Winter is the season of the Kidneys.
It’s dark and cold and hibernation is a natural response. In the northern climes, we like to stay inside and eat and Netflix, (at least this is my standard operating procedure.)
The cold temps and dry air put strain on the body in very different ways from the damp and hot summer months. Because winter is the time of the Kidneys, you can experience problems related to this organ system more easily.
One thing that I really struggle with in the winter, is dry skin and a dry nose and throat.
In Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys and the Lungs have a special relationship and work together to generate qi and disperse fluids to the skin and rest of the body.
The lungs are the first stop in qi production, in the most basic terms, if you can’t breathe, you can’t live. Part of the lungs’ job is to moisten the skin and it does this by sending fluids down to the Kidneys. The kidneys filter it and send the fluids back up to the lungs, where the lungs disperse it to the skin, nose and throat.
The Lungs are at a disadvantage with the very dry air.
Normally, the humidity will assist the lungs by moistening the nasal passages, throat and skin, so they don’t have to work so hard. In the winter, the lungs need to make up for this loss by calling on more fluids from the kidneys. If the kidneys don’t have the extra to give, then things can dry up. The kidneys will hold the fluids for the more important functions of urination.
There are some pretty easy and practical things you can do to help keep moisture in the air and help your skin.
Use a humidifier, especially in the bedroom while you are sleeping.
You don’t have to get fancy here, a basic warm mist humidifier is what you want. I leave mine running 24/7 in the bedroom. In other parts of the house you can go old school by running the shower with the bathroom door open or boiling a big pot of water on the stove.
You will be able to feel the difference in the air. It will feel warmer and more comfortable with less static electricity.
Push fluids and really make an effort to stay hydrated.
You want to aim for 3 liters of water a day. This can happen in many forms like hot water and lemon, herbal teas, coconut water, smart water, etc.
The only thing to stay away from is cold and sugary drinks. Ice is no bueno and doesn’t feel good on your stomach when its already so cold outside.
I would also caution you about caffeine. It’s easy to overdo it when you want something hot, but in the long run it can be very dehydrating.
Another thing to watch is the dairy. Hot milk can be amazing on a cold day with or without the espresso, but this can rack up calories pretty fast and add to mucus production.
Skip the soap, wash with oils instead.
Soaps are very drying to the skin, stripping your natural oils that you need to create a healthy barrier. Use soap only in the groin area and under the arms. And use an option that is less drying.
On the face, use jojoba oil.
Apply it sparingly and massage into your skin. Drape a hot wash cloth over your face and wait 10 seconds. Wipe off the excess oil with the warm wash cloth. If you need to moisturize after, you can use a few drops of the jojoba and rub into the skin. Go lighter than you think, too much oil will sit on the surface of your skin.
This is also a great oil to rub into the hairline and scalp if you have dryness there as well. Apply sparingly to your hair to help tame flyaways.
For the body, use a sugar scrub with avocado oil.
This is so cheap and easy to make at home, you will never buy it again.
Fill an empty jar or tupperware bowl with sugar, leave an inch of room at the top. Insert a butter knife or spoon in the center to create a little room in the sugar. Pour the avocado oil down the side of the knife or spoon to help it reach the sugar at the bottom. Jiggle the knife or spoon around and repeat, guiding the oil for an even consistency. Add as much oil as you like, depending on the size of your jar and the amount of sugar. If you have really dry skin, add more. If you want more scrubbing action, add less oil. Put the top on and it’s ready to go!
Use anywhere on your body and rinse off in the shower. Pat dry, so that the oil stays on the skin to moisturize and protect. *The shower floor will be slippery, please use caution*
You can experiment with the type of oil you use and/or change it seasonally.
Avocado oil is heavy and that makes it nice in the winter. In the summer you can try grape seed oil or extra virgin olive oil. Whichever you use, the oil needs to be liquid at room temp, or it will clog the pipes. That means no coconut oil!
You can experiment with the type of sugar you use as well, its just what feels good. Some sugar has a larger grain to it than others. Sometimes I like to add a little baking soda too, usually in the summer. Another nice substitute, is salt. It becomes more drying and astringent, but feels great on the feet in the summer.
Have fun and experiment. You can add essential oils, flower buds, use a mix of oils, french clay, etc.
Use your dietary choices to help keep you hydrated and full.
Eat a lot of soups and stews, heavy on the veggies and broth. The water content fills you up faster and keeps you satisfied, in fact this is an old dieter’s trick. This time of year, everybody wants to diet and/or do a cleanse anyways, so kill two birds with one stone.
Go easy on the dairy and fatty foods, they can lead to too much mucus production which burdens the lungs. But make sure you are getting your good fats, those are essential for the skin, like avocado.
And don’t forget the fiber! Beans and veggies are great in soups and stews. The fiber will help pull toxins out of the body, so they don’t have to come out through the skin.
Use a filtered shower head.
In Chicago we have heavily chlorinated water that is also very hard. It’s brutal in the winter! A filtered shower head can make a big difference in how comfortable you are in your skin, literally. I use an inexpensive version by Culligan that I got on Amazon. It was super easy to install and the filter gets replaced every 6 months or so. You can buy fancy versions if you want to upgrade, but if it’s you’re first time, just see if you like it before you buy the best or biggest one.
Our lungs, along with our kidney system in Chinese Medicine, work together to make up a big part of our immune system. An intact physical barrier is a crucial part of that system. If we are taking care of our skin, we are not only more comfortable, but also more healthy. The simple hacks listed above are easy to do and can add up to big changes.
If your skin needs extra help in the winter, come and see me for a treatment. I also have some amazing products that are chemical and preservative free for the face and the body. Check out Emily Skin Soothers and Angelica & Peony.