Your Guide to Addressing Chronic Winter Skin Conditions

Mekita Rivas
February 1, 2022

Between navigating cold and flu season and dealing with the toll that the short days have on your overall well-being, staying healthy during the wintertime is challenging enough. And then there's the way the frigid temperatures and dry air wreaks havoc on your skin: People with eczema, psoriasis, and other skin conditions can experience worsened symptoms in the winter months. What they may not realize is how those conditions are often related to digestive issues, stress, and even the environment around them.

“I don’t think people are truly aware of how much your internal environment really affects your outer environment, like your skin,” says former Parsley Health coach Olivia Hensal , MS, CNS, CDN. “Micronutrient deficiencies, not having enough essential fatty acids in our diet, and the diversity of the bacteria in our microbiome all play a huge role in gut health. And our gut health, nutrition, lifestyle, and stress levels all affect our ability to keep our skin smooth, healthy, and hydrated throughout the whole year.”

Most sufferers of chronic skin conditions will often get prescribed topical steroids that may provide some relief, but they often don’t necessarily aid in healing the root cause.

“Research shows that diversity in the bacteria that inhabit your microbiome are important in mitigating eczema,” Hensal says. “Leaky gut, or what’s better known as intestinal hyperpermeability, is implicated in skin conditions, such as psoriasis, since it’s an autoimmune disease. A comprehensive stool test—like the one we offer here at Parsley—is recommended to really identify what’s needed in treatment, but collagen powder, bone broth, and the amino acid l-glutamine are important in maintaining a strong epithelial lining in your gut.”

What does healthy winter skin look like?

People who experience inflammatory chronic skin conditions—including but not limited to rosacea, psoriasis, eczema , and Raynaud’s syndrome—commonly experience dry, even flaky skin . So while the definition of healthy skin is “going to be different for everybody,” Hensel says, generally it looks and feels supple and well-hydrated. “Maybe there’s a slight shine to the skin,” she says. “And there are no visible rashes or dry flakes.”

What are common winter skin conditions?

“Eczema is probably the most common skin condition I see become most exacerbated by the winter,” Hensal says. “I see this very often in practice, actually. The cold, dry weather can contribute to an increase in dry, itchy eczema patches. Rosacea, psoriasis, and Raynaud’s are also commonly exacerbated by the cold, dry air.”

Ahead, Hensal shares seven simple, natural ways to boost your skin’s health and give it extra love and support when winter strikes.

1. Examine what you eat.

Nutrition recommendations are typically Hensal’s first go-to for maintaining healthy skin in the dry winter months and beyond. There are a couple key nutrients that come into play, including essential fatty acids, like omega threes, which are found in foods like fatty fish.

“Think salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines,” she says. “Vitamin A and Vitamin K are important; these are vitamins actually involved in protecting and producing collagen, the main protein found ubiquitously throughout our skin. Eat things like leafy greens, which would cover all your bases for your vitamin A and K intake.

Also consider adding more sweet potatoes and pasteurized eggs into your meals. “Eating plenty of those foods will ensure that you’re intaking adequate amounts of those essential vitamins,” Hensal advises.

2. Go with the beet.

Not consuming many beets these days? You could be missing out. This vegetable is packed with nitrates, which the body converts into nitric oxide, and that works to relax and dilate blood vessels, increasing circulation.

“Something like a beet juice is good since beets are great for enhancing circulation,” Hensal says. “Beetroot powder that can easily be added to smoothies and soups is really, really great for Raynaud’s. Beets are powerful for helping circulation issues.

3. Turn down the (shower) temp.

While it may seem counterintuitive—especially during the winter when all you want is to relax under a stream of piping hot water—it’s best to keep those steamy bathing sessions to a minimum. “Avoid super hot showers in the winter,” Hensal recommends. “The steam and the really hot water can exacerbate things like eczema and rosacea.”

4. Get a water filter.

Not being well-hydrated is another factor that may contribute to an exacerbation of inflammatory conditions or not maintaining that smooth, supple skin that we strive for in the cold, dry winter months. Keep a humidifier at home so your skin is less prone to drying out, and use a water filter to ensure that there are no impurities in the water you’re putting on your skin.

“I typically recommend a good water filter, something like a Berkey or AquaBliss , especially if you’re living in a big city like New York,” Hensal says. “Drinking, on average, around half your body weight in ounces on a daily basis is a good goalpost.”

5. Be considerate about skincare.

Anything that goes on your skin should be carefully studied to determine if it’s a fit. Hensal suggests using a natural, non-toxic moisturizer that isn’t filled with parabens and phthalates, which can actually contribute to endocrine disruption and even more irritations to inflammatory skin. “That may look like something made with a mango butter or just utilizing mango butter by itself,” she says. “Shea butter and cocoa butter are also very pure and very hydrating.”

6. Curb your stress levels.

It should come as no surprise that stress is often the biggest root cause of countless chronic conditions, and skin issues are no different. When you have elevated levels of cortisol in your blood, that can contribute to a “cascade of metabolic dysfunction,” Hensal warns. And that can certainly contribute to having higher levels of certain inflammatory markers.

“What I see the most in my patient population is that people’s skin conditions are always exacerbated by stress—always,” she says. “100% say that when they suffer from eczema or something like psoriasis or even rosacea, stress is a big factor in their breakouts, so keeping stress at bay is super, super important. Implement certain stress management techniques that you can utilize on a daily basis, such as breath work or a meditation practice.”

7. Catch some Zzzs.

It doesn’t get more foundational than how much sleep you get. A good night’s rest is critical for maintaining overall health because a lack of sleep can contribute to hormonal dysfunction, elevated levels of inflammatory markers, and even elevated levels of stress, perceived and internal. “That’s something we want to focus on as well to help maintain the healthy skin we strive for in the winter,” Hensal says.

Remember, while healthy winter skin might not be the same for everyone, you’re more in control than you think. A couple lifestyle and behavioral changes could be the key to unlocking your most glowing self—and skin!—yet.

Mekita Rivas
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