Weathering winter: It’s beyond skin deep

BLOOMINGTON, Minn.—As whimsical as “walking in a winter wonderland” would be without any skin care worries, it’s not always a reality. Without the proper care, winter can be much more “wicked” on one’s skin than it is “wonderful.” Some of the bone-chilling effects include skin that is dry, chapped and irritated because of harsh winds and temperatures. Joseph Sweere, DC, a professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University, says proper winter skin care involves more than applying the right moisturizer—it’s about maintaining your skin’s optimal health.

“Our skin, the largest organ in our body, is a mirror of our general health—reflecting our proper or improper nourishment and hydration,” says Dr. Sweere. “When taking a holistic approach to skin care, the key is prevention, whole-person wellness and teaching healthy living practices.”

As the largest organ, skin is made of several layers of cells. The epidermis, the top layer of the skin, along with oil glands that produce lipids (fatty substances), keep skin from losing its moisture. During winter months, low-humidity, harsh temperatures and winds evaporate skin’s moisture and strip it of these lipids.

“It’s important to treat skin as a component of one’s whole being and not as a symptom,” says Dr. Sweere. “Treating the symptoms like dry, chapped skin only relieves the problem temporarily and doesn’t address the root of the issue. Part of the cause lies in the lack of a proper nutritional diet that contains the ingredients needed to help restore and maintain skin’s supple, soft texture and vitality.”

Dr. Sweere offers the following tips to help maintain skin’s optimal health:

Include essential fatty oils in your diet. Dr. Sweere stresses the importance of consuming omega-3 fatty oils (polyunsaturated fats) to improve skin’s tone and texture. The highest levels can be found in flaxseed or flaxseed oil; cold water fish such as salmon, herring, sardines and trout; fish oil; avocadoes; nuts; and primrose oil.

Avoid heavy use of animal fats. According to Dr. Sweere, animal fats (omega-6 acids), included in dairy, meats, meat products, eggs and cheese, compete with omega-3 fatty acids for the absorption of nutrients beneficial to health.

Avoid diuretics and drink lots of water. Diuretics, such as alcohol and caffeine, are any chemicals that stimulate the loss of fluids in the body. Dr. Sweere suggests avoiding diuretics because they dry skin and have a dehydrating effect on all the body’s cells. He says it is important to drink one-half your body weight in ounces of water each day because water cleanses and detoxifies the body’s cells internally and externally.

Intake more potassium than sodium. According to Dr. Sweere, most people consume 10 times more sodium than potassium, but the ideal ratio is twice the amount of potassium to sodium. He says sodium leads to the swelling of tissue and fluid retention that prevent the skin’s oil glands from secreting. Potassium, on the other hand, balances the amount of fluids in one’s body and can be found in such foods as bananas, dried fruits, fish, molasses, oranges, raw vegetables and sunflower seeds.

Avoid trans-fats. Trans-fats, such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil, are commonly used in the processing of foods to extend their shelf life. Dr. Sweere advises against these because they are toxic to every tissue in one’s body and strip the skin of its needed oils.

For additional winter skin care tips, go to, a Web site focusing on natural approaches to health and wellness hosted by Northwestern Health Sciences University.

From the Jan. 17-23, 2007, issue

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