T.S. Eliot claimed that ‘April is the cruellest month’, but my vote goes to February. With central heating that’s been on for months, stripping moisture from our skin and hair, with still-gloomy days outside – and daffs only beginning to peek through the soil as a cheering hint of spring to come – it’s a tough month from a wellbeing and a beauty perspective.
The biggest challenge from what I like to think of as ‘the scrag-end of winter’ is dryness. As humidity and temperatures plummet, the internal atmosphere dries out because we’re heating the air. The result: lizard lips, alligator elbows, chapped cheeks – and dull skin. So the cold weather watchword, regardless of skintype, is ‘more’. More moisturising, more gentle, more often.
Choose a gentle, water-soluble cleanser that’s non-irritating to skin.
Balms are perfect make-up-melting winter-weather skin choices: a favourite of mine is Aromatherapy Associates Soothing Cleansing Balm, though I also love Temple Spa In The Beginning Deep Cleansing Melt. Both these balm-style cleansers are perfect for this time of year, though each is best used with a muslin cloth or washcloth, which you can use to rub gently at patches of dry skin, when the skin’s warm and damp. This buffing helps to remove the dead layers of skin which look matte and dull – and are the main reason skin is less vibrant-looking, at this time of year. (Just one warning: never ‘pull’ at skin flakes, or you’ll tear off skin that’s not ready to be removed yet.)
Lavish gently-cleansed skin with moisturiser.
If possible, re-apply during the day, too, if you can manage that without disturbing your make-up. Be aware that even oily skins need extra moisture, in winter. If your finances are still depleted after Christmas, a beauty steal you really can’t beat good old Weleda Skin Food: a very simple product, gloriously nourishing, and just what February skin’s crying thirstily out for.
At night, during winter, I actually ‘double-moisturise’: a layer of facial oil, followed by a rich moisturiser, for a skin-plumping double whammy. In addition, slather on a mask once or twice a week – a fast-track to much-needed radiance, when skin’s got the winter ‘blahs’; if you’re on the hunt for a new brand, I recommend Aurelia Cell Repair Night Oil: the most delicious, orange blossom-scented facial oil I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. Annee de Mamiel Winter Facial Oil, meanwhile, is specifically designed to soothe winter-weary skin and restore radiance, with frankincense, rose geranium, neroli and vetiver (some of my favourite essential oils, there), in a nourishing argan base.
Don’t forget below the vest-line.
Even though our bodies may be hidden from sight underneath layers of Wolford (and even Damart), remember: beneath neck level, skin needs plenty of TLC, too. Boost your flagging mood as well as your skin’s moisture levels by choosing something creamily pampering, and don’t skimp. But be sure to pat skin dry, before massaging it in: it’s nonsense that you ‘trap’ moisture with a cream. All that happens is that you dilute the moisturising ingredients, instead. Look for ingredients like glycerine, hyaluronic acid, shea butter and natural oils. And in addition? You might want to follow these cold-weather-beating tips…
Use steam rather than sauna.
At the gym or spa, instead of the dry – and drying – heat of the sauna, opt for the steam room. Before steaming, apply a thin layer of massage oil all over. Your skin will come out buttery soft…
Give some TLC to fingers and toes.
Don’t forget extremities, which also dry out horrendously. To nurture them back to silky smoothness, soak feet and hands in warm water mixed with lavender oil (5 drops in a plastic basin-ful) and a slurp of massage oil. Afterwards, rub on pure cocoa butter or shea butter – both fantastic emollients.
Up your good fats.
Foods like oily fish (think mackerel, herrings etc.) and avocados help plump up skin from within. And sprinkle flaxseeds on your salads and whiz them up in smoothies, too, for an omega-3 boost that’s fantastic for winter skin. I swear by an Essential Fatty Acid supplement, too (currently Power of Krill).
Wear cotton next to your skin.
Avoid fabrics like wool, next to the skin, as this actually ‘wicks’ moisture. (Although who can forswear the cocooning feeling of cashmere…? Not me.)
Keep your water level topped up.
I know beauty editors bleat on about this all the time, but drinking lots of water is one of the most important things you can do for skin, say dermatologists, in cold weather as well as hot. Think: hydration from the inside.
Take shorter baths.
A long bubble bath can make all your troubles seem to float away – until you dry off. Soaking in a hot tub depletes skin of natural oils; instead, switch to a five-minute shower at lower temperatures. (My own tip is to slather my skin in body oil before bathing, which helps prevent dehydration, and to avoid any kind of detergent-based bath treat. But I still keep winter baths short.) I often add grated ginger to a winter bath, meanwhile, for an ultra-warming effect.
Use a hair mask, twice a week.
Look around and you’ll see that lots of people’s hair actually looks fried at this time of year. Every hairdresser I’ve ever met has recommended a once-weekly hair mask, but I’d up that to twice a week, around now.
Up the humidity levels especially in the bathroom.
In winter, the combination of dry outdoor air and indoor heat turns skin Sahara-dry – in fact, according to one US dermatologist, Dr. Stephen Curtin, the conditions in a modern apartment can be more brutal than the great outdoors! (If you live in a draughty old house, console yourself it’s better for your skin.) A humidifier in the bedroom is the ultimate answer to replenish some of the lost humidity while you sleep, but if you don’t want to splash out on an electric appliance, place pretty saucers filled with pebbles near your radiators, and keep topped up. (You’ll be amazed how quickly they dry out completely!)
It couldn’t be simpler. Head for the duvet, guilt-free. No amount of money can buy your skin the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Eight or nine hours is ideal. (Not difficult, with nights as long as they are…)
And a lip tip…
Switch to a moisturising lipstick, or – better still – one of the new ‘tinted’ lip balms, which add a slick of colour alongside a barrier layer of emollient, to shield lips against the drying effects of the great outdoors. (Lips have just three to five layers of skin, as opposed to fifteen elsewhere on the body – which is why they’re so vulnerable to assault.) I love Lanolips Lip Ointment, £7.99 for 12.5 ml (Rhubarb is a failsafe shade),
So: take February as an excuse to give yourself some TLC. Make a pleasurable ritual of it – and remind yourself that there’s at least one good thing about this month: it’s only 28 days till March…!