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Fighting the cold war

Hail, sleet, snow, hurricane-like winds, thunder and lightning during snow showers and more ice than you can shake a stick at; oh, we're having some winter, alright.

With equally doom-filled predictions from the Met Office for the foreseeable future, the current chilly climes are very definitely not good news for anyone's skin.

But it's not just the external cold that's wreaking havoc with our complexions: going from freezing conditions to dry, centrally heated air is just as bad and, as a result, my own face feels a bit like it might crack and fall off any minute now. Skin is tight and oh-so-dry, flaky bits are appearing on my chin, the fine lines around my eyes are raising their ugly grooves, my nose is peeling and, well, it's all-round misery, really.

Skincare is a bit of a battle for most of us at the best of times, but right now, conditions dictate that we need a little extra TLC. I'm compensating for having the central heating on 24/7 by placing a bowl of water by radiators to try and humidify the air, but my moisturising routine has had to change completely over the past couple of weeks too.

Janette Ryan, the pharmacy training manager for the Vichy and La Roche-Posay brands isn't a bit surprised I've been making adjustments.

"In winter, it is important to wrap your skin up well to protect it from the harsh effects of the elements, cold temperatures and harsh winds," she confirms, adding that all of which can leave the skin stressed and depleted of its moisture. And if you've been suffering from the bizarre combo of dryness and breakouts, well, she's got the gen on that too.

"When skin becomes dry or dehydrated, its natural protective barrier becomes weakened and it overreacts to factors that it can usually tolerate very well." Which may explain the crop of spots you might be sporting along with your peeling schnozz.

What to do? First things first, you've got to exfoliate before you use a moisturiser. "Dry and dead skin will only create a barrier and prevent the active ingredients from being absorbed, which means you will not get the best results," warns Janette. And it's not just your face that needs that tender loving care: body, hands and lips are also in need of some extra attention right now, too.

FACE FACTS

I have a stash of pumps, pots and tubes at the back of my bathroom cabinet and they're my 'winter skin-savers'. When the mercury drops, out they come and, over the years, I've amassed a fair bit of expertise on how to keep my skin on an even keel during a cold snap. You need to take it up a notch during wintry weather: if you usually use a thin moisturising emulsion, switch up to a thicker variety; if a silky cream's your usual poison, investigate a denser option; if heavy formulations are normally your bedfellows, look for a dense balm. If all else fails? Oh, that's what oils are for, ladies.

Balms Away

It's brand new from L'Occitane and it has saved my skin over the past fortnight. Shea Butter Ultra Rich Moisturiser, €34.95, is super-rich and super-thick and is, well, just pretty darn super for dry, stressed skin. At L'Occitane stores.

Origin of the Species

Containing rose of Jericho, a drought-resistant plant, Origins Make a Difference Ultra-Rich Rejuvenating cream, €43.50, is a divine-smelling cream that's excellent at keeping winter-ravaged skin moisturised, smooth and soft to touch. Find it at Arnotts, Clerys and House of Fraser, Dundrum.

Oil Strike

Plant oils, such as argan, lavender and rosehip, can be incredibly soothing, softening and nourishing. A couple of drops of Pure Argan Elixir from Naturelle d'Argan, €19.99, before bed, delivers bright, hydrated skin come the morning. I'm addicted, and you'll find it at pharmacies.

Sebum Solution

It's not just normal-to-dry skin that suffers, and if you're oil-prone but feeling the effects of the cold, La Roche-Posay Hydraphase XL, €21.50, is a good choice that will hydrate without clogging pores and causing outbreaks.

BODY WORK

After a particularly scaly experience following sub-zero temperatures in New York last winter, I started to get smart with cold-weather body care. Think balms, rich creams and lotions so dense you have to work them out of the tub, and skin will be smooth no matter how low the temperature plunges.

Wham Blam

Salon brand Matis SOS Nutri+, €97.50, is pricey but a little goes a long way. It is a thick, dense potion that really soothes dry skin and you'll bag a tub at www.spi.ie.

State of Mind

Irish gals have been bringing Jergens products home from the States for years, but the brand is now in Ireland. Jergens Naturals Skin Firming Body Moisturiser, €7.49, contains 96pc natural ingredients and has skin-tightening benefits. At Boots.

You can hydrate in the shower too: Clinique Deep Comfort Body Wash, €18.50, is brand new and designed to cleanse without stripping skin, thanks to its cream-mousse formulation. Find it at department stores and pharmacies.

Superhero

It's so unctuous you practically have to stand on the tube to get the cream out. Liz Earle Superskin Body Cream, from €13.75 from www.lizearle.ie, contains 25pc plant oils and smells absolutely delicious.

HANDS OFF

Madonna has taught us many lessons in life: how to endlessly transform ourselves and how to look amazing at 50-plus are the two most obvious. The third lesson is less positive -- yup, I'm talking about the dreaded 'Madonna claw'. While handcream won't completely stave off the ageing process, it will keep your paws smooth and supple and help to strengthen nails, too.

Every gal needs a bit of bliss in her life and in my case, I find it in Brown Thomas' beauty hall. Bliss excellent High Intensity Hand Cream, €26, lives on my bedside table and gets slathered on with impunity every night for silky soft hands.

A Carrot a Day

It might be a bargain but this is a great buy. Yes to Carrots Hand and Elbow Cream, €8.95, is available at pharmacies and is a great desk-drawer staple that's cheap enough to slather on several times a day.

Cream of the Crop

Part of the Eight Hour stable, Eight Hour Intensive Moisturising Hand Treatment, €26, by Elizabeth Arden is rich and silky-smooth. Find it at department stores and pharmacies.

French Fancy

Nuxe is a gorgeous brand which has recently gained a wider distribution in Ireland and for that I say hurray, because their Rêve de Miel handcream, €12, in particular, is gorgeous. At department stores and pharmacies.

LIP SERVICE

Choosing a lip balm is trickier than you might think: Vaseline is a great barrier product but, because it's basically 100pc petroleum jelly, it doesn't hydrate, so you tend to find that it soothes lips for a while and then they get tight and sore again. Instead, look for a balm infused with beeswax or shea butter for best results.

Kiss Off

Myleene Klass is a fan, and Eve Lom's Kiss Mix, €20, is one of those products you read about time and time again. But why? It hydrates, protects and can be used over lipstick too. At Space NK at Harvey Nichols and Thérapie, Molesworth Street.

Posh Purchase

Okay, it's expensive and yes, you'd want to have more money than sense, but Créme de La Mer's The Lipbalm, €58, not only looks super-swish, but it feels beautiful and nourishing on the lips too. At Brown Thomas and Harvey Nichols.

Burt's Bees Bee Keeper Tin, €12.95, from Nourish stores, contains four of the brand's organic lip balms. So that's one for home, one for your bag, one for the office and one for a spare. Perfect!

Bargain Buy

Vichy's Aqualia Thermal Lips is a mere €5, but for that you get an excellent balm that contains shea butter and vitamin E. Find it at pharmacies nationwide.