soft skinWinter weather can be rough on skin. Cruel winds, arctic temperatures and the intense sunlight reflected by snow can all contribute to a complexion that's closer in texture to sandpaper than velvet. The dry, artificially created environment of a heated room can thwart even the most judicious skin care routine.

What's the solution? Eat right, drink up and work out. First, remember that beauty is considerably more than skin deep, so nourish your complexion with a diet rich in skin-friendly nutrients, including essential fatty acids and vitamins A, C and E. Next, moisturize from the inside out: Drinking the de rigueur eight glasses of water per day and engaging in regular exercise are both important factors in your skin's outward appearance. Finally, be sure to moisturize with natural products geared specifically toward your skin type.

To aid you in your quest for satiny skin, we've prepared a breakdown of some commonly used ingredients in natural moisturizers. Let them help turn you into a softy, no matter how frosty Mother Nature's mood may be.

Alder Buckthorn
A plant native to Great Britain's marshy southeast regions, alder may be found in natural lotions and creams. Especially good for dry skin.

Aloe Vera
Depending upon which history book you read, aloe vera was revered for its healing properties as long ago as 333 BC. Legend has it that following his conquest of Persia, Alexander the Great was directed by the philosopher Aristotle to take a roundabout route home to Rome via the island of Socotra, located in the Indian Ocean. Aristotle,it seems, had an ulterior motive: a desire to acquire a supply of aloe, a plant native to the island. Luminous ladies including Cleopatra and Josephine, wife of Napoleon, are reputed to have enhanced their beauty with the regular use of fresh aloe. Though proof of its powers is largely anecdotal, this member of the lily family is still used worldwide to soothe all manner of skin irritations.

Avocado and Papaya
The moisturizing properties of avocado come from its naturally high fat content. Freshly squeezed papaya juice also moisturizes and has a sweet, pleasing scent. Both are found in prepared creams and lotions.

A humectant, glycerin is comprised of a soluble mixture of water and fat. It is a common ingredient in lotions, creams and moisturizers and helps give them volume while aiding in moisture retention.

It's a well-documented fact that bears who plunge face-first into honey jars undeniably have the softest noses around (Winnie the Pooh, Penguin USA). Even outside the Hundred Acre Wood, honey is a popular natural skin moisturizer. Raw, unprocessed honey helps heal damaged skin by promoting cell growth on the edges of cuts (Natural Health Secrets From Around the World, Keats).

An emollient, lanolin is composed of purified water and fat derived from the oil glands of sheep. Lanolin is found in a host of moisturizing products ranging from lotions to lip balms, though it may cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.

As far back as 3,000 years ago, savvy Egyptian women learned the value of coating their skin with scented oils. Pressed from either nuts or seeds, these oils were as pleasing to the senses as they were soothing to the skin. Some, like jojoba—a plant native to the desert regions of the United States and Mexico—also contain nutrients such as minerals and vitamin E. All are gentle lubricants that help protect the skin by preventing moisture evaporation.

Light, Moisturizing Oils
can be classified as either seed, nut or flower. For a personal touch, add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to any of the following:

  • Flower Oils: calendula, carnation, chamomile and olive.
  • Seed Oils: sesame, wheat germ and jojoba.
  • Nut Oils: olive and sweet almond.

Used in facial creams and body lotions, seaweed helps skin retain moisture. It may also be used as a thickening agent to provide body to a variety of skin care products.

Shea Butter
Extracted from the nut of the sacred African karite tree, shea butter is a pale, solid fat that melts at body temperature. An excellent emollient, shea butter leaves skin feeling soft and supple.

Vitamin A
A deficiency of the antioxidant vitamin A—as well as illness, too much exposure to sun or such factors as medication—may result in the condition known as xeroderma, from the Greek xerosis for "dryness," characterized by persistent and abnormally dry skin (Webster's New World Medical Dictionary, IDG Books). If your dry skin seems excessive and resists relief, see a health care professional for evaluation.

Vitamin C
Ascorbic acid, commonly known as vitamin C, is a powerful antioxidant that helps keep skin supple by improving collagen synthesis. It's also been shown to aid in wound healing (Alternative Medicine Review, 1998, vol. 3). Topical products containing vitamin C list this stabilized formula as ascorbic acid or magnesium ascorbyl phosphate.

Vitamin E
Like vitamin C, vitamin E (tocopherol) is a free-radical interceptor that acts to protect skin from damage. To be effective, vitamin E should be ingested, not applied topically. Despite popular folklore that touts vitamin E oil as a wonder healer for wounds and all manner of skin disturbances, there is no science to support these claims. The only exception comes from preliminary studies that suggest vitamin E may aid in healing mouth sores commonly suffered by chemotherapy patients. Applied topically, vitamin E softens skin, but will not heal sunburn, psoriasis, eczema, acne or scars.

Sources: Skin Deep (Facts on File) by Carol A. Turkington and Jeffrey S. Dover, MD; Your Skin... An Owner's Guide (Prentice Hall) by Joseph P. Bark, MD; Naturally Beautiful: Earth's Secrets and Recipes for Skin, Body and Spirit (Universe) by Dawn Gallagher, text by Melanie Menagh; Ayurvedic Beauty Care (Lotus Press) by Melanie Sachs; A Consumer's Guide to Herbal Medicine (Advanced Research Press) by Steven B. Karch, MD; Beauty Health and Happiness (HCO Publishing) by Lily.