Ayurveda, the 5000 year old Indian system of natural health, teaches that we need to adapt our diet and lifestyle according to the seasons, in order to have perfect skin. In the winter, cold damp energy (known as ‘kapha’ in Ayurveda) can build up, says holistic facialist and natural beauty expert Eminé Ali Rushton. To balance this, she advises adding warming spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom, to nut milks or chai, and eating more warm soups, stews and porridge. This certainly isn’t the time of year for raw diets or juice fasts.
New research backs up the ancient wisdom. Scientists from the University of Chicago found that the microflora in our gut changes with each season – in the winter it’s all about digesting higher fat and protein foods, while in the summer our intestinal flora are geared towards breaking down salads and raw vegetables.
‘The change of season is always a stress for the skin,’ says dermatologist Dr Tiina Meder. ‘So these are the months when one should pay more attention to skin care.’ Her advice? Avoid very hot showers and don’t wash your face with very hot water as it traumatises the skin, increasing sensitivity. ‘If you have a chance, even a short course of professional treatments with hyaluronic acid to hydrate and restore the skin’s barrier function can make a big difference,’ says Tiina. At home, try Meder Beauty Science’s Hydra-Fill masque (£61; mederstore.com) – a bamboo face mask packed with hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and seaweed extract.
Next up, turn down the thermostat. Research by energy company E.on found that nearly a quarter of Brits pump the heat up to a tropical 23 degrees plus – dehydrating our skin and leaving it feeling dry, rough and tight – and also more prone to wrinkles. AMLY Silver Rich Face Mist (£42; amlybotanicals.com) is a serum mist that contains skin-soothing silver, hyaluronic acid, and copper (a natural antioxidant) blended with wild hedgerow herbs and essential oils. Spritz your face with it throughout the day to boost skin vitality and help hydration. Added bonus? It smells like summer! Don’t forget to drink plenty of water too. Ayurveda advises drinking warm water (to help shift toxins) – keep a thermos on your desk and add a twist of lemon to make it taste more pleasant.
Look for balms, oils and serums that ‘really soothe and cosset’ says Eminé. Année de Mamiel’s Winter Oil (£70; demamiel.com) is rich in vitamins, minerals and fatty acids to restore radiance to stressed winter skin (as an added bonus it smells like Christmas!) while Ouli’s Ointment (£13; oulis-ointment.com) is a soothing skin remedy, majoring in bee’s wax (a natural anti-inflammatory) to lubricate and protect during harsh winters. Use it on face, body or lips. Trap moisture in your skin after a bath or shower with ila’s Body Oil for Inner Peace (£48; ila-spa.com), a soothing blend of essential oils in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant argan and rosehip seed oil (again, another product that not only works hard for your skin but which smells like total heaven).
Skin, sun and the vitamin D factor
Should you wear sunscreen even in the depths of winter? Not necessarily. Dr Tiina Meder believes there is no need for sunscreen unless ultraviolet radiation is present. The Met Office (metoffice.gov.uk) provides a daily UV map and Tiina explains that you only need protection when sun radiation reaches 2-4. ‘In the UK the UV Index is rarely higher than 3-4,’ she says, ‘which is why vitamin D deficiency is so widespread.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition now advises everyone to take a vitamin D supplement during the winter months. Vitamin D is not only essential for strong bones and balanced mood but it also has a clear role in skin health too, as vitamin D deficiency is linked with a compromised immune system which, in turn, can produce acne-producing bacteria.
The Skin Stress Factor
Whether it comes from a difficult boss, a highly pressured job or juggling too many things at once, stress can play havoc with our skin. A study in the Archives of Dermatology found that stress affects the barrier function of the skin, and stops the skin from repairing itself so effectively. ‘Happiness, calm and sleep can affect skin as much as, if not more than, diet,’ says Eminé Ali Rushton. ‘Find ways to relieve stress, be it a gentle yoga practice, meditation, or getting out for regular walks.’
Researchers at the University of Sheffield found that relaxation sessions, meditation and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can help soothe eczema and other skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne and vitiligo. An American study, meanwhile, had people with psoriasis listen to meditation tapes while they received ultraviolet light treatments. Their skin healed a massive four times as fast as the non-meditating control group. The theory is that meditation not only triggers the body’s ability to repair itself but also lessens the stress that can lead to psoriasis flare-ups or acne.
A warm (not hot) bath containing magnesium salts is a great way, not only to ease stress but also to soothe skin. Magnesium actually suppresses the release of stress hormones in the brain – it really is the ultimate chill-pill. Research from the University of Kiel in Germany also found that bathing in a magnesium-rich Dead Sea salt solution improved skin hydration and reduced inflammation in dry skin. Dead Sea Salts by Westlab (from £2.99; westlabsalts.com) contain high levels of magnesium.
This is the second part of my feature on Winter Skin Health. A version of this first appeared in Spirit & Destiny magazine. The third part will cover ‘problem’ skin.