As the holidays approach, many of my patients are leaving the warmer humid South Florida air for colder, drier climates. I often get calls about eczema flares, rashes, dry facial skin and worsening of wrinkles. In this column, I am going to explain why this happens and what to do to prevent it.
The skin has several internal protective elements against dehydration. The most important is called the “skin barrier”. It is made up of lipids (fats) known as ceramides, fatty acid and cholesterol. These lipids surround the outside of the skin cells and make a water tight sheath around them. This lipid coating keeps irritants and allergens out and prevents water from evaporating off of the skin. This lipid barrier is defective in people with eczema due to a genetic mutation but can become damaged without a genetic predilection for eczema. Stress from travel and lack of sleep, detergents in the hotel sheets, bubble bath, harsh hotel shampoo, soap and bath gels all damage the skin barrier by stripping these important lipids from the skin.
The second skin component that protects the skin is called “Natural Moisturizing Factor” or NMF. NMF is found inside the skin cells. It binds water, keeping cells hydrated from the inside. The interesting thing about NMF is that your skin cells can increase or decrease production depending on how much it is needed by your skin to hold onto water. This is important for those of us in South Florida because we live in such a humid environment that our NMF production is very low. The high humidity here makes NMF less necessary. When we travel to a drier climate, our skin is not prepared. It takes three days for our skin to increase production of NMF, but by then we are often on our way back home. I don’t know about you, but I love the way my skin feels when I arrive at the airport in Miami and the humid air hits my parched skin.
The other problem with traveling to dry climates is that fine lines and wrinkles appear, especially around the eyes. Dry skin looks more wrinkled because it has less water content and because important enzymes that keep your skin young need water to function. Furnaces and heaters used to heat the air in cold climates strip water from the air and further dehydrate your skin. Luckily, the shriveled raisin look of your skin will return back to normal after a few days of the proper skincare and humidity.
Follow these easy tips to protect your skin during the holidays:
▪ Take your own pillowcase and wear long sleeve PJs to protect your face and body from harsh hotel detergents.
▪ Unless you have oily skin, bring a creamy non-foaming cleanser to use on your face (Dove bar soap is a great choice that won’t take up room in your quart size plastic bag.)
▪ Use a barrier repair moisturizer twice a day between now and thanksgiving to help build up your skin lipids for the trip. (My favorite is Zerafite Barrier Repair Moisturizer)
▪ Consider bringing or borrowing a humidifier for your hotel room.
▪ Take glucosamine supplements for a week prior to travel to help your skin build up hyaluronic acid levels which can help the skin hold onto water.
▪ Try to eat flax seeds, salmon and other sources of omega 3 fatty acids on the trip to help reduce skin inflammation and dryness.
▪ Wear soft fabrics. Wool and other rough fabrics can further damage the skin barrier
▪ Add oils such as Argan, Safflower or Almond oil to your bath or to damp skin while on your trip. Avoid olive oil which contains oleic acid that can actually impair the skin barrier and cause more harm than good.
▪ Try and rest and relax. Stress has been shown to dehydrate your skin!
Happy Holidays everyone!!!
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.