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The Best and Worst Weather For Your Face

Cold weather can help oily skin but may prove to be a problem for dry skin.
Cold weather can help oily skin but may prove to be a problem for dry skin.
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You've probably noticed that your face feels and looks different depending on the weather outside. You may even need a different skin-care routine at different times of the year. Temperature, sun exposure, humidity, and wind can all affect your skin's health and wellness, along with the products you use and the way you care for it.

But don't start planning your next move based on the climate in your city. Each type of environment has its own pros and cons, says San Diego-based dermatologist Jeffrey Benabio, MD, a physician with Kaiser Permanente -- and no matter where you live, there's almost always a way to live harmoniously with the weather outside.

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"Most people should be changing out their products depending on the time of year or the weather outside," says Benabio. "For example, you might use a light lotion in the summertime, but you may need a thicker cream or even an ointment during the winter."

Skin is affected so much by the weather because it is, literally, the body's first line of defense against the elements. It acts as a permeable barrier, letting in beneficial moisture and nutrients while keeping the bad stuff out. But for the barrier to function properly, the skin needs to maintain the correct levels of moisture and natural oils. When the air outside is dry, it can also cause the skin to become dry; just as when the air is humid, it can add temporary moisture to the skin.

Luckily, there are simple things you can do to get glowing skin in every climate.

Chapped lips and red, windburned cheeks are commonplace in the winter, especially for people who spend time outside participating in sports like skiing. When the body is exposed to cold air, it attempts to conserve heat by constricting blood vessels, which drains your skin of moisture, allowing the surface to dry out quickly. The subsequent dry skin can be painful if itching or chafing occurs along with it.

Humidity below 30 percent also contributes to dry skin, especially lips and hands, and especially for people over 50. (As you age, your body's natural to produce sebum, a natural oil, decreases.) [Source: Perry] Because dry skin is less supple and elastic, it's more vulnerable to irritation and infection, as well. Chronic conditions like dermatitis, eczema and rosacea are also more likely to flare up during cold, dry months.

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Dry air can also change the appearance of skin. "It tends to make skin look more dull and flaky, and can make fine lines much more prominent," says Benabio. "Applying a high-quality moisturizer to your face when it's cold and dry outside can literally make you look younger and help erase some of those lines."

It may seem, then, that sky-high temps and tropical humidity is the way to go for healthy skin. And while it certainly does have its advantages, it also has some drawbacks of its own.

Humidity, on its own, does help to add moisture to dry skin -- and, therefore, can temporarily reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. "Over the long term it probably doesn't make a difference," says Benabio, "but if you looked at someone in Colorado in the middle of winter and then looked at that same person down in Florida, you'd probably see fewer wrinkles on the day they're in Florida."

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When heat and humidity combine, however, the effects may not be as moisturizing as they seem. High temperatures cause the skin to become more permeable, allowing moisture to escape in the form of sweat. And while sweat may give your skin a shiny glow, it may actually contribute to dryness and dehydration if you're not actively replenishing (both by using moisturizer and by drinking lots of water) those lost fluids.

Sweat is, overall, a healthy process -- and sweat itself is not bad for your skin, says Chris Adigun, assistant dermatology professor at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. But when sweat mixes with dirt and bacteria (when you wipe with your hand or a dirty towel, for example), it can clog pores and contribute to acne.

For those with acne-prone skin, humidity may spell trouble. This weather can cause your oil-creating sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and causing breakouts.

And though some people may think that sun exposure can dry up excess oil and reduce the appearance of these breakouts, those results are temporary at best; UV damage and drying of the skin can actually cause glands to produce excess oil, which can lead to more breakouts in the future. [Source: Dunlop] People in warm temperatures should take special care to protect themselves from the sun's cancer-causing rays, since they're likely spending a lot more time in the outdoors. That's why wearing a moisturizer with sunscreen is so important anytime you're outside -- and so is reapplying after you've been in the water or sweating.

While sun protection may not be important for people who spend more of the winter indoors, it is still necessary for those who are outside year-round -- especially those at higher altitudes (where natural protection from the atmosphere is thinner) where sun is reflecting off of snow.

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Sources

  • Adigun, Chris, MD. Personal interview. July 10, 2013.
  • Benabio, Jeffrey, MD. Personal interview. August 14, 2013.
  • Dunlop, Courtney. "Does Tanning Actually Help Clear Up Acne?" Dr. Oz Blog. June 12, 2013. (August 15, 2013) http://blog.doctoroz.com/oz-experts/does-tanning-actually-help-clear-up-acne
  • Lamb, Robert. "Should the Weather Affect Your Daily Skin Care?" Discovery Fit & Health. (August 15, 2013) http://www.eucerinus.com/skin-health/beyond-skin/cold-weather.html
  • Perry, Arthur, MD. "How Does Cold Weather Affect My Skin?" Sharecare. (August 15, 2013) http://www.sharecare.com/health/skin-and-beauty/how-cold-weather-affect-skin
  • Siddons, Sarah. "How Does Climate Affect Skin?" Discovery Fit & Health. (August 15, 2013) http://www.eucerinus.com/skin-health/beyond-skin/humidity.html

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