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How Can You Take Better Care of Your Skin During the Winter?

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by Leanne Delap at The Zoomerist

The weather has turned and the holiday parties are beginning, all presenting a number of pressing winter beauty questions from our readers. We are taking two of the most popular queries and combining them into a special winter beauty package! 

First up is Zoomer reader Anna, who is fighting the age-old battle with “itchy, dry, flaky skin all over” now that the forced air heating is turned on. She also wonders: “Is retinol too harsh for winter? I love the results, but fear making my skin feel, and look, worse.” 

I rang up top Toronto dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett of DLK on Avenue to get some straight up answers and she delivered some really quite simple and logical and inexpensive strategies. One thing I love about getting to ask dermatologists questions is the exactness of their responses. I love big words, words with explicit meaning, and boy is dermatology the field to find them! 

The skin, of course, is the largest organ on the body, and the field of dermatology study and practice is enormous. Many problems present similarly, and a process of elimination is often the best diagnostic tool. All of which translates to: take the time and book the appointment with a specialist, as guessing and trial and error at home can lead to real ongoing problems.

But everyone’s skin gets dry in the winter, right? Well, says Dr. Kellett, yes and no. First of all, she doesn’t like the descriptor “dry,” as it isn’t technically correct. “What it is is transdermal water loss,” she clarifies. Flaky is also what she calls a lay word; she uses desquamation, which means the shedding of the outermost layer of skin (the stratum corneum barrier). Fun fact: the Latin root desquamare means the stripping of the scales of a fish. And we’ve all felt like that at some point when our skin gets really rough.

So, how do we adjust our routines to stop the transdermal water loss and desquamation? Reduce the frequency of washing your face, the doctor says. “Twice a day may be too often in the wintertime.” She also suggests sticking to gentle cleansers for sensitive skin.

If you normally use a gel moisturizer, she says, switch to a cream formulation. “You still want to exfoliate,” she says, “but use a gentle product with beads that is just a little bit grainy. Chemical exfoliants such as lactic or salicylic acids can cause too much irritation in winter.” As for retinols, per our reader’s question, Dr. Kellett says you can still use them after the snow starts but, again, try switching to a different delivery vehicle, such as an oil or serum formulation.

Her best advice is free though: skip the soap in the winter time. And this is the best part, at least for someone like me who lives to float: “Switch to baths in winter,” Kellett says. “Put in an oil, and do not use soap. 

Aveeno has a simple and inexpensive oil, for instance. In fact, Kellett is a champion of less expensive, simpler products in general. Great examples of these are Cerave, Aveno and Cetaphil, all hypoallergenic and non-irritating and available at every drugstore. “More expensive does not mean better,” she says for the basic products, such as moisturizers. These lines all have great moisturizers for face and body. “The biggest and most effective tip,” she says, is to skip the towel as well. “Put the moisturizer on a wet face and wet body,” to seal in the moisture.”

Otherwise, the doctor emphasizes not to forget sunscreen at any time of the year, and to physically protect your skin, especially your face, from wind burn. And of course, see your doctor if you are experiencing atopic dermatitis or eczema, both of which can increase in the winter months.

The second reader query has more to do with seasonal embellishment. This Zoomer reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, asked: “How do I step up my makeup for winter holiday parties? Should I go for more makeup or less makeup for a fancy dress-up party as I age? I feel better day-to-day with a fresher, lighter, sheer makeup look but I want to look special for this formal party. But I do worry about caking in wrinkles, etc. (I’m in my mid-60s).” 

For this question, I tapped celebrity makeup artist Wendy Rorong from Plutino Group, who is a fan of keeping your look fresh for all ages: “Whether it is for holidays or just a day-to-day makeup, I think minimal makeup is definitely on the forefront of makeup trends.” 

Keep the skin looking fresh with a minimal amount of foundation, she says, which also prevents makeup from getting cakey throughout the day. “One of my favorite foundations for mature skin is the Mac Face & Body foundation because it has a sheer coverage but evens out the skin well. Seeing pores and slight imperfections is totally okay and I feel like it’s so refreshing to see it being normalized these days.” She emphasizes, though, that you have to put in the work keeping up your layered moisturizing. “Makeup will lay on the skin much more seamlessly when you don’t have to drag it over dry skin.”

As for blush “bring colour and life into the cheeks.” She also prefers cream or liquid formulations. “My favourites are the milk makeup lip + cheek cream, or the rare beauty soft pinch liquid blush.”

Some sharpness of features gets lost as our faces shift over time. “Personally I always like to bring dimension back to the face with some bronzer instead of contouring,” says Rorong. “My go-to bronzer for years is the Chanel healthy glow bronzing cream. I apply it with a brush on my cheekbones and temples.” 

As for the glitter and glitz?  “Highlighter is something I only add very sparingly if I’m going out. I like the ease of a highlight stick like the Merit day glow highlighting balm. Dab on as needed with your fingers and you’re good to go!”

Eyes are the focus for holiday dress-up, but doing them can be intimidating, especially when negotiating some crepey or crinkly skin around the eyes. “If smokey eyes feel a little bit intimidating,” says Rorong, “you can always try smudging an eyeliner on your lash line. All you have to do is to draw a line as close as possible to your lashes, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You can smudge it with your ring finger and instantly have your eyes appear more defined and smoked out.” For this she suggests a creamy liner so it’s easy to smudge but dries to a powder after so it stays put, like this Nars high pigment longwear eyeliner. 

“I love a brown eyeliner moment like this shade in Mambo, which is the perfect chocolate brown.” Be sure, she says, to use a lash curler before applying mascara, for lift to make your eyes look bigger. 

Bold lips always give a shot of confidence. To go with the softer brown eye palette, Rorong says she is loving a berry lip right now. “You can choose a shade that suits you, whether it be on the sheer side like the Dior lip glow or a more opaque, defined, lipstick like this Nars powermatte long lasting lipstick in Highway to Hell.” 

Beware the hors d’oeuvres, though, says Rorong. “Go for sheer if you will be eating, and keep it as close to your own lip colour so if it fades it will still look natural.” 

She leaves us with a final tip: “Bring floss,” she says, “because food in your teeth is never a good accessory!”

Always asking questions,

DLK on Avenue

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