Conventional wisdom would suggest that living in a warm, sun-soaked climate like Florida would take the biggest toll on your skin. After all, it’s hard to escape wrinkles when you’re outside all day, basking in harmful UV rays. But new research shows cold, low-humidity climates can add years to your face, too. So even during the middle of the winter—when you are bundled in layers of fleece—the exposed skin on your face is still prone to fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots, and sagginess. Here’s how to protect your skin from harsh cold weather conditions.
The effects of low humidity on your skinIn the review of studies that appeared in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venerology, researchers looked at the impact of humidity on the skin. In order to determine the amount of humidity in the air, scientists measure relative humidity (RH) as opposed to absolute humidity. Relative humidity refers to the amount of moisture in the air compared to the maximum amount of moisture the air can hold at any given temperature, and it’s expressed as a percentage. This is the most accurate way to determine the level of humidity in the atmosphere. After sifting through numerous studies that looked at the effects of relative humidity on the skin, the researchers determined that a dry climate can increase skin aging in a few key ways. One of the studies included in the review showed that low relative humidity resulted in skin dryness and roughness. The researchers measured the water content in the cheeks and forearms of study participants after three- or six-hour stints in low humidity conditions. After both three and six hours, there was a significant decrease in water content in these body parts, and the skin was significantly rougher, too. But the most surprising results had to do with wrinkles and sagging. In a separate study included in this review, researchers measured wrinkles and skin elasticity in the eyelids of 20 study participants after 30 minutes in a room with high humidity (70 percent RH), and 30 minutes in a room with low humidity (40 percent RH). The authors found significant decreases in moisture and elasticity after the half hour in low humidity—and a significant increase in wrinkles and uneven skin texture. And that was just after 30 minutes! Imagine what hours (or days) could do.
How dry weather accelerates agingWhen the air is dry, your facial movements aren’t as smooth. Each movement is more intense, and this effort can leave behind wrinkles and wear down skin elasticity. A group of Japanese researchers proved this in a study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science. They measured wrinkle formation by asking volunteers to smile in 10 percent humidity (low) or 80 percent humidity (high). The researchers used a high-speed camera to capture movements around the corners of their eyes while they smiled. When smiling in the dry conditions, there was more strain around the eyes, and this strain caused crease-shaped wrinkles. In the humid environment, the strain was more dispersed, resulting in less wrinkling.
How to prevent signs of aging in dry conditionsWinter is tough on the skin. The air outside is cold, blustery, and dry, while the air inside is also dry—from your home’s heating system. Luckily, certain lifestyle changes can increase the level of humidity in your home.
- Run a humidifier in your bedroom to allow your skin to soak up much needed moisture while you sleep.
- Place houseplants around your home to add humidity to the air. The stems and leaves of plants emit moisture through a process called transpiration, and this moisture adds to the humidity in your environment.
- Hot water also saps moisture from your skin—so keep baths and showers short, and as lukewarm as you can tolerate.