The last couple and the first few months of the year are when the weather appears to be just perfect to step out and make the most of the outdoors.
With the temperature in the 20s or even below, and the sun nice and balmy, at least in the mornings, you are very likely to have a spring in your step and smile on your face as you step out from the cool environs of the office, home or car.
That said even as you are relishing the cool times, it is important that you are giving your skin the TLC that is much required, perhaps even more than you would provide it during the harsh summer months.
But since the sun is not so harsh, does one need to use a high SPF sunscreen when stepping out? Should one drink the stipulated 8 glasses or more of water even in cooler climes? Can one get dehydrated during winter?
To answer these and bust other myths and misconceptions, we ask a few experts to give us a low down on winter skin and hair care issues.
Skin barrier aka epidermis, the thin outer surface of the skin, requires good moisturization to perform its function, says Dr. Venkatraman Mani, Specialist Dermatologist, Prime Healthcare Group.
‘Less moisture and fewer lipid barriers in the skin during winter contribute to dryness and irritation. Damage to the skin barrier can lead to flakes, cracks, itching, stinging and sores.
‘By using an appropriate moisturiser and avoiding unnecessary products on the skin we can prevent the above problems.’
Myth 1: You don’t have to wear sunscreen with a high SPF during winter.
The belief that wearing high SPF sunscreen is unnecessary for everyone is a common misconception, says Dr. Hashba Brayan Pokkan, Specialist Dermatologist, Aster Clinic, JVC.
‘While it’s true that not everyone needs the highest SPF available, it’s advisable to use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30. SPF 30 provides around 96% protection, while SPF 50 offers 98% protection from harmful sunrays. However, it’s worth noting that even the extra 2% protection can be significant, especially for individuals engaged in outdoor activities throughout the day. Sunscreen is a fundamental part of skincare that’s essential for everyone, regardless of the weather. It should also be applied by people working indoors.’
Dr. Venkatraman Mani seconds that. ‘You should wear a sunscreen year round on areas not covered by clothing.
‘While the sun is not as scorching as in summer, it’s the UV rays from the sun which breakdown skin cells that lead to photoaging. This could be more harmful than the rays in summer due to thin ozone layers in winters,’ he says.
Myth 2: Exfoliation should be avoided.
The idea that exfoliation, in general, should be avoided is a common misunderstanding, says Dr. Hashba. It’s crucial to differentiate between physical and chemical exfoliation. Physical exfoliation involves the use of abrasive substances like scrubs or brushes, which can potentially damage the skin if used too vigorously. It’s generally advisable to stay away from physical exfoliation as it can lead to skin damage, she says.
However, chemical exfoliation using products with alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) or beta hydroxy acids (BHA) can be beneficial for the skin. These chemical exfoliants can be used once or twice a week to remove dead skin cells, improve skin texture, and enhance its overall appearance.
However, hot water baths should be avoided as they can strip the skin of its natural oils and lead to dryness and damage, she adds.
Dr Venkatraman suggests limiting the use of exfoliating scrubs, face masks, steam treatments, hot water baths and alcohol-containing products to reduce the damage to the skin barrier in winter. ‘Avoid harsh scrubs and loofas during the cold months. Your winter skin care armamentarium should contain moisturising creams, oils or balms along with gentle cleansers,’ he says.
Myth 3: Oil your hair more often to deal with a dry scalp during winter.
Oiling can help moisturize the scalp, but it should be rinsed off with a mild shampoo after 2-3 hours, says Dr. Hashba. ‘I don’t recommend overnight oil application on the scalp and hair, as it can result in acneiform eruptions for some individuals.’
Hyaluronic acid hair serums are available to keep hair moisturized during winter. Deep conditioning with hair masks should be done once a week. Another important consideration, especially in winter, is to avoid taking hot water baths, as it can worsen dry scalp and affect hair texture. Always use cold water or room temperature water to wash the scalp and hair. Additionally, avoid going out with wet hair, and use caps or scarves to protect the scalp and hair from cold winds when going out, says Dr. Hashba.
According to Dr Venkatraman, ‘during winters, hair is subjected to cold air outside and dry air inside the rooms. So, hairfall, dry itchy scalp and dandruff are common hair problems during this season'. He suggests oiling hair before washing with a mild shampoo, using moisturizing conditioners and lukewarm water to wash and rinse off.
‘If your scalp is oily, wash it once a day or less frequently in case of chemically treated hair or dry hair,’ says Dr Venkatraman. ‘Air drying your hair is better than other methods of drying. Chemical treatments of hair including colouring, bleaching, straightening, perming should be spaced longer.’
Myth 4: Eating yoghurt in winter season can make you sick.
Yogurt is a probiotic food that is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals while being low in carbohydrates. Yogurt or buttermilk can improve the taste of your food and aid digestion when served as a side dish with your meals, says Dr. Nadine Aoun, Senior Clinical Dietician at Medcare Women & Children Hospital.
However, many people avoid yogurt throughout winter because they believe it may raise their risk of catching a cold or cough. In the winter, especially at night, parents prevent their children from having yogurt. Yogurt is a good probiotic, immune booster, anti-inflammatory, and increases white blood cells synthesis– important during the winter months.
Taking yoghurt in any form is vital throughout the winter season, but make sure to have it at room temperature, she says. Yogurt can be enhanced with fruits and vegetables to create a more delicious and nutrient-dense snack. Yogurt is a fantastic meal when paired with oatmeal or cereal for the morning breakfast, says Dr Nadine.
Myth 5: Protein-rich diet is good in winter.
Our bodies crave stodgier, higher-carb diets during the winter season. But that doesn’t mean you should skip proteins. In fact, eating enough protein is even more important in the winter, says Dr. Nadine Aoun.
The amino acids found in proteins are required for healthy cells, bone formation, and nail and hair growth. Protein-rich diets are required by the body to account for the regular muscle wear and tear, to hasten recovery from common colds and flu, and to build strength. Eating protein-rich foods can boost metabolism since the body uses calories to break down and use the nutrients in food. Protein foods have a far larger thermic impact than fats or carbohydrates, therefore eating them during the winter will significantly enhance the body’s metabolism, she says.
We’ve all heard that everything in excess is harmful for your health. This also holds true in the case of protein intake. Everything, including protein, should be consumed in moderation.
Myth 6: Less perspiration in winter means less chance of dehydration.
Dr. Nadine Aoun says it is a common misconception that hydration requirements decrease so substantially in the winter that dehydration is never an issue.
Many people equate dehydration with hot and humid summer days, or with overexertion in hot and humid areas. However, dehydration is not limited to hot weather. Even in cold weather, you might become dehydrated, says Dr Nadine.
Dehydration happens when your body lacks sufficient fluid to function appropriately. While a variety of factors influence how much water you require in a day, the average adult requires approximately 3 litres of water every day.
It is possible to become dehydrated even when it is cold outside, just as it is possible to become dehydrated while it is hot outside, she says.
In reality, staying hydrated throughout the warmer months is easier than staying hydrated during the winter season.
Because some people become less thirsty in cold weather, they drink less water in the winter than they do in the summer.
However, being less thirsty does not imply that you are more hydrated. We tend to sweat less in chilly temperatures. Your body still loses moisture all day every day even in cooler temperatures through respiration, perspiration, urination and bodily functions but without sweat as an indicator, you may not know that you need to drink water to replenish the fluids that your body is losing. People may be less inclined to stay hydrated in the winter than in the summer because they do not usually associate dehydration with cold temperatures.
Dr Nadine makes it clear that apart from temperature, factors such as your exercise level, food, and overall health influence the rate at which your body loses moisture.
It is essential to stay hydrated in the winter since it helps keep our body temperature balanced and normal. Staying hydrated also aids our immune systems in fighting off colds and flu, which are more common during the winter months, she says.
According to Dr Venkatraman of Prime Healthcare, while we do not sweat as evidently as in summer, in winter body fluid losses can happen due to increased frequency of urination, increased respiratory water losses and dry air due to room heaters.
He suggests using a humidifier to increase the moisture in the air and help in rehydration of skin during winters. ‘Skin stays smooth if you are well hydrated,’ he says.