Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Soothing winter skin

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Often after too much sun, wind or cold exposure the skin condition can deteriorate, resulting in scaly, dry and cracked skin. Photo / Getty
Often after too much sun, wind or cold exposure the skin condition can deteriorate, resulting in scaly, dry and cracked skin. Photo / Getty

My whole family are keen skiers. We have a season's pass and try to get up the mountain every weekend, and it seems like without fail someone will come back with sunburn or windburn on their face. Is there anything you can recommend to soothe the skin?

Winter is a great season to explore and make the most of the snow with skiing and outdoor activities. Unfortunately, the change in temperature can lead to people getting sunburn, windburn or just really dry skin and lips which can put a dampener on the activities.

Traditional plant medicine can be used both as a treatment and also for prevention.

Often after too much sun, wind or cold exposure the skin condition can deteriorate, resulting in scaly, dry and cracked skin.

To prevent this we can work at building up our skin integrity, which can be done by using a rich plant-based oil at night. This boosts nutrients in our skin as well as acting as an intensive treatment if we do actually have skin injuries.

Consider using St John's Wort oil which is very hydrating and has an affinity with dry, cracked skin. The active constituents in St John's wort help the skin after injury, in cases such as burns, wounds, and nerve lesions.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) is a great plant option to help the skin, as it is high in minerals and also helps with skin recovery. Its high mineral content is from its deep roots that make it able to retain minerals from deep within the soils and transfer it to the leaves which is the part traditionally used in plant medicine.

Nettle is a great choice for helping with eczema, skin irritations, itchy skin and rashes, so will be a great addition for you and your family to try before hitting the slopes.

Calendula(Calendula officinalis) and Chickweed (Stellaria media) will also be helpful for skin irritations, as they are both soothing and calming and also hold wound healing properties. Chickweed helps reduce any itchiness that may occur from the sun or wind burn, and is anti-inflammatory.

Propolis is used in skin treatments as it helps with protection and acts as a barrier for the skin in conditions that may cause damage. It is high in antioxidants and is also anti-inflammatory so can help with calming down skin exposed to the weather. It helps to encourage tissue repair and regeneration as well as protecting the skin, hence why it makes a great barrier cream.

A great way to ensure you protect your skin while you are out enjoying the season could be to incorporate nettle into your daily regime via a hot water extract in order to minimise any damage that may occur. Using a plant based cream (that holds the above herbs) will also help to reduce any issues or injuries. Nightly use of St John's Wort oil may also help with repair and prevention.

It is also important to use good skin protection such as sunscreen, hats, and good glasses to help protect your eyes. Working at preventing the skin from getting damaged is key all year round!

If you find your symptoms do not improve or worsen, please contact your lead healthcare provider.

Good luck and enjoy the snow while you can!

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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