How To Use A Humidifier To Boost Your Skin's Winter Glow

Dermatologists weigh in on whether you're doing it right.
Marnie Burkhart/Corbis via Getty Images

The cold, dry winter months can destroy your skin, leaving it irritated, cracked, itchy and thirsty for moisture. Sometimes, it seems like no amount of moisturizer or fancy oils can save it.

That’s where humidifiers come in.

“Humidifiers are a wonderful part of the winter skincare regimen,” Omar Ibrahimi, board-certified dermatologist and director of the Connecticut Skin Institute, told HuffPost via email. “The drop in temperature leads us to turn on our heating systems which often circulate air that is very low in humidity (water content). This tends to make dry and itchy skin a bigger problem in the winter time because the body is more likely to lose water to the air.”

“When supple and hydrated, our skin layers serve to protect our bodies from irritants, allergens, and germs,” Melda Isaac, a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, D.C., added. “If our skin is too dry, the barrier function of our skin is compromised, allowing irritants and germs to penetrate.” This causes itching and burning skin, and “even increases our risk to skin infections.”

So, we know humidifiers are a great way to keep our skin happy. But we still have questions.

Is one humidifier at home enough?

To answer this question, Isaac and Dhaval Bhanusali, a board-certified dermatologist based in Manhattan, agreed that the number of humidifiers you use is dependent on how big your home is and where you spend most of your time. One humidifier per room is pretty typical, Isaac said.

Bhanusali suggested one humidifier is typically effective for a one- or two- bedroom apartment, and said the rule of thumb for larger homes is to put one in each of the areas where you spend the most time, such as the bedroom and living room. (You can also get desk-sized humidifiers for your workspace these days.)

As Sandra Lee, a board-certified dermatologist also known as Dr. Pimple Popper, told HuffPost, “the smaller the room, the more easily and quickly you can alter the humidity level.”

But if you’re really not sure if a certain unit is big enough, check the box, as it will likely tell you how long one tank will last and how much space it will cover.

Another option is to use a whole house humidifier, of which Ibrahimi is a fan. Whole house humidifiers are installed as part of a home’s heating system and aren’t portable units; a single unit helps keep moisture in the air of an entire home.

And how close does a humidifier need to be to our face for it to provide maximum benefits for our skin?

In terms of proximity, there’s no set rule and you don’t need to keep the humidifier close to your face while you’re sleeping.

“It does not need to be in close proximity to your face,” Ibrahimi said. “The humidifier will increase the humidity in the air, which is what matters.”

The general consensus from the dermatologists we asked is that having a humidifier in the rooms you spend the most time in should be sufficient to provide benefits.

Isaac said that to help control dry skin and any allergy symptoms, it’s best to aim for a room’s humidity level to be between 30 and 50 percent. (You can buy humidity monitors online for under $15.)

Do humidifiers need to be cleaned?

Yes, definitely. Like many appliances, humidifiers need to be cleaned to ensure they’re working their best.

“Maintenance is very important with a humidifier and it is important to remember to clean these as directed to prevent build up of bacteria,” Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, said via email.

Regular cleaning of your humidifier will also help prevent it from developing mold.

Do I really need a humidifier?

While humidifiers are a great way to keep the air in your home from getting too dry, they’re just one way to keep your skin happy and healthy.

For example, you should avoid super hot showers. As wonderful as they might feel, especially on bitterly cold days, they can strip the skin of its good oils and leave you even more dehydrated, Bhanusali said. Both Isaac and Ibrahimi agreed that lukewarm water and gentle soaps are the best way to go for preventing dryness.

And of course, “Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!” Bhanusali said.

Lee agreed that ample use of moisturizer is key. She said that in the winter she switches from using lotions, which are water-based, to creams, which are oil-based, because they’re more moisturizing. She also said she likes using products with hyaluronic acid to help retain moisture in the skin.

For best results, Isaac recommended applying moisturizer all over your body after a bath or shower, while skin is still damp, to really lock in the hydration.

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