Between climate changes, the party climate and acclimatizing to travel, the holidays pose a triple threat to the skin.
The most common culprit: dry air.
“Warmer air has the capacity to hold more moisture,” says Mitchell Wortzman, director of Neutrogena Skin Care Institute. “As temperatures drop, the amount of moisture the air can hold decreases.”
And dry air - whether outdoors in the cold or indoors where heated air is even drier - draws moisture from the skin.
Dr. Robert Polisky, an Elk Grove Village, Ill., dermatologist and internist, calls the phenomenon “tewl,” short for “trans-epidermal water loss.”
“One way to avoid ‘tewl’ is by not overbathing and showering,” he says. “Soap strips the skin of oils and lipids that keep water in. Bacterial soaps like Zest, Coast and Irish Spring are good to avoid this time of year.”
Seasonal parties can mean more alcohol, less sleep, smoky rooms - none good for the face.
Also, you may not be able to avoid holiday air travel where plane cabins tend to be dry.
Hope to protect your skin? Wortzman recommends this seasonally adjusted skin-care regimen:
Use a gentle cleanser, moisturize and avoid irritants to the skin, including rough towels, luffa sponges or clothing that chafes.
Holiday frustration fueled by circling endlessly for a parking spot at the mall or encountering your least favorite relative over turkey also is a potential skin hazard.
“All common skin diseases have a stress component,” Wortzman says. “Skin is an organ that responds to changing hormone levels such as adrenaline.”
But if you’re thinking of pampering yourself in a long, hot shower, think again.
“Relaxing 15 minutes in boiling hot water is about the worst thing you can do for your skin,” says Polisky. Shower only briefly - say five minutes - with gentle soaps such as Dove, Basis, Neutrogena or Cetaphil.
Also hold off on using an exfoliating device, which can worsen irritated skin, and alcohol-based toners that “feel good but strip the skin of oil.”
The best remedy is a therapeutic moisturizer, one that not only replaces moisture but also seals it in. Look for products with salicylic acid or urea, advises Polisky, who recommends Ultamide Cream, DML Moisturizer and Nivea Cream.
Finally, with stress can come acne. Bumpy lesions along the jawbone and neck are common in adults under stress, Polisky says.
There are no topical cures to head off stress-related acne at the pass. As your best bets, doctors recommend general attention to one’s health, including getting enough rest, eating a balanced diet and exercising, coupled with stress management techniques such as deep breathing or meditation.
“Take time to do the things you normally do to relieve stress,” says Wortzman.
General tips for the skin:
Moisturize when damp. “As water evaporates it traps cream in skin, dragging it in with it,” says Dr. Harold Brody, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Emory University in Atlanta.
Bathe in lukewarm, not hot water.
Bathe less frequently and for a shorter time - say five minutes.
Humidify the air, especially overnight in the bedroom (if you have radiant heat, try placing a large heat-proof pan of water on top of the radiator as an at-home humidifier).
Use a moisturizer product with sunscreen.
On airplanes, avoid or limit alcohol and caffeine intake. Both are dehydrating.
Drink plenty of fluids, such as mineral water and juice to counter moisture loss.
Sleep on the flight if you can.
Carry your own mild soap and moisturizer.
Try a new moisturizing facial product, such as Aveda’s Intensive Hydrating Mask ($26) or Clinique’s Moisture Surge ($19.50).
For a salon fix-it, try Georgette Klinger’s new Advanced Oxygen Facial Treatment ($85). The treatment also comes in at-home formulations ($40 moisturizer and $28.50 for the mask) at (800) KLINGER.
Targeting moisture-deprived areas:
It’s a bonanza season for new moisturizers by beauty companies that tout benefits beyond hydration. Check out Clinique’s Moisture OnCall ($30), Lancome’s Primordiale ($42.50), Estee Lauder Daywear ($37.50) or L’Oreal’s Plentitude Revitalift ($12).
Use a moisturizer under your lipstick because lips do not have the natural protection of the rest of the skin, Wortzman says. Try Lip Solution ($17.95) by English Ideas, (800) LIP-LAST; or Origins Lip Remedy ($8).
Because skin is thinnest and driest around the eyes, try a specially formulated moisturizer such as Avon’s Anew Perfect Eye Care Cream ($12.50) or Origins’ Eye Doctor ($25).
Holiday dermatitis, a skin irritation, can easily strike the hands, caused by pine needle jabs, paper cuts from gift wrapping and all that hand washing while cooking. Try a specially formulated hand moisturizer such as Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream ($3.75).
Use a therapeutic moisturizer such as Vaseline’s Intensive Care Line ($1.99).
Try the all-in-one Winter Skin Care Set ($49) from Smith and Hawken, the garden people, who cover all the vulnerable areas with orange-infused moisturizer, tangerine-infused lip balm and an herbal salve for chapped and cut hands, (800) 776-3336.