High Altitude Skin Care
I love the mountains. For me, there is no greater feeling than climbing up a mountain, breathing hard, sweating out toxins, and then absorbing the view at the top as a reward. This is perfection for me - just being in nature through all the seasons. While I live in Scottsdale, Arizona most of the year, I escape to Park City whenever I can, especially as the Aspens change in Autumn.
Working in Colorado and Utah has made me have some serious respect for altitude and how it can affect skin. I notice more deep creases and weathered skin in the mountain environment than I ever did working in sunny Hawaii or Southern California. I think this is a combination of increased radiation exposure, lower oxygen levels, and drier climate.
Altitude has a huge effect on your skin for many reasons. The Earth’s total atmosphere is about 430 miles thick. However, the troposphere, which is the lowest layer of the atmosphere, measures only about 7 miles above North America. It contains over 75% of all the atmospheres gases and vast quantities of water and dust. These are the elements that protect your skin from the sun’s radiation. The higher you are, the less dense the air and the less protection you have – about 4% for every 1,000 feet in altitude. While it may take 25 minutes to burn in New York City, it can take as little as 6 minutes at 10,000 feet! It is possible to burn even when it is cloudy. Combine that with the reflection of UV rays off the snow in the winter and your skin is really vulnerable. I usually carry some small sunscreen samples in my pockets and reapply when heading back up the ski lifts in the Winter. A moisturizing or water resistant sunscreen will also help prevent skin chafing from the wind.
How to Avoid and Treat Dry skin
At high altitudes, the humidity drops with the temperature. With the addition of forced air heat, dry and cracked skin is almost inevitable.
Drink plenty of water to hydrate your skin from the inside out. Water helps fight altitude sickness, too, so drink up. Healthy fats also act like mortar between your skin cells and seal in moisture. Choose avocados, nuts, wild cold water fish, and olive oil. Avoid processed foods and fried fats as these will predispose your skin (and your body) to inflammation and rashes.
Keep showers warm rather than hot. Rinse off with tepid water after using the hot tub to remove germs and chemicals. Immediately upon exiting the shower, apply a ceramide-rich cream moisturizer (rather than a lotion). Ceramides are natural components of your skin barrier that help keep a healthy barrier and seal in natural moisture without feeling greasy. Sleep with a humidifier next to the bed and get a water softener if you have hard water.