean your humidifier regularly to prevent the buildup of mold, bacteria and fungi.

5. Avoid Taking Long Hot Showers and Baths
Water that's too hot can scald your skin or cause it to become dry. So resist the urge to linger in a hot bathtub. Instead, take brief showers using lukewarm water.

6. Moisturize Your Skin Regularly
In late fall and winter months apply a heavy, natural oil-based moisturizer to your skin several times a day -- especially right after you get out of the shower or bath while your skin is still moist, to lock in moisture. It's important to use an oil-based moisturizer as your skin requires this extra level of attention to battle the cold fall and winter air. According to WebMD.com:

"Find an 'ointment' moisturizer that's oil-based, rather than water-based, as the oil will create a protective layer on the skin that retains more moisture than a cream or lotion."

Soothe and prevent winter itch and dry, cracked skin this fall and winter. Look for all natural moisturizing products like natural beeswax-based:

  • Provide fast, effective relief
  • Contain all natural ingredients
  • No animal testing
  • Long lasting moisturizer
  • Extremely effective for those suffering from psoriasis and diabetes
  • Hypoallergenic
  • Steroid-free
  • Waterproof
  • Alcohol-free
  • Fragrance free
  • Paraben free

7. Protect Your Skin With Clothing
Hats, gloves, and a scarf are essential winter accessories. The more you can protect your skin from the biting wind and cold, the more moisture it will retain.

8. Give Your Sinuses Some Relief
Sinuses also suffer from dry, cold air. Dry sinuses are especially common during the fall and winter months when the air outside is cold and dry and the air inside is hot and dry.

Combined, this can quickly lead to mild or heavy nasal crusting, and it's possible for bacteria to linger under this crust. But before you reach for an over-the-counter or prescription drug to remedy your symptoms, you should know about an ancient secret that has been used for wellness and hygiene purposes in India for centuries - nasal cleansing using a neti pot.

Nasal cleansing, also known as nasal irrigation, involves using a neti pot to pour a lukewarm saline solution (pure water mixed with natural salt) inside one side of your nostril while tilting your head sideways so the water runs out of your other nostril.

There are many neti pots on the market.

9. Avoid Rubbing and Scratching Dry Skin
Dry skin is very sensitive to contact irritants, so rubbing or itching it will likely increase redness, irritation and itching. This includes when you get out of the shower or bath, be sure to pat yourself dry instead of rubbing. To soothe itchy skin, apply a natural moisturizer regularly.

America's Healthy Fast Food

We surveyed the nation's 100 largest fast-food chains, as defined by the number of locations, and found many are creating menus that look more and more like what we'd cook ourselves (if we had the time)-from nutritious soups and healthy salads to fresh whole grains and sensible desserts. Even better: They're offering good-news Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean fare.

Panera Bread

This bakery-cafe-based eatery wowed our judges with a comprehensive menu of healthy choices for every meal. "Variety makes it easy for everyone to choose healthy," praises registered dietitian and panelist Marisa Moore. What does that mean for you? For starters, you can pick from two whole-grain breads for your sandwich and have an apple with it instead of chips (though the chips are fine, too-they can be baked!). Half-size soups, salads, and sandwiches make it a cinch to control portion size. Also, most of the chicken is antibiotic- and hormone-free, a rarity for large chains.

Panera also won top honors for kid fare, dishing out RD-approved crowd-pleasers like squeezable organic yogurt, PB&J (with all-natural peanut butter), and grilled organic cheese on white whole-grain bread.

We Love: Delicious, nutrient-packed combos like a half-Turkey Artichoke on focaccia bread with a bowl of black bean or garden vegetable soup.

Danger zone: Sticky buns and cheese danishes are on display at the counter.

Au Bon Pain

A pioneer in healthy fast food, Au Bon Pain serves up sandwiches, soups, salads, and hot entrees made with whole grains, veggies, and hormone-free chicken.

New this year: Portions, a 14-item menu of nutritious small plates-from appetizers like apples, blue cheese, and cranberries to salads like chickpea and tomato-all of which are less than 200 calories.

Another impressive feature: Au Bon Pain provides on-site nutritional information via computer kiosks, so before you even order you know each option's calories, fat, and sodium. "It's a great way to empower customers," praises judge Amy Jamieson-Petonic.

We love: Yummy low-cal soups, from Jamaican Black Bean to Fire Roasted Exotic Grains and Vegetables.

Danger zone: The sodium counts can get high if you don't pay attention.

Noodles and Company

Noodles and Company isn't your typical greasy Asian food-court joint. In fact, it goes beyond Asian fare and cuts out the grease (only healthy soybean oil is used in sauteing). Here, you choose from three food types: Asian, Mediterranean, or American, then within each style, pick from four noodle bowl options. Lean proteins-hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken, beef, shrimp, and organic tofu-can be added, too.

The result? Tasty combos like Japanese Pan Noodles with broccoli, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, Asian sprouts, and sauteed beef. Also key: "You don't have to chow down on a giant bowl of noodles. You can opt for a small portion," says judge Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, Health's Senior Food and Nutrition Editor. The small Bangkok Curry bowl has just 250 calories.

We love: The whole-grain linguine-usually hard to find when eating out.

Danger zone: The desserts. The only options are two kinds of cookies and a Rice Krispy Treat bar that checks in at 530 calories and 19 grams of fat!

Chipolte

Buffet-style Chipotle gives every customer complete control over her burrito, taco, or salad. (Take that, Taco Bell!) And you get to build it with fresh, local ingredients. In fact, Chipolte won high marks for its commitment to organics, hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from local suppliers, which is revolutionary in a chain this big. Many of its entrees can be low-sodium, if you choose add-ins such as the fajita veggies and green tomatillo salsa.

We love: Burrito Bowls, which let you skip the tortilla-and the extra carbs.

Danger zone: The dark side of a buffet is that you can go wild. So you have to go light on cheese and sour cream.

Taco Delmar/Baha Fresh Mex

You may have noticed that Baja-style Mexican cuisine-think: fresh ingredients and fish instead of beef and chicken-is a growing trend. Whole grains are easy to get here, with whole-wheat tortillas available as an alternative in burritos. The chain gets high marks for its new 320-calorie chicken burrito, available at most locations. Our judges were also impressed that Taco Del Mar banned lard from its beans and bakes its fish and taco shells instead of frying them.

We love: The 460- to 555-calorie Mondito-size burrito, which fills you up but keeps fat and sodium in check.

Danger zone: The breakfasts. In particular, steer clear of the Mondo Breakfast Burritos, which are more than 1,000 calories.

Survey by health.com

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