When you think of the organs of the body, you normally think of things like heart, lungs, kidneys – and quite often, you don’t think of the skin. But sure enough, the skin is one of your organs. In fact, the skin is the biggest organ in the whole body.
This organ has four essential roles to play in keeping your body healthy:
The skin acts as a physical barrier between the more delicate organs inside your body and the nasty, dangerous world out there. The skin does all of the following:
- Protects your body against damage caused when it comes into contact with hard or sharp objects.
- Prevents too much moisture from escaping out of your body (especially in hot and dry conditions) and also prevents water from getting into your body through your skin when you wash.
- Protects your body from harmful radiation from the sun.
- Prevents foreign bodies (like bacteria, fungi, or viruses) from entering your body.
The skin also plays a vital role in keeping your body at the right temperature. If you get too hot, then your skin releases sweat, which cools your body down as it evaporates. Your blood vessels also dilate so that your overheated blood can be cooled down by the air around you. If you are too cold, your skin can also help: it insulates the inside of your body against the cold external temperatures.
The nerve endings in your skin can detect temperature, pressure, and pain. Extremes of temperature, pressure, or pain indicate that something is harming your body, which is why it’s so important that you feel an unpleasant sensation in your skin to warn you that you need to get away from whatever is causing that sensation.
In the presence of sunlight, your skin produces vitamin D, which is essential for the functioning of the immune system, as well as for a healthy heart and strong bones. Although, like other vitamins, vitamin D can be obtained from certain foods, even the best vitamin D foods are not very good sources of this vitamin. The overwhelmingly best way of getting more vitamin D is exposing your skin to sunlight – in moderation, of course. Too much sun is just as bad for your skin as too little.
Your Skin and the Weather
Around the world, people live in many different climates. Some are cold and wet, some are hot and dry – and some are hot and wet, and dry and cold. Different climate and weather conditions affect your skin in different ways, but what they all have in common is that winter weather tends to be worse for your skin.
Water evaporates more in warmer weather and less in colder weather, which means that there is less moisture in the air when the air is colder. Colder conditions also cause any water vapor there is in the air to condense more readily on surfaces as droplets of dew. That also leads to less moisture being available in colder air.
When there is less moisture in the air, all the dry air touching your skin sucks the moisture right out, leaving your skin drier in winter, whatever the climate is like where you live.
How to care for your skin in winter
In winter, when the air is colder and drier than usual, there is more risk of your skin losing its moisture and its elasticity. Your skin may be broken more easily, dry flakes of skin may fall off, and you may experience itching or burning sensations.
Taking some basic precautions can make a big difference:
If you need to go outside in very cold weather, make sure that as much of your skin as possible is covered as warmly as possible. Even indoors, from your skin’s point of view, it’s better to be slightly too warm than slightly too cool. A little bit of healthy perspiration can help keep your skin more supple and stop it from getting as dry.
Love your lips
Lips are one of the areas of your skin that tend to suffer the most from dry weather: they don’t have anything like natural skin oils to keep them moisturized, and moisture is constantly evaporating off them. Sometimes, in dry weather, you may find yourself applying your lip balm so constantly that you think it must be the type of lip balm that is not working and change your brand in disgust – whereas actually, it’s just that your lips are so dry, even the best lip balm will need to be continually reapplied throughout the day.
Moderate your ablutionary practices
Often, the only thing that really keeps you going throughout your cold, damp, and miserable afternoon is the thought of that magnificent hot bath you will be able to indulge in when you get home. But beware: scalding hot baths or showers may feel wonderful, but they’re not that great for the health of your skin. Very hot water, in a bath or a shower, may irritate skin that is already feeling sensitive from exposure to the cold, dry air. Soaking for too long in the bath, even if the water is not too hot, will contribute to drying out your skin.
(If you’re like me, and there is no way you are about to compromise on the hot temperature of your bath, a nice greasy bath oil may mitigate the drying-out effects of soaking in the water.)
Avoid harsh soaps
Antibacterial or antifungal soaps can be a game-changer if you spend a lot of time in closed shoes and are prone to athlete’s foot, for example – but in winter, you may want to avoid them. In the first place, fungal infections are much less likely in winter because of the colder temperatures and the drier air; those harsh products are more likely to damage your skin in winter, when it’s probably feeling rather delicate already. Some soaps even have built-in moisturizers, which might be worth trying if your skin is really delicate.
The health of your skin is a huge part of your health overall, seeing that the skin is such a large and important part of the body. Take good care of your skin this winter, and we hope you will feel more comfortable – and just generally better, in both body and mind.