What’s your secret?
Last week, as I pondered what to write about next, my boyfriend, Julien, said “I have an idea…Why don’t you write about winter skin remedies?” Little did I know that much of the US would be caught in another “polar vortex” for the better part of the following week. While that week was arduous to get through, I came out on the other end still feeling fully moisturized, hydrated and glowy. You may think this was due solely to my impeccable bathing and moisturizing practices, but I also have a super simple secret weapon when it comes to fighting winter dryness: a humidifier.
How does it work?
I discovered this secret roughly 8 or 9 years ago during a particularly vicious New York City winter. I was fresh off a course of isotretinoin (an oral retinoid used to treat severe acne) and my normally combination skin was drier than ever before. I noticed flaking around my eyes, nose and mouth that were hard to keep at bay, even with thick moisturizers—embarrassing for a young dermatology hopeful like myself. I bought a humidifier on a whim, guessing that the dry outdoor air as well as an arid indoor environment created by central heating were negatively impacting my skin. My hunch turned out to be right! After a few nights of sleep in a humidified room, my skin was behaving itself in no time. I chalked this up to decreased trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), the insensible dehydration that takes place when water vapor escapes through the skin. I started talking to anyone who would listen about humidifiers of all kinds and convinced many of my friends to buy them.
Fast forward to the present – here I am telling many of my patients who suffer from dry, itchy skin that they should be employing my secret cold weather practice. While I’ve had several patients jump on the bandwagon, I’ve also figured out that the benefits of humidity for the skin work in ways I never imagined. Lower humidity levels have been shown to increase TEWL, decrease skin hydration and even impact the skin’s barrier function. The result? Drier, more vulnerable skin with more susceptibility to inflammation and injury. Even more reasons to use humidification as a standard winter skincare practice.
What kind should I buy, and how do I use it?
Humidifiers come in a few varieties. The primary choice you’ll have to make is whether to buy a “warm mist” or “cool mist” version. Warm mist humidifiers use a heating element to evaporate water into the air, while cool mist humidifiers usually use some sort of fan to expel cold water vapor into their surroundings. I personally prefer a warm mist humidifier since I feel it allows the water vapor to disperse more evenly into the space, but I encourage you to read up on different models to find the one that you like best.
While no studies have been done using in-home humidifiers as a dermatologic intervention, I generally recommend putting one in the bedroom and using it overnight while you sleep. It’s definitely the most convenient way to make sure you have consistent exposure to humidity to preserve skin hydration and barrier function.