From chapped lips and cracked hands to sunburns and skin cancer, harsh weather can give your skin a real beating. Fortunately, you're far from defenseless. By following a few smart and easy guidelines, you can help minimize damage and pain.
Click through to see 10 tips on keeping your skin healthy and supple year-round.
1. Thou Shalt Wear Sunscreen
It's hard to overstate the value of sunscreen in protecting your skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays. These harmful rays can lead to skin cancer, as well as break down your skin's collagen, which causes wrinkles and contributes to sun spots and freckles.
Wear sunblock in summer and winter, and be sure to apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before going outside. The sun's UV rays can damage your skin after a mere 15 minutes of exposure.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests wearing a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Choose a sunblock that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. And remember to reapply the lotion every two hours or more if you've been swimming or sweating.
Don't be fooled by gray or rainy days -- UV rays can penetrate clouds and still cause skin damage.
2. Thou Shalt Moisturize Frequently
Being exposed to winter weather and indoor heat can dry out skin fast. In fact, even cleansing your face and body with certain soaps can strip oils from sensitive skin.
To prevent the loss of water in your skin, moisturize regularly using a moisturizer with glycerin and oils, which maximize the lotion's benefits. Apply it multiple times each day, ideally when your skin is still damp from bathing so you will seal in water.
Moisturizing both protects the skin from drying agents like wind and indoor heating, and also leads to a smoother, shinier appearance.
3. Thou Shalt Drink Plenty of Water
Skin is the body's largest organ, and like all of the body's organs and cells, it's composed primarily of water. Drinking a minimum of eight glasses of water daily helps with healthy digestion, circulation and absorption of minerals, and that contributes to a healthy, glowing complexion.
On an average day, bodies can lose water by sweating, extraction by the kidneys, excretion by the bowels and even by breathing. Being conscious of your water intake will help mitigate this daily loss.
4. Honor Thy Body by Wearing Protective Clothing
While it's not practical to avoid the sun completely, it is possible to protect your skin from harmful rays. Covering yourself by donning a hat, sunglasses and clothing with UV protection is one of the best defenses against UV rays.
The sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so it's wise to spend as much of this time as possible away from direct sunlight. If you must be outdoors, in addition to applying sunblock, wear a hat to protect your face and scalp and sunglasses to protect your eyes. Choose dark clothing; darker fabrics absorb UV rays better than lighter ones.
It is also possible to buy clothing with UVA and UVB protection built into the fabric. You can find brands that offer 100+ SPF protection.
5. Observe Your Skin for Growths, Changes or Bleeding
Skin that has been repeatedly sunburned has a higher likelihood of developing skin cancer. It's important to note, however, that skin-cancer growths can occur anywhere on the body, even in areas that are not frequently exposed to the sun.
One of the best forms of skin-cancer prevention is to check your body regularly for unusual new growths, changes in existing moles or moles that bleed. Make an appointment to have an annual skin check by a dermatologist who will be able to spot any suspicious growths. Between doctor's visits, check your own skin regularly.
6. Thou Shalt Protect Thy Face in Winter
Millions of Americans suffer from rosacea, a skin condition where blood vessels, usually on the face, enlarge. In the winter, winds and cold temperatures can exacerbate symptoms.
People suffering from rosacea should take care to keep their faces covered as much as possible when outdoors in winter, minimizing exposure to the wind and cold. Wearing a scarf wrapped around most of the face, or wearing a ski mask, can help lessen discomfort.
Moisturizing regularly can also ease symptoms caused by the drying effect of outdoor weather and indoor heaters.
7. Thou Shalt Wash With Gentle Cleansers
Many soaps contain harsh chemicals that act as drying agents, leaving the skin on your face and body feeling tight, or causing visible flaking. Harsh soaps can pull the oils right off of your skin, so it's important to choose cleansers that are gentle. Use warm water rather than hot water when washing your face or showering. Hot water can strip your skin of essential oils.
8. Honor Thy Hands
Harsh winter weather can ravage cuticles, nails and knuckles, causing them to become cracked and red. Be sure to moisturize regularly with thick creams containing oils like vitamin E.
Wear gloves when you head outside. They are your first layer of defense against the cold and wind. When washing your hands in winter, use lukewarm water. Hot water can strip your skin of oils and add to your discomfort.
9. Thou Shalt Exfoliate
During winter, dead, dry skin cells can accumulate all over the body. Exfoliating, or buffing off the cells using an abrasive scrub, is an effective way to remove them.
The process allows new skin cells, which are more receptive to moisturizers, to reach the surface, giving you younger, brighter-looking skin. It's also possible to get the same effect by scrubbing your body with exfoliating cloths or gloves.
If you're exfoliating your face, be sure to choose a gentle exfoliant designed specifically for the face. Typically, exfoliating one to three times a week is enough to get the job done. Take care not to over-exfoliate, as it can lead to skin irritation and redness.
Next: 20 Surprising Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave
10. Protect Thy Lips
Dry, wintry weather can suck the moisture right out of lips, leaving them chapped, cracked and generally unappealing. To keep your lips moist and protect them from wind and cold, dry air, use a moisturizing lip balm that contains Vitamin E or a petroleum-based ointment to keep oils in.
Your lips are also exposed to the sun's UV rays, which can burn them. To prevent sunburns or other UV damage to your lips, choose a lip balm that contains an SPF of at least 15.