How to keep fresh in the winter, from head to toe

Winter brings with it many great things: holiday cheer, gifts, snow, and eggnog, but it also has a knack of leaving our skin and hair completely dehydrated. This season, though, we’re going to help you avoid that.

Dry hair no more

Brittle, crispy, straw-like—these are all descriptors we commonly used to describe our hair in the winter. Dr. Jeff Donovan, a Vancouver-based certified dermatologist and hair transplant specialist, says it’s harsh outside temperatures and dry indoor heating that causes damage—not to mention, friction from hats, headbands, and other outdoor gear.

So, what can we do to fight back? Here are a few tips and tricks to get you started.

1. Hold back on heavy-duty styling
As much as you may be yearning for the beach-bred wavy hair in the winter months, Dr. Donovan suggests holding off from using direct heat on your hair. If you can, put down your flat iron, hair dryer, and curling iron for at least a few days a week. When it’s imperative to use heated tools, make sure your hair is 70 per cent dry before styling.

2. Put a mask on it
Dr. Donovan encourages patients to use conditioner with every wash; it will help tame those pesky flyaways, which are a key sign of dryness. On top of that, enrich your hair with a weekly leave-in conditioner or hair mask to protect the cuticle and amp up the silkiness. For minimal interference on your daily routine, use a night serum—just remember to designate a pillowcase for this, as it can get messy!

3. Push it an extra day
Although it might seem undesirable, try to add another day to your hair wash cycle. Instead of shampooing every day, make it every two; instead of every two, make it every three. Shampoo strips your hair of its natural oils, which naturally moisturize your hair. If you’re worried about looking conspicuously unkempt, try using a dry shampoo.

4. Scalp care
There’s nothing quite as off-putting as seeing a flurry of white specs cascade onto your desk as you run your hand through your hair. Most people experience some version of this, especially as the cold weather hits. Surprisingly, an oilier scalp leads to clumping and shedding of dead skin cells. So, the easiest and most effective way to control your itchy scalp is by shampooing frequently. If that doesn’t work, opt for a dandruff treatment shampoo. Now, you may be thinking this goes against the advice noted above but it’s about finding a balance. If you’re not seeing improvement, talk to you doctor and consider asking for a referral to a certified dermatologist; there are many conditions that can mimic dandruff, and as such, won’t improve with anti-dandruff shampoos.

5. Line with satin or silk
As noted above, friction is a big problem in the winter months. Wool, cotton, and other coarse fabrics rubbing against your strands can cause major breakage, especially for those with wavy or curly hair. These materials absorb moisture—the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. Dr. Donovan recommends buying hats with a silk or satin lining, or using a scarf as shield. Anti-frizz products can be used in tandem to combat the damage done.

6. Regular trims and natural colour
We can all get a bit fixated on hair care remedies, but sometimes all it takes is a simple trip to the salon to liven up your do. Freshly chopped strands can bring back the bounce and help your hair grow. Dr. Donovan suggests a trim every six to eight weeks. In addition, keep your colour treatments to a minimum, and try to resist the platinum look; bleaching your hair only adds extra strain.

Oh, how she glows

Just like hair, skin is vulnerable to serious damage in the winter. It’s sometimes thin, fragile, and generally bears the biggest brunt when it comes to daily activities—not to mention it’s the part of our body most exposed to the outdoors, whether it’s the beating sun or freezing temperatures. Just like in the summer months, we need to take the necessary precautions to protect our skin in the winter.

Let’s dig into it.

1. Stock up on lotion
Moisturizing is a critical step to ensure your skin looks and feels vibrant. Once you step out of the shower, gently pat yourself down with your towel and apply lotion to your body and face—this way you’ll lock in as much moisture as possible. The type of lotion will depend on skin type and where it’s being applied to the body (i.e. products used on the face should be lighter than those applied to other parts of the body, where oil build-up isn’t as common). While some people swear by natural or organic products, Dr. Melinda Gooderham, a certified dermatologist and assistant professor at Queen’s University School of Medicine, says they’re not for everyone. In some instances, they can prove to be highly allergenic; read what Dr. Gooderham has to say about natural health products and other healthy skin myths here.

2. Wear sunscreen
Most people put away their sunscreen when autumn rolls around, and don’t dig it out until spring or summer. Well, it’s time to change that habit! Dr. Gabriele Weichert, a certified dermatologist practicing in Nanaimo B.C., says the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can still cause permanent damage to the skin in the winter. In some cases, they’re more threatening at this time of year because of how they reflect off snow and ice. If you plan to be at higher altitudes—say on the ski hill—you’ll need to be extra cautious. For every 1,000 metres in elevation, exposure to UV rays increases by 10%. Dr. Weichert strongly recommends applying a minimum of SPF 30 broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen before embarking on any outdoor adventure. For a list of recognized sunscreens and skincare tips, check out the Canadian Dermatology Association’s website.

3. Scrub it down
While moisturizers, lotions, and creams are imperative to maintain hydration, they aren’t nearly as effective if they’re applied to dead or dry skin. This is why exfoliants are critical for winter skin care. Whether DIY or bought in-store, find something that’s gentle and soothing. The exfoliant you use on your face should be less intensive than what you use on your body—and remember, too much of anything is bad, so schedule it into your nighttime routine twice a week.

4. Hot and cold
We’ve all come home from a winter trek or a long day on the ski hills and thought, ‘I cannot wait for a nice, long, hot shower.’ While it makes total sense in our heads—most of the time we’re chilled to the bone—sadly science says NO; hot water, just like cold water, dries out the skin. Get the water lukewarm and try to limit shower time to about 10 minutes or less. For those with already dry skin, aim for five.

So there you have it. No more flaky skin, brittle hair, or sad scalp. You can glide into winter knowing you’re equipped with the right tools and tactics to tackle the harsh conditions the weather throws your way. Hair and skin may take a serious beating from the outdoors, but these tips will help you feel and look your best.

The information in this article has been reviewed by a certified dermatologist.