Winter is never a good time for your hair or skin. Combine it with the record-breaking pollution levels around this time of the year, the problem only gets bigger. Apart from a rise in respiratory ailments, high pollution levels are also linked to premature ageing, according to Colorado State University’s Columbine Health Systems Center for Healthy Aging in the US. From dull hair and skin to dandruff, pimples, dryness and early greying of hair, the effects are too many to be ignored.
According to Dr Uday Kumar, dermatologist, Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Bengaluru, winter is the season when the pollution levels rise and become one of the deadliest enemies of skin and hair. “The first visible effects of pollution are dry skin and hair. Long-term exposure to pollutants harms the skin, diminishing the quality of the stratum corneum (outer skin layer), causing more dark spots, wrinkles, and fine lines to emerge, and changing the skin’s natural colour,” he adds.
Smoke, dust, poisonous gas, particulate matter, nickel, lead, and arsenic exposure can result in a syndrome known as ‘sensitive scalp syndrome’, which occurs when particulate matter accumulates on the scalp and in the hair shafts. “Chemical damage to the hair can occur as a result of pollution exposure, resulting in premature skin aging and premature greying of hair,” Dr Kumar explains.
The smog, (fog and smoke), a common occurrence during winter in areas with high levels of pollution, is not only a reason for burning and itchy eyes, and a feeling of choking, but also suffocates the skin. Dr Kumar shares that smog can also cause adverse effects to our hair, making it itchy and greasy. It is a mixture of low-level ozone such as dust, soot, and smoke. It deprives the skin of oxygen supply in turn resulting in a dull, aged, and tired look.
However, as the problem of pollution in winter does not seem to have an immediate and short-term solution, certain measures can help in delaying the aging process and to have better skin and hair health during this time of the year.
Dr Shireen Furtado, consultant – medical and cosmetic dermatology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, says that hot showers in winters increase the body temperature – this in turn disrupts the natural oil layer on the skin that prevents trans-epidermal water loss, aggravating dry skin.
Dr Furtado suggests using skin moisturisers. “Rehydrate the epidermis and seal in the moisture. This is the first step in combating dry skin. They contain three main types of ingredients. Humectants, which help attract moisture, include ceramides, glycerin, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, and lecithin. Sealants, which help in the prevention of evaporation of moisture, include petrolatum (petroleum jelly), silicone, lanolin, and mineral oil. Emollients, such as linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids, smoothen skin by filling in the spaces between skin cells,” she says.
Dietary changes also contribute to delay in the aging process. Apart from the healthy home-cooked meals and avoiding junk and oily food, experts suggest adding the intake of green leafy vegetables, herbal teas, dark chocolate, or cocoa, using olive oil, soaked dry fruits and fresh fruits like papaya and blueberries, and the addition of avocados, flax seeds and tomatoes. One must also maintain the quantity of water intake during winters.