In winter the air outside becomes cold and dry as humidity levels start to dip, plus we turn the heating on indoors. This can cause the moisture in our skin to evaporate, stripping it of essential moisture and nutrients, resulting in dry patchy skin.
However before turning to store-bought lotions and creams that contain preservatives, alcohol and fragrances, try one of these natural remedies.
Coconut oil, which is taken from the flesh of mature coconuts, contains a unique combination of fatty acids (including up to 50% lauric acid which is hydrating and anti-microbial) vitamin E, and essential amino acids. It’s very good for dry skin because it repairs the skin's natural barrier, keeping in moisture. This review of research found that coconut oil is just as safe and effective as mineral oil when applied as a moisturiser.
The great thing about coconut oil is that a little goes a long way. It’s best to use it as a night‑time moisturiser: first wash your face and body then dab dry with a towel, and apply a small amount of the oil. Coconut oil also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, so it can help to reduce acne breakouts and ease the tender red skin that acne can cause.
And this study concluded that aloe vera can help to reduce dark patches on the skin, by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme involved in the formation of skin pigment.
Aloe vera’s skin repairing properties are due to the variety of nutrients it contains:
- superoxide dismutase
- Amino acids:
To use aloe vera at home first you need to get hold of a plant. They are usually available from garden centres but before you go shopping ask your family and friends if they have one. If so, they may let you have a couple of ripe leaves (leaves that have a rosy tinge at the tip).
Aloe vera plants tend to produce lots of offsets, so they may also give you a ‘pup’, (small plant) to grow, and then you have the convenience of using it whenever you like.
To use, just cut the leaf at its thickest part, remove the gel and apply it to your skin, as shown in this video.
Honey, especially raw or unpasteurized, is great for the complexion. It’s very good at maintaining the natural moisture levels of the skin. The sugars in honey attract moisture to the upper layer of the skin and soften it even after they have been washed off.
Honey is also packed with antioxidants which are good for wrinkles and ageing skin. It’s also anti‑bacterial and a natural cleaning agent that helps to unclog the pores.
You can apply honey directly to any area of dry skin such as the elbows or use it as a face mask. Let it sit for about 20 minutes and then rinse off with warm water.
Sunflower seed oil
Safe, inexpensive, and widely available, sunflower seed oil is an excellent choice for using as a treatment for dry skin. This 2013 study found that sunflower seed oil improved skin hydration when used as a moisturiser on the volunteer‘s arms.
Sunflower seed oil is loaded with vitamin E, which not only traps moisture inside skin cells it also helps to protect the collagen and elastin in the skin from environmental stressors such as UV rays. Sunflower seed oil also contains vitamins A, C, and D, which help to generate new skin cells.
If you have dry skin in some areas but also suffer from acne, sunflower seed oil can also help you as it's high in omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acids. Omega‑6 fatty acids help to decrease inflammation which is great for acne prone skin. Plus, you may have a high level of oleic acid in your skin. This can make the sebum (oils produced by the skin) thick and sticky, leading to clogged pores and breakouts. Sunflower seed oil can soften the sebum, making clogged pores less likely.
Sunflower seed oil is safe to use on the face even around your eyes. For a gentle under-eye moisturiser, soak a cotton wool ball with oil and then dab it along your eye socket before going to bed.
Oats are grains from the cereal plant, Avena Sativa. The ancient Egyptians used oats to care for their skin as did the Greeks and Romans.
Oats contain polysaccharides that have a number of sugar molecules bonded together. When combined with water these molecules form a gel that can bind to the skin and lock in its natural moisture, while also replenishing the skin’s hydration levels. Because the layer of gel acts like a protective barrier it’s great for those with sensitive skin.
Oats are also a rich source of polyphenols called avenanthramides, a unique group of antioxidants not found in other plants. This study from the Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston found that avenanthramides work to relieve inflammation and itching.
There a couple of ways to use oats to care for your skin: you can pour a cup of plain oatmeal into your bath as it fills up with warm water (add a few drops of your favourite essential oil if desired). Then soak in this solution for 15 to 30 minutes. Or, make a face mask: grind 5 tablespoons of oats in a pestle and mortar and then add water to make a smooth paste. Apply the mixture to your face and wait for 20 minutes before rinsing it off.
Whichever of these DIY treatments you choose you can be guaranteed that it is free of chemicals, artificial colours and fillers that may irritate your skin. The bonus with these natural options is that they are kinder to the earth and animals as well. So why not give one a try?
For more tips on caring for your skin during the cooler months, see Autumn skin care.