How To Keep Your Heater From Ruining Your Skin

Photographed by Jens Ingvarsson.
Winter brings with it beautiful things like wind, freezing temperatures, and dry indoor heat that causes your skin to freak the eff out. If you work in an office, live in a building with radiators, or spend your commute underground, in a puffy down jacket, packed into a tight space, then you know the hell that is temperature fluctuation during this season. It's freezing one minute, suffocatingly stuffy the next. And your skin doesn't like it one bit. Flaking is the least of the problems. You can have cracking, chapping, redness, or skin so raw that it splits and bleeds. That's where dermatologists come in. Welcome to your free appointment.

“The heating systems we use are mostly dry air that sucks the moisture out,” explains dermatologist Howard Sobel, MD. “The old-time water-heating systems were much less drying. If you still have a radiator, put a pot of water on [it], and it will release moisture into the air as you heat the room. Hot-air systems should have a humidifier.” Yes, that’s right. Your mother has told you, your grandmother has told you, and now a dermatologist has told you: Get a humidifier for your bedroom.

“I like ones that are filter-free and easy to clean,” says dermatologist Doris Day, MD. “My favorite brand is Bionaire. The idea is to keep the room to just below window-fog-level. If you see your windows fog, dial it down just a little." As a writer very familiar with humidifiers, I prefer a cool one that doesn’t mess with your blowout and is self-cleaning thanks to UV light. The Honeywell Quietcare holds a ton of water — three gallons — so you don’t have to fill it up every 10 seconds. A lazy girl’s dream. Bonus tip: “Keep temperatures on the cool side at home, especially at night, when you can use blankets,” Dr. Sobel says.

Beyond adding moisture to your air, there are, of course, water and creams and lotions. Try to get eight glasses of liquids in a day, say dermatologist Lisa Donofrio, MD, but don't worry if you're the type who always forgets to drink water. “All drinks count toward your water intake,” Dr. Sobel says; caffeine-free tea, soup, apple cider, and vegetables and fruits with high water content are all fair game. Dr. Day adds: “You do lose more water from your skin when there's less water in the air and when it's windier. The skin tries to compensate by slowing skin cell turnover which makes the outer dead skin layer (the stratum corneum) thicker, and while that helps a little, it can make the skin look dull and flaky. Drinking water won't help the outer layer be less dry, but it does help you replace the water your body loses."

When it comes to moisturizers for your face and body, a few key ingredients can make a huge difference. The dermatologists we spoke with praised hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin, which help hold water in the skin, and argan oil, shea butter, beeswax, and niacinamide, which help repair the protective skin barrier (niacinamide can be found in Olay Micro Sculpting Cream, a favorite of Dr. Donofrio’s). The key is to work them in when your skin is damp — otherwise they won’t work as well. "Dry skin doesn't function optimally because the barrier function is compromised, leaving the skin sensitive and unbalanced," dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, says. (While we're talking dampness, hot showers are a killer in the winter. But unless you’re an army recruit, we don’t expect you to take a cold one, so instead limit it to 10 minutes and use a body wash with a puff. “This is so you can break the emulsion by sudsing before applying. This allows for the product to bind to the skin and prevent moisture loss,” says Dr. Donofrio.)

Finally, let's talk about hands and lips — the bane of every human’s existence if they live in a cold climate. Dr. Day warns about over-washing your hands and says it's important to always follow it up with a cream. Keep one by your bed, in your bag, at your desk, in your bathroom...you get the idea. Dr. Donofrio loves Neutrogena Norwegian Hand Cream and a wax-containing lip balm like Chapstick. And no, you can’t get addicted to lip balm, so swipe it on with wild abandon. Then, go lower the thermostat, for god's sake.