New research from a team in Copenhagen has revealed precisely
what happens to your skin when it turns red and dry during the winter months.
The study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology, shows that the skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF) is less during the winter, possibly because the cold and intense sunlight disrupt the skin’s ability to produce natural moisturisers.
This could be what’s behind the millions of people who suffer from dry skin in the cold winter months, which itself can develop into permanent skin conditions like atopic eczema and rosacea.
The skin’s natural moisturiser
The trials on 80 volunteers revealed that NMF was lower in the winter, but higher in the summer. They also noted through microscopy that the skin shrinks, changing its surface.
Meanwhile, the presence of nano-sized particles on the skin surface actually increased – and this has been associated with dermatitis and the red, scratchy appearance of skin in cold weather.
The researchers theorise that this may because, as cold wind strips moisture from the face and hands, the skin’s filaggrin protein, which is part of the skin’s protective layer, breaks down, which in turn makes the skin less effective at moisturising itself.
The skin then finds it harder to replenish its natural moisturiser and it starts to crack. The skin starts to inflame as a result, and this causes the red colouring. This may also be accompanied by a burning or itching feeling.
The research from the Danish team reinforce the need to protect your skin with moisturisers during winter, as well as avoiding soaps which strip the fatty lipids from your skin.
Lead author Dr Jacob Thyssen said: ‘This study shows clearly that the skin barrier is affected by climatic and seasonal changes.
‘By the use of high magnification we show that the skin cells suffer from shrinkage and therefore change their surface.
How to keep your skin healthy
‘The clinical message to individuals are that they should protect their skin with emollients in the winter and sunscreen in the summer,’ the researchers said.
Emollients are moisturising treatments that are applied directly to the skin to soothe and hydrate it. They work by covering the skin with a protective film that traps in moisture
They advise laying off of intensive exfoliation products during the winter months and using a moisturising sunscreen to protect from UV that damages the skin.
The picture remains complex
Dr Anton Alexandroff, consultant dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation told the Mailonline: ‘We used to believe that dermatitis/dry skin is more common in winter because the central heating and reduced humidity at home made skin drier.
‘[However,] this article clarified further what might be happening to our skin.
‘Although the overall picture still remains quite complex and uncertain (especially in view of significant variations noted in different sexes, ages and areas of skin) the emerging evidence suggests that the cold degrades/destroys protein called filaggrin which is responsible for the skin integrity and protects against dry skin and eczema.
‘Similarly UV also degrades filaggrin protein and impaired skin barrier (although some UV might improve dermatitis in some other ways and this is why it is sometimes used to treat eczema in hospital setting).
‘Very interestingly regular use of moisturises seems to reduce degradation of filaggrin protein and this is in keeping with dermatologist recommendations.’