Sunday, January 25, 2009

The handmade soap I ordered recently from the Beekman farm arrived last week. The glorious showers I’ve had ever since got me thinking about the poor, parched skin that so many of us put up with during the winter months. Dr. Brent Ridge, contributing editor to Martha Stewart Living, and his partner, novelist Josh Kilmer-Purcell, have more or less perfected the art of organic soapmaking using goats’ milk.

The December soap I ordered (with a hint of vanilla, ginger and pine) reminded me of this. Why do we slather ourselves with such harsh substances, day after day? And why do we believe that the harsher the product, the cleaner the result?

In the new Beekman newsletter, Dr. Ridge explains it nicely:

“See, the soaps you buy in stores - even most natural soaps - are not truly soaps. They're detergents. Detergents yield more suds, and we've been erroneously taught that more suds means better cleaning. The true soapmaking process produces natural glycerine, not detergent. However, most soapmakers know that natural glycerine is too valuable of a substance to be wasted in soap. Generally, soapmakers extract the glycerine, sell it off, and replace it with petrochemicals.”

Shocking! And so disappointing. I consider the soap made by Brent and Josh to be a rare treat, but I’m through with putting up with dry, itchy skin. With this in mind, I’ll be looking for real soap from now on. It may cost a bit more, but I think it’s worth it.

Here are a few more winter skincare tips gleaned from various online sources:

Use a humidifier: With the heat on and the windows closed, the air inside can become very dry in the winter. Use a humidifier to place moisture in the air. If you don’t want to invest in an expensive humidifying system, smaller, relatively inexpensive humidifiers can be obtained at a local drug store. Placing two or three of these around your home will help to humidify the dry air. This can keep skin from drying and becoming cracked and itchy. (Plants love it too!)

Hydrate your body: The dehydrating effects of indoor heaters, as well as the cold air outdoors, will sap your skin of moisture. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day will keep your skin nourished from the inside out.

Wear gloves and a scarf outdoors: Protecting your hands and face from the harsh winds and cold, arid air of winter when outdoors is essential. Wear gloves and a scarf to keep your hands and face sheltered from the elements. The material should be soft and non-irritating to the skin.

Avoid hot baths: Fight the urge to soak yourself in warmth on those cold nights. Long, hot showers and prolonged soaking in hot baths will do more to damage your skin in winter. Keep the water temperature lukewarm and keep your showers brief. If having a bath in a tub is a must, enrich the water with bath oils or creams. Pat yourself dry (never rub) and avoid air-drying your skin, since the evaporation process will only further drain your skin of its natural moisture.

Soaps and shampoos: Use soaps that are natural and free of detergents, dyes, chemical perfumes and antibacterial agents – all of which are drying to the skin. Use soaps rich in natural moisturizers. If you can, avoid washing your hair every day, since it will strip away the natural, protective oils. If your hair feels brittle and dry, use conditioner and once a week give it a moisturizing treatment. (I love Redken for Men's Smooth Down Butter Treat.)

Moisturize often: Apply moisturizer a few minutes after a shower and use heavier moisturizers in winter, particularly ones with higher oil content. Avoid products that contain petroleum as these can clog pores. Look for moisturizers that have been recommended by dermatologists. (I personally love Jason’s organic, all-natural cocoa butter – and it smells delicious!)

Lip balm: Unlike the rest of your skin, your lips do not produce their own natural oils, making them particularly susceptible to severe dryness during the winter. Use a natural lip-balm (such as beeswax) to keep your lips from becoming chapped. And never lick them! The acids in your saliva will only further damage your lips.

Sunscreen: It may not feel tropical outdoors, but the sun can still give you a nasty bite on freezing-cold days. In fact, the sun’s damaging rays can often be intensified by the snow on the ground. In the winter, use a sunscreen that is at least SPF 20. Use higher levels if you’re going to be outdoors for an extended period of time.

Exfoliate: Exfoliate your skin once a week in moderation. While gentle exfoliation can help eliminate the build-up of dead skin cells, too much can irritate skin and dry it out. Dr. Brent Ridge suggests using a loofah for this process.

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