New Rules for Winter Health/Beauty

Last Editorial Review: 2/22/2005

Your exercise, health, and beauty routines shouldn't end when winter begins. But you should change your routine to fit the season.

By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson, MD

As the cold winds blow, the sunblock and conditioners go back in the medicine cabinet and we feast instead of exercise, right? Wrong! Your beauty and health routines continue -- but the rules change.

Winter Skin Care

By the time the first leaf falls, it seems like you can scratch your name on your dry skin. "Indoor heating takes the humidity out of the air and we start the scratch-itch cycle on our arms and legs," says Wendy Lewis, New York beauty consultant and author of The Lowdown on Facelifts and Other Wrinkle Remedies. Wool clothing can also leach out moisture and irritate skin. Lewis recommends a lactic acid body lotion called Amlactin, available behind the pharmacist's counter without a prescription (other good over-the-counter goos are Eucerin, Aquaphor, and Vaseline Intensive Care). "If you use lotion," she advises, "you need to use it more often, even every few hours."

Lips, especially, need emollients, Lewis says, recommending products containing shea butter.

And don't forget the sun -- "There's sun even if you're not baking in it," cautions Lewis. You still need sunblock, even in winter. Feet need extra exfoliating to keep heels from cracking. "Put on cream and then wear socks to bed once a week," she counsels. The same goes for hands (with gloves, not socks).

Other tips for cold-weather beauty:

  • Don't use toner or anything with alcohol in it.
  • When cleansing in winter, says skin care guru Susan Ciminelli, owner of the Susan Ciminelli Day Spa in Manhattan, use a milky-soft cleanser removed with a warm, damp washcloth.
  • Get a good moisturizing night cream, even if you don't use one in summer, Lewis says.
  • Also, according to Lewis, you might need an eye cream, but don't slather on too much. After all, eye creams attract moisture, and moisture takes up space, meaning eye creams can cause puffiness.
  • Use foundation, even if you think it's for your grandmother. "It doesn't have to be heavy," Lewis says, "just make sure it contains SPF 15 or higher. If you don't like foundation, use a lightly tinted moisturizer."
  • Or add moisturizer to your foundation, advises Shalini Strawn, beauty consultant who has worked with Cheri Oteri, Suzanne Pleshette, and Cybill Shepherd. She also says to forget the heavy pancake and use loose powder to set your foundation. Remember, the color of your face may be lighter than in summer!
  • Strawn also recommends dusting a touch of bronzer on temples, cheekbones, and the bridge of your nose to warm up winter pallor. Pink and peach blushes also add a sunkissed look where no sun exists.
  • An ampule-oil pack for hair once in a while is a good idea in winter, Lewis says.
  • Don't forget to exfoliate all that dry skin, but stay with gentle methods -- no hacked-up apricot pits or hard, scratchy "puffs." Remember that scratch-itch cycle?

Avoid Adding Winter Weight

Do the math -- people are bundled up in winter, their bodies camouflaged. Cakes, pies, candy, and alcohol are everywhere you go. And you may be inside more, playing Scrabble instead of beach volleyball. In addition, it gets dark earlier in winter -- people get bored or depressed and nibble. Winter was why comfort food was invented!

"Some people say our metabolisms change in winter, but I can't find too much scientific evidence of that," says Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist at the New York University Medical Center. "I do know people think they add five to 10 pounds around the holidays and then don't take it off." Studies, however, show this is more like one pound in thinner people, more in heavier people, Heller says. "Over the years, a pound a winter adds up."

But don't people burn calories just staying warm? Heller laughs at that. "The Army does allow 10% more calories for troops involved in winter fighting," she says. "But winter fighting is different than an hour of snowboarding."

Some tips for healthy winter eating:

  • Be sure you get enough vitamin D, which comes from the sun and from dairy products (hopefully, fat-free ones, Heller says). She says studies show that young people, as well as older folks, suffer vitamin D deficiencies in winter, when people are not outside as much and the sun is not sufficiently strong to cause the body to synthesize the vitamin.
  • Sample, but don't gorge. Pass up items on the buffet that you can get at home. Take small portions.
  • Walk after every meal. "If it's not icy, cold won't hurt you," Heller says. "Get out and walk." Dress appropriately -- layers, gloves, and scarves to keep cold wind from sliding down your neck.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. You may not be losing as much water as in hot weather, but you are losing fluids through urination and breathing. You still need water even if you're not thirsty!
  • Ciminelli recommends her skin clients not drink coffee or alcohol and "lubricate" from the inside out by indulging in salmon and other fatty fish and sprinkling ground flaxseed on their morning oatmeal. Avocados and olive oil are also musts for dry winter skin.
  • Eat warm, filling soups, Heller recommends, instead of a haunch of meat. Remember those hefty, substantial root vegetables in winter, too.

No Couch Time for You!

Winter sports often use different muscles than summer ones -- you have to prepare or risk injury.

Charles J. Ruotolo, MD, director of sports medicine at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, N.Y., recommends starting your pre-skiing regimen a month and a half before hitting the slopes.

"Make sure you do plenty of aerobic work," he says. "People get hurt because they get tired, and at altitude, you will get tired even faster." For ski enthusiasts, Ruotolo also urges lower-body strength work -- running or stationary bike. The rowing machine is also good ski prep. "Do squats for your quads," he says.


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Snowboarding also requires a buildup period. "Be sure you use wristguards," Ruotolo says. "The biggest injury from boarding is breaking a fall with the arms, which breaks the wrist. You are less than half as likely to get a fracture with wristguards."

Other tips for healthy winter exercising:

  • Take it indoors -- but don't quit. That couch by the fire may look inviting, but don't forget the address of the gym.
  • Stay hydrated. Ruotolo recommends a brew of half water-half sports drink.
  • Kids, especially, should wear helmets while skiing. Head, not wrist, injuries result from skiing.
  • Have your equipment checked. Ruotolo says a dealer or nearby ski store can check your boots and bindings for you.
  • Have yourself checked. "The most likely time to get a heart attack is in the morning," Ruotolo reminds us. "This is when you get up, see the snowfall, and grab for the shovel. The best way to prevent a problem is to see your doctor every year and make sure your heart is in good shape."

Winter is not for sissies!

Star Lawrence is a medical journalist based in the Phoenix area.

Originally published Nov. 11, 2002.

Medically updated Oct. 15, 2004.

SOURCES: Wendy Lewis, author, The Lowdown on Facelifts and Other Wrinkle Remedies. Susan Ciminelli, owner, Susan Ciminelli Day Spa, New York. Shalini Strawn, beauty consultant. Samantha Heller, MS, RD, senior clinical nutritionist, New York University Medical Center. Charles J. Ruotolo, MD, director, sports medicine, Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, N.Y. News release, St Luke's Roosevelt & Beth Israel Medical Center.

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