About Lynn

lynn jaffeeLynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of the book, Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health, a clear and concise explanation of Chinese medicine for the lay person. She is co-author of the book, The BodyWise Woman, a personal health manual for physically active women and girls. Read more about Lynn...

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Winter, Dry Skin, and Chinese Medicine

Dear Lynn:

I read your book and understand that the water element is associated with the season of winter.  Why is my skin so dry in the winter if that’s the season of water?

Dried Out in Minneapolis


Dear Dried:

That’s such a good question!  It may seem odd that winter is the water element, even though it feels really dry, but there’s a good reason.  To understand why, we have to look at the nature of Yin and Yang and how they correspond to the world around us.  Yang describes things that are warm, light, active, and move upward.  The height of summer is considered to be the most Yang time of the year, and corresponds to the element of fire.  In contrast, Yin Moisturizers for winter skindescribes things that are dark, cool, quiet, and nourishing.  The cold, short days of winter are a time when we should slow down and recharge our bodies.  It is considered to be the most Yin time of year, and therefore corresponds to the element of water.

So again, why is winter, the water element, so danged dry?  Well, first of all in some parts of the world, winter isn’t dry.  In some places it’s the rainy season.  I lived in Hawaii for a couple of years, and during the winter it could get pretty wet and rainy.  However, in much of North America, wintertime feels dry for a couple of reasons.  One is that we’re inside with the heat on, which can cut the humidity in your home dramatically.  Outdoors, the temperatures are freezing (at least here in Minnesota), and there is very little evaporation going on, so any moisture in the atmosphere falls in the form of snow, freezing rain, and the beloved “wintry mix”.

The bottom line is what can you do to avoid dry, itchy winter skin?  Here are a couple of pointers:

Go easy on the hot water.  Very hot showers or baths wash off the protective layer of oil on the surface of your skin.  While standing in a steaming hot shower may feel good and warm you up, it will ultimately leave your skin dry and itchy post shower.

Humidify your home.  Place lots of green plants, a humidifier, or attractive pots of water around your house to add some moisture back into the atmosphere.  It won’t feel quite so dry inside.

Seal in the moisture.  Slather on really good moisturizer as soon as you come out of the shower or bath to seal in the moisture.  A really good moisturizer is one that which has clean ingredients, and can usually be found at your health food store or coop. 

Heal those little cracks.  You know the ones; those little fissures on your fingertips that are so painful and seem to take forever to heal.  I’ve found that Chinese Herbal Night Crème by Blue Poppy Herbs is the only thing that will deal with them.  I originally bought it for my face, but when I slather a bunch on my hands and fingertips before bed, and the cracks are pretty much healed the next day.

Protect your face.  You tend to need a little heavier moisturizer on you face during the winter than you do during the summer.  While I use it year round, Mei Zen’s Pearl Cream is my go to face cream, especially during the winter months.

A little more oil, please.  Adding more healthy oils to your diet can help moisturize your skin from the inside out.  Just like your dog with a shiny coat, a little more oil in the form of nuts, avocados, olive oil, flaxseed oil, coconut oil, butter, and fatty fish, such as salmon can give your dry winter skin a healthy glow, too.

More than winter skin…  If your skin is dry year round, if you have an itchy or flaky scalp or raised patches of dry skin, more than your skin is dry.  You’re dry and undernourished on the inside, too. You need some help in the form of Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, food therapy, and possibly Chinese herbs to get your skin back on track.

In short, Dear Dried Out, moisturize inside and out, avoid very hot showers, and hang in there; spring is right around the corner.


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