As our body’s largest organ, the skin wears many hats. From regulating body temperature to controlling moisture loss to being responsible for a big part of our self-confidence, it’s perhaps our body’s greatest multi-tasker. And it’s up to us to do whatever we can to protect it. While there are some things we can control, like diet and skin care regimens, there are others we simply cannot, like the environment. While we all love to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors from time to time, there are a lot of harmful factors lurking around just waiting to wreak havoc on our precious skin. Though we can’t control them all, there are things we can do to help diminish their effects.
Against the Wind
Being exposed to windy conditions can reduce the skin’s ability to naturally protect itself making it susceptible to the sun’s harmful rays and other aggravators. How it works is two-fold. One, the wind is a direct irritant that causes moisture loss which weakens the skin. Because of that degeneration, the surface layers of the skin are prone to slough off. Two, the resulting shedding leaves sensitive, newly exposed skin more vulnerable to the damaging UV rays caused by the sun.1 If you suffer from rosacea, you need to be extra careful as a windburn can trigger a flare-up, especially in the winter. Wearing sunglasses and protective clothing can help reduce the effect of the wind on your skin.
Under the Sun
Both friend and foe, the sun provides our bodies with bone-nourishing vitamin D, but it also has the ability to cause some major damage to our skin. The culprit? UVA and UVB rays. Both types of radiation do damage, but in different harmful ways. UVB are responsible for causing sunburns while UVA penetrate deep into the skin causing DNA damage as well as loss of collagen and elastin. The result is dry, dull, uneven skin tone and premature wrinkles.2 Also, if you suffer from acne, you should use extra caution as the excess dryness in your skin can trigger a breakout, since the body responds by producing more oil to overcompensate. If you do head out to enjoy the sun, a good SPF (of at least 30) will be your greatest ally, so don’t ever leave home without it.
The Heat is on
The summer months bring on the heat, they also bring on the water loss. The resulting dehydration not only makes skin feel irritated, sensitive, and dry, it can also irritate existing skin conditions, like rosacea. Because heat increases core body temperature, it makes skin flush more easily, an unfortunate trigger for this common skin disorder. 3 Try to limit the amount of time you spend in the heat and make sure to keep yourself well-hydrated at all times, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
Air pollution is another unfortunate skin irritant that causes free radical damage to our skin and it’s a big reason why they’re more prevalent. Free radicals are responsible for breaking down our skin’s collagen resulting in unflattering blemishes, like wrinkles, dark spots, fine lines and loose, saggy skin.4 Where you live and work plays a huge role in how much air pollution you’re exposed to, which isn’t the easiest thing to control. However, incorporating antioxidants, like vitamin C, into your skincare routine can definitely help.
Out in the Cold
When the temperature drops, so do the humidity levels resulting in dry air, which we know draws moisture away from the skin and causes dryness. While it can be tempting to crank up the furnace to combat the cold, the dry indoor heat can actually make the problem worse, leading to cracked, even bleeding skin.5 The same goes for taking extra-long hot showers, as the extra heat can strip your skin of essential, moisturizing oils. To help skin through the cold months, choose a good winter moisturizer and layer on the clothes to pull in more warmth. Though we can’t control the elements, understanding the impact of these factors can at least help give our skin a fighting chance against them. As always, if you have an underlying skin condition like rosacea or acne, be sure to speak to a dermatologist before adding any new products to your skincare regimen.
- Mark Snowise, William W. Dexter & William W. Dexter (Sports Dermatology Series Editor) (2004) Cold, Wind, and Sun Exposure, The Physician and Sportsmedicine, 32:12, 26–32, DOI: 10.3810/psm.2004.12.676
- Sun and Skin. The Dark Side of Sun Exposure. Retrieved from:
- Park, J. H., Lee, J. W., Kim, Y. C., & Prausnitz, M. R. (2008). The effect of heat on skin permeability. International journal of pharmaceutics, 359(1-2), 94–103. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijpharm.2008.03.032
- Araviiskaia, E., Berardesca, E., Bieber, T., Gontijo, G., Sanchez Viera, M., Marrot, L., Chuberre, B., & Dreno, B. (2019). The impact of airborne pollution on skin. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV, 33(8), 1496–1505. https://doi.org/10.1111/jdv.15583
- Guenther, L., Lynde, C. W., Andriessen, A., Barankin, B., Goldstein, E., Skotnicki, S. P. & Sloan, K. (2012). Pathway to dry skin prevention and treatment. Journal of cutaneous medicine and surgery, 16(1), 23-31. Retrieved from: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/120347541201600106