With winter around the corner, it’s time to start prepping your skin for the harsher weather ahead. To help you support your skin health, we chatted to Dr Michelle Van Zyl who owns a popular aesthetic practice in Somerset West. With a long and diverse career in the medical and aesthetic fields – plus being a busy mom – Michelle knows all too well how hectic lifestyles can affect the condition of our skin, and even keep us from forming healthy habits.
She shared her advice on the biological and medical reactions that your body might experience during winter, and how products like our GF2 formulations can help your skin thrive in the cooler months.
Q: Why is winter so tough on skin – compared to summer?
There are no two ways about it: our skin can look particularly tragic in winter which can be super frustrating – especially when you feel like you haven’t been doing anything differently! The reason for this is that colder temperatures and lower humidity levels (due to heating devices) result in dry air that draws moisture away from the skin. These conditions affect our skin barrier negatively.
An impaired skin barrier means that your skin gets stripped of its natural moisture faster and you lose more moisture than usual. This dehydration can make your skin appear red, inflamed, itchy and very uncomfortable. If you already suffer from rosacea or eczema, you will notice your symptoms worsening in the winter months. Moving in from the cold to cuddling up indoors in front of a fire seems romantic, but it actually conspires to chip away the skin’s barrier and leave your skin very irritated and dehydrated.
Q: Are humidifiers or face mists good for your skin in winter?
Humidifiers add moisture to the air to prevent dryness that causes irritation in many parts of our body. They are really helpful in treating and preventing dryness of skin, nose, throat and lips. I combine a few drops of essential oils to help ease cold or flu symptoms. A good hydrating mist for your face is a wonderful idea – I love GF2 Skin Rejuvenation. It literally prevents dehydration of the skin and helps to protect the skin barrier.
Q: Why is my skin suddenly looking so dull?
I’m especially prone to this! The more I want my skin to look glowing and radiant in winter, the more frustrated I become when it doesn’t respond according to expectations and looks grey and dull instead. The reason for this is that, during cold weather, our bodies send all our blood circulation, electrolytes and nutrition to our vital organs (our heart, brain, lungs and liver) and decrease flow to the periphery (think about those icy fingers and toes). Our skin, unfortunately, is in the same boat.
Decreased circulation is to blame for skin looking so flat. Blood flow is literally stagnant and is the reason you’ll notice that not only is your skin grey and dull but circles under your eyes become even darker.
Q: What about body care in winter – are long, hot showers a bad idea?
I love stepping into a steaming shower in winter. But immediately afterwards I can feel my skin feeling tight and sometimes itchy. It turns out that hot water strips your skin epidermis (outer skin layer) of natural oils, leading to dry, itchy skin. This exacerbates skin problems. Your skin will thank you if you switch to lukewarm water instead. Turn the shower to just above room temperature so that you’re not freezing but your skin is also not turning red under the spray.
Here’s a tip: turn the hot water on full blast for a minute in a closed shower, thereby creating a steamy, humid atmosphere. Step in and slowly add cold water. The steam will help hydrate the skin. Then quickly shower in lukewarm water, and repeat step one. Jump out and with small droplets of water on your body, start moisturising straight away. Put your cream bottle in the shower to warm up the cream and not have you shivering outside.
Q: Should I be using more moisturiser than usual?
The most important aspect of winter skincare is assisting the skin’s ability to maintain a healthy barrier, decrease inflammation and irritation. We are trying to prevent the skin from getting severely dehydrated, which in turns leads to the skin cracking or even bleeding.
But it is not as simple as revving up on moisturisers – this can actually be counterproductive as our skin needs proper exfoliation to prevent a build-up of dead skin cells. By willy-nilly slapping on moisturiser, these skin cells get trapped, leading to enlarged pores and acne.
Q: Are there any differences in how anti-ageing treatments (e.g. fillers, needling, chemical peels) should be handled in winter?
Winter is a wonderful opportunity to fine-tune your skincare regime. Peels can be performed more often and on a deeper dermal layer, assisting with proper exfoliation and healthy skin turnover. The ingredients used in serums can be more concentrated to help fight inflammation. Retinol-based products can be used with treatments as, technically, we are exposed to less direct sunlight. But in South Africa we still have beautiful sunny days in winter and sunscreen should never be forgotten.
Anti-wrinkle injection needs can change slightly, due to decreased circulation and dehydration, worsening the appearance of fine lines. Patients can find that they need a few more units than what they are used to. But if we manage our skincare routine and take a to skincare, we can maintain current dosages of anti-wrinkle injections.
Fillers contain hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring substance in our body. The hyaluronic acid helps draw moisture into the skin and helps to plump up and add volume to the face. Volume loss is a normal part of ageing and dermal fillers help restore the moisture balance and instantly diminish the appearance of lines and wrinkles.
Logically, if we allow our skin to get very dehydrated and inflamed, and we destroy the natural barrier, collagen will break down very quickly and we will show signs of ageing very rapidly. That can lead not only to an increased amount of fillers used to restore the youthfulness of our skin, but it can actually break down your fillers faster, leaving you very unsatisfied with the product and with a feeling that you wasted your money.
The first step is to prevent the breakdown of the skin’s barrier and associated inflammation as this is directly linked to premature ageing. Hypochlorous acid is definitely the winner here. It is also a substance naturally created by our bodies to fight off irritation, injury and infection.
It is anti-inflammatory, soothing and repairs your skin barrier, while really speeding up the healing of the skin.
Finally, we need to exfoliate the skin properly. This is where you can have deep retinol and glycolic acid peels on a regular basis. Hypochlorous acid will help you not only heal faster from these procedures but actually increase the effectiveness of these treatments.
Injectables can be used to plump up the skin and restore vital moisture and lost collagen.
Q: Many are inclined to drink more warm drinks in winter, and less water. What are the implications for our skin?
Because skin becomes easily dehydrated in winter, I recommend an inside-out approach to skincare. Sticking to healthy habits like getting 7-8 hours of sleep and drinking two litres of water per day goes a very long way in keeping the skin healthy. We must always remember that skin is the largest organ in our bodies. Just as you need to form good habits for a healthy heart, liver and lungs, the same principles apply to your skin.
A glass or two of red wine in front of the fire is great but remember that alcohol is also a diuretic that causes dehydration. The same goes for coffee, unfortunately. That being said, a glass of wine here and there and a moderate intake of Java won’t cause damage – it’s all about moderation and not neglecting your water intake.
Q: Any supplements for overall wellness and skin health you would suggest for winter?
I am absolutely fanatical about taking collagen and Omega 3’s as they are potent anti-inflammatories (not only for skin but to lower inflammatory responses in our bodies as a whole). There has also been new research suggesting that taking a daily probiotic may offer anti-ageing benefits by balancing skin pH, strengthening the skin barrier and reducing photo-ageing.
I also take a very potent multivitamin daily and drink a high dose of Vitamin D, as research shows it strengthens our bones, gums, teeth and skin and prevents certain cancers. Vitamin D deficiency has also been found to cause muscle pain and weakness, chronic pain syndrome, fatigue and depression.
Q: What are your essential skin must-haves?
Twice a day, I start my skincare regime with GF2 Skin Rejuvenation. I follow this with the Serra range from Lamelle as I have very sensitive skin. Then I get monthly peels or Dermapen, combining active ingredients like retinol, glycolic or salicylic acid to really exfoliate deeply and boost new skin cell turnover. I wear an SPF 50 sunscreen on a daily basis and no make-up on weekends.