Both the bitter winds of winter and the lack of humidity as we retreat indoors can leave the body's largest organ dull, dry and even painful.
Can't spend all winter languishing on a tropical island in the shade of a coconut tree while lush breezes keep your skin supple and moist?
Then let the professionals take over, and try one of these luxurious spa treatments for winter-worn skin. These lavish treatments are guaranteed to leave you glowing all over.
For the lowdown on winter skin, I spoke to Kim Dudek, aesthetician and owner of Belladonna Spa in New Orleans.
According to Dudek, there are three essentials to maintaining a healthy exterior during the winter months: hydration, circulation and exfoliation. Belladonna's buyer Margaret Lippman believes that attending to the three musts of winter skin care creates rejuvenation that is more than skin-deep.
"Both inner and outer are important." Dudek stresses, "Drink plenty of water and make sure you get essential fatty acids, either from food or supplements."
Ann Marie Cilmi, director of education and development at
Bliss Spa (locations in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and London) suggests using a milk or oil-based cleanser in the winter, as soap depletes moisture. Powders and mists are a no-no as well: "Powders absorb oil, and mists suck moisture from the
skin's surface," says Cilmi.
Professional spa treatments are also essential to boost skin's hydration and battle the drying effect of winter.
Sequoia spa at England's premier getaway
The Grove in Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire, has a rehydrating facial (about $160) that provides a massage with its replenishing face oil, which includes aromatic sandalwood and patchouli essences. "It helps ... revitalize tired and environmentally stressed skin," says Marsha Clifford, a Sequoia Spa therapist.
Belladonna Spa has a "be repaired" facial (50 minutes for $125), which includes a collagen serum and mask. Collagen helps restore moisture to the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines; on top of the mask, the therapist applies a layer of warm paraffin. "The paraffin provides a barrier so that the collagen must go in the skin," Dudek explains.
For hydration below the neck, try Bliss Spa's
lemon and sage body butter ($32). Cilmi also suggests a home remedy to use between spa treatments -- a bath with a gallon of warm whole milk and some honey. "The lactic acid in milk is both softening and exfoliating," she says, and the honey aids skin in retaining moisture.
Sequoia also lets clients choose a body oil for the masseuse to mix with mud for its luxe hydrating body wrap (about $140); Clifford favors the house-made restorative body oil blend, which contains palmerosa for firming as well as orange and myrrh to balance and calm the mind.
This treatment incorporates exfoliation and a mud wrap mixed with essential oils; a simultaneous scalp massage adds to the experience. A rich body cream is gently rubbed into the skin to finish.
Circulation and Exfoliation
Accumulated dead skin cells can make skin seem dull and flaky. Both salt and sugar scrubs slough off this layer of skin to reveal your inner shine, even on the grayest of days.
Fruit enzymes, often derived from tropical fruits such as pineapple and papaya, are also natural exfoliators. Belladonna's "be tropical" ($135 for 110 minutes) body treatment includes a double dose: a cream-based papaya and pineapple enzyme mask as well as a coconut-papaya salt scrub.
The dry brush used at Sequoia before its body wraps is another effective method for exfoliation. This brushing is performed with a natural bristle brush skin while the skin is dry, and Clifford says it is very helpful for circulation and for lymph drainage.
To touch up at home, try Bliss'
hot salt scrub ($36) -- Dead Sea salts suspended in a self-heating gel scented with relaxing rosemary and invigorating eucalyptus.
Good circulation is also essential for healthy skin.
Massage is crucial for stimulating circulation, so ensure that your winter skin treatment includes a good dose. Many exfoliation treatments also aid circulation, such as Sequoia's body brushing.
A Vacation for Your Feet
Most discussion on body and facial treatments for the winter ignores an important part: the feet.
Lippman points out that feet are often neglected: "Your feet are trapped in boots all winter," she explains.
While they may be the last thing on your mind this season, treatments such as Belladonna's Thai lime pedicure ($80) are a must for curing what Lippman refers to as winter feet.
Besides boosting hydration and exfoliation, this pedicure is quite helpful for circulation. The treatment's deep Thai massage to both the feet and legs even includes stimulation of acupressure points with a special wooden tool.
Lippman describes the treatment as "a vacation for your feet."
Tucked in its own corner of the spa, its nail salon is cozy and relaxing. A wall with huge fish tanks separate it from the rest of the shop, and in this comfortable cave, my feet were transported to someplace magical indeed.
After a soak in hot kaffir-lime-scented foot bath, my feet and legs were exfoliated with half a lime that had been dipped in volcanic clay.
The citrus juice has enzymes that help dissolve dead skin cells, as well as antibacterial qualities. The combination of the lime and clay gently exfoliates the skin, without a salt or sugar scrub, which can be too harsh for some skin types.
And the result was astonishing. My feet and legs were satin-smooth after the treatment. Even when I had to cover them up to brave the elements, my feet felt as if they were being caressed inside my shoes.
Letting the pros pamper your skin throughout the winter not only will leave you ready to bare it come springtime but also will let you coast through cold with an inner warmth.
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Penelope Dane is a writer and sociologist living in Baton Rouge, La. She is currently working on her M.F.A. in fiction and conducting research on teen poetry.