Healthy winter skin

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wash hands
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When you were a kid, did anyone ever tell you, “Your epidermis is showing?” Maybe you looked down at yourself trying to figure out what that was, before you learned it meant the outer layer of your skin and it was all over.

Well, although less of it shows in the winter, you may want it to look the best it can, and even the parts that are covered with sweaters and warm pants should be comfortable, supple and free of itches or cracks. Many people, from dermatologists to experts in natural supplements, have opinions on what can help skin ravaged by winter air, whether the cold outdoor kind or heated indoor, both of which take a toll on our tender but strong outermost layer.

At about eight pounds, give or take, the skin is the largest organ in our body, although as a 22-square-foot, tissue-thin layer that covers us, it hardly resembles the bloody masses we imagine our internal organs to be. But an organ it is, as essential for life as heart or brain. Many burn victims who lose much of their skin do not survive. When I worked in a hospital 20 years ago, patients with more than 50 percent of it burned didn’t usually survive. But with modern treatments 90 percent body burn patients can survive, per the American Burn Association.

This amazing organ protects our body’s interiors from sunlight, heat, cold, chemicals and infection. It is waterproof. It is insulator, protector and shield. It is conduit and translator as the brain’s interface with the world, and like the eyes, part of our sex appeal. It contains natural antibiotics and is an important part of the immune system. As part of the endocrine system it makes vitamin D, which is actually a hormone that helps calcium make our bones strong.

Although it changes in structure and thickness over different parts of the body, the skin has three layers. That epidermis — what shows — is very thin and constantly renewing itself. Underneath is the dermis, with sebaceous glands for perspiration, and elastin and collagen for flexibility and strength. The innermost layer is the subcutaneous fat layer, or subcutis, which helps cushion, protect and insulate us.

The thinner skin of the fairer sex is a little more dainty and delicate than men’s. It is less oily and sweaty, making us more prone to damage from the elements like sun, wind and drying air. Cold winds, drying indoor heat and drinking less because we’re less hot and thirsty in the winter all combine to cause dry skin. Sometimes the condition goes beyond mild discomfort to very unpleasant itching, eczema or cracks and fissures in the skin.

Cold-weather nutrition

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Photo by WordRidden
Photo by WordRidden

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When skies are clear and it’s 80 degrees out, it’s easy to run around, eat salads, and stay healthy. But when it’s bitterly cold out and icy or snowy forms of precipitation are falling, you’d rather order pizza or nuke a frozen dinner than go buy healthy food to cook.

Shorter, colder days mean we get less vitamin D and less serotonin, causing carb-craving, dark moods and worse. For some of us the main factor is the stress of the holidays. Jolly as they may be, seeing relatives, making arrangements, and just adding all that extra stuff — from attending events to mailing cards to shopping to figuring out how to pay for it all — tops out an already maxed-out schedule. And those extra worries coupled with less time equals grabbing things to eat that are really quick and/or really comforting. That may not be the best bet for our bodies.

The first plan of attack is to keep it simple. “After Thanksgiving and many delicious meals out in a row, my body was craving simple foods,” says Holly Shelowitz, a Rosendale-based nutritionist and cooking teacher (658-7887 or www.nourishingwisdom.com). “Salads, soups and one-pot meals are what I’m after these days. Never underestimate the power of a baked sweet potato, or the simple luxurious taste and belly filling goodness of simmered potatoes and cauliflower.” Shelowitz steams quartered potatoes and “giant chunks of cauliflower” until the potatoes are soft and the cauliflower still crunchy and puts them atop a dressed tossed salad. She adds butter pats or olive oil, nutritional yeast, sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Homemade soups are tastier and more nutritious than canned, and freeze well. You can even cut up a bunch of onion, garlic, carrot and celery and freeze in smaller portions for a future quick soup-starter.

Your local winter farm market is your second line of attack in your arsenal against the season’s bad eating. Although the outdoor ones and most farmstands are gone with the flip-flops, a new trend in the last few years is to continue offering the bounty throughout the year at a cozy, warm, indoor location. Several local winter markets have been organized recently. Farmers can store many kinds of produce at controlled temperatures so that they are still fresh weeks and months down the road. Growing tunnels extend the growing season of tender greens, too.

From a recent trip to the first-of-the-season indoor market in Rhinebeck, I had a haul of Bosc pears, white and yellow turnips, daikon radish, rose gold potatoes and an orange kuri squash (and all for less than ten bucks). The Rhinebeck event takes place at the town hall every other Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 pm; the next one is December 16. The Red Hook winter market is at the Elmendorph Inn on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the next one December 15, also on alternating weeks. Not to be outdone, Greig Farm, in northern Red Hook, will also host a weekly Saturday winter market.

The new Kingston farmers’ winter market opened last Saturday and will be held on the first and third Saturdays of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Old Dutch Church at 272 Wall Street. The next one is December 15. Find one at the New Paltz Community Center on Veterans Drive off Route 32 behind the town hall the second Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. In Saugerties you’ll find the winter market at the Senior Center on 207 Market Street on one Sunday each month: December 16, January 13, February 10 and March 10.

Winter sports safety

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After last year’s mild winter, this year so far has looked like the winters I remember as a kid. There has been plenty of snow recently — at least until the last few days — and cold to sustain it. It’s been great for those fun winter activities that used to make it such a wonderful season for my friends and me.

But with the weather comes risks beyond slippery roads on the way to the activity. Breathing in the crisp cold air as you glide over fluffy snow is exhilarating and exciting, but winter sports can be dangerous. High-profile skiing deaths like those of Natasha Richardson and Sonny Bono make us all too aware of the possibilities. My son got a concussion a few years ago when he sledded into the barn. Jennifer, a high-school classmate of mine, had torn up her face as a young child when she sledded into barbed wire. The scars were permanent.

Thousands of children are injured ice skating, playing ice hockey, sledding, snowboarding and skiing each year, while winter-sport-related injuries send hundreds of thousands of people of all ages to the emergency room every year. Falls, collisions and fatigue are contributing factors to injuries to bones, muscles, joints and the brain. Sprains, strains, dislocations, fractures, concussions, exposure and frostbite are some of the risks you face in the frosty winter air.

Don’t try anything beyond your ability. Stay on the bunny slope if that’s where you’re comfortable. Don’t snowboard over that giant jump if you haven’t jumped before. Start smaller.

Make sure you’ve gotten in shape before you run that half-marathon. In cold air the blood vessels contract to conserve the body’s heat and cut down on blood supply to arms and legs. Unstretched muscles, tendons and ligaments are more susceptible to injury. So warm up first.

Watch the weather before you venture out. Ward off hypothermia by wearing layers of light, dry clothing that wick away moisture. Wear polypropylene or wool, not cotton, which absorbs it and gets damp. Layering for a cold day could include thermal underwear, a shirt and pants in wicking material, and then a fleece jacket covered with a windproof, waterproof layer. Wear a warm hat and gloves. Keep scarves and drawstrings tucked in so they don’t catch on equipment.

Healthy winter skin

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Photo by Flickr user aearlsnd/used under Creative Commons license
Photo by Flickr user aearlsnd/used under Creative Commons license

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When you were a kid, did anyone ever tell you, “Your epidermis is showing?” Maybe you looked down at yourself trying to figure out what that was, before you learned it meant the outer layer of your skin and it was all over.

Although less of it shows in the winter, you may want it to look the best it can. Even the parts that are covered with sweaters and warm pants should be comfortable, supple and free of itches or cracks. Many people, from dermatologists to experts in natural supplements, have opinions on what can help skin ravaged by winter air, whether the cold outdoor kind or heated indoor, both of which take a toll on our tender but strong outermost layer.

At about eight pounds, give or take, the skin is the largest organ in our body, although as a 22-square-foot, tissue-thin layer that covers us, it hardly resembles the bloody masses we imagine our internal organs to be. But an organ it is, as essential for life as heart or brain. Many burn victims who lose much of their skin do not survive. When I worked in a hospital 20 years ago, patients with more than 50 percent of it burned didn’t usually make it. But with modern treatments 90 percent body-burn patients can survive, per the American Burn Association.

This amazing organ protects our body’s interiors from sunlight, heat, cold, chemicals and infection. It is waterproof. It is insulator, protector and shield. It is conduit and translator as the brain’s interface with the world, and like the eyes, part of our sex appeal. It contains natural antibiotics and is an important part of the immune system. As part of the endocrine system it makes vitamin D, which is actually a hormone that helps calcium make our bones strong.

Although it changes in structure and thickness over different parts of the body, the skin has three layers. That epidermis — what shows — is very thin and constantly renewing itself. Underneath is the dermis, with sebaceous glands for perspiration and elastin and collagen for flexibility and strength. The innermost layer is the subcutaneous fat layer, or subcutis, which helps cushion, protect and insulate us.