Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

Posted by Dr. Natasha Ryz on

Winter in Calgary, Alberta can be harsh and wreak havoc on your skin.

Calgary is in the Chinook belt and has high variability in weather conditions.

Exposure to cold temperatures, low humidity, strong dry winds, and UV from sunlight can damage your skin.

This article with discuss:

    • What is dry skin?
    • What causes dry skin?
    • Winter conditions that affect dry skin
    • Winter in Calgary, Alberta
    • Cold temperatures cause dry skin
    • Low humidity causes dry skin
    • Wind exposure causes dry skin
    • Chinook winds cause dry skin
    • Sun exposure causes dry skin
    • Summary
    • References

Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

What is dry skin?

You may experience dry skin during the cold, winter months.

Dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

Symptoms of dry skin include:

    • Loss of skin elasticity.
    • Skin feels tight, dehydrated.
    • Skin appears dull, rough and blotchy.
    • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling.
    • Fine lines and wrinkles are more pronounced.
    • May have irritation and a burning sensation.
    • May have itching.

Anyone can develop dry skin.

Dry skin is lacking water, humectants and fats.

Humectants absorb and hold water, while fats coat the skin and seal in moisture.

When there is not enough water, humectants or fats, skin barrier disruption can occur, further worsening symptoms of dry skin, including flakiness.

The following contribute to dry skin:

    • lack of water in skin
    • lack of water-holding substances called humectants (glycerin, hyaluronic acid, natural moisturizing factors)
    • lack of epidermal lipids (ceramides, fatty acids, cholesterol)
    • lack of sebum (triglycerides, wax esters, squalene)

Read more: What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin is often relieved with the use of moisturizers, a good face oil, and some lifestyle modifications, such as using a humidifier, avoiding harsh cleansers, and supplementing the diet with essential fatty acids. 

Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin is very common and can occur for a variety of reasons. You may have naturally dry skin. But even if your skin type is normal or oily, you can still develop dry skin from time to time. Dry skin can affect any part of your body.

Dry skin can be caused or worsened by:

    • Exposure to cold weather
    • Low humidity levels
    • UV radiation and sunlight
    • Harsh soaps or detergents
    • Swimming in chlorinated pools
    • Long and hot showers or baths
    • Aging
    • Menopause

    Read more: What Causes Dry Skin?

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Winter conditions that affect dry skin

    Dry skin can be damaged by winter conditions including:

    1. cold temperature
    2. low humidity
    3. wind exposure
    4. sun exposure 

    Cold to freezing temperatures can damage your skin. Furthermore, cold temperatures often mean low humidity, which also dries out your skin. Bitterly cold winds can also strip moisture from exposed skin. And during the winter there is also potential for UV damage from sun exposure.

    Cold temperatures, low humidity, wind and sunlight exposure can dry your skin and damage your skin barrier.

    Learn more: Winter Dry Skin - What causes it?

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Winter in Calgary, Alberta

    Calgary is located in southern Alberta, Canada.

    Winter season in Calgary is December, January and February.

    The first snowfall usually arrives in September or October and the last one will usually fall in April or May.

    Calgary can get lots of snow - there are approximately 55 snowfall days in Calgary annually and around 50 inches of snow accumulates.

    Winter temperatures in Calgary range from -1°C to a low of – 12°C and with the wind chill, it could drop to below – 20°C.

    Despite the frigid cold and snow, Calgary experiences sunny weather almost year-roundCalgary is Canada’s sunniest city, with 333 average sunshine days per year.

    Calgary also gets Chinooks - strong flows of warm, dry air, which breaks up the cold spells, and often melts much of the snow.

    In the winter months, Chinooks can raise the temperature by up to 30°C in the space of a few hours.

    Calgary has a dry climate, with low humidity throughout the year, however, winter in Calgary is incredibly dry.

    Southern Alberta is also one of the windiest regions in Canada. Calgary averages about 13 days a year with wind speeds over 63 km/h (City of Calgary).

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Cold temperatures cause dry skin

    Winter temperatures in Calgary range from -1°C to a low of – 12°C and with the wind chill, temperatures can drop to below – 20°C

    Anyone who has felt the sting of frostbite knows that cold temperatures can damage your skin.

    As the skin temperature gets lower, your skin first perceives thermal discomfort, then cold and cold pain. At the same time, your skin loses finer elements of tactile sensation, it feels numb and at the end of this development your skin does not sense even pain any more (Eero et al 2002).  

    Frostbite can occur during cold-weather activities when the temperature is below 0°C (<32°F). When skin temperature is -4°C (25°F), ice crystals form in the blood, causing mechanical damage, inflammation, thrombosis, and cellular death. Lower temperatures, higher wind speeds, and moisture exacerbate the process (Knapik et al, 2020).

    To prevent frostbite, it is important to dress properly for cold temperatures if spending time outside.

    Protective clothing includes face coverings, neck warmers, toques and gloves.

     Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Low humidity causes dry skin

    Humidity is defined as the amount of water vapor in the air coming from terrestrial and oceanic water.
     
    Relative humidity (RH) is the actual amount of water vapour in the air divided by the amount of water vapour the air can hold, expressed as a percentage. RH depends on temperature, and warm air can hold more water than cold air. If air is cold, the same amount of water vapour produces a higher RH than the same amount of water vapour in warmer air (Uter et al, 1998).
     
    This explains why RH in polar region can be higher than RH at lower latitude (Engebretsen et al, 2016).

    Low humidity can cause dry skin and worsen winter dry skin.

    The average humidity in Calgary, Alberta in very low, at 47%.

    The mean monthly relative humidity over the year in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Average monthly humidity in Calgary (Alberta), Canada (weather-and-climate.com)

    In Vancouver, BC, Canada, the average annual percentage of humidity is 70%:

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

     Average monthly humidity in Vancouver (British Columbia), Canada (weather-and-climate.com)

    In Toronto, ON, Canada, the average annual percentage of humidity is 81%:

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry SkinAverage monthly humidity in Toronto (Ontario), Canada (weather-and-climate.com) 

    Studies in humans show a reduction in transepidermal water loss (TEWL) (a measure of the integrity of the skin's barrier function) with low humidity, alterations in the water content in the stratum corneum, decreased skin elasticity and increased roughness (Goad et al, 2016).

    Furthermore, when your skin is exposed to a dry environment, it could be more susceptible to mechanical stress (Engebretsen et al, 2016). 

    It's best to keep indoor humidity levels between 30-50%.

    If the air in your home is too dry, then your dry skin will benefit from a humidifier.

    It is generally thought that humidity levels within occupied spaces should not exceed 60%, and when levels of humidity fall to around 30% or below, occupants begin to feel thermal discomfort (Goad et al, 2016).

    Learn more: Does A Humidifier Help with Dry Skin? Yes!

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Wind exposure causes dry skin

    Strong cold winds can strip moisture from exposed skin and disrupt the skin barrier. 

    Southern Alberta is one of the windiest regions in Canada. Calgary averages about 13 days a year with wind speeds over 63 km/h (City of Calgary).

    In a study with healthy woman, a decrease in skin hydration and an increase in dryness score were found after the exposure to cold and dry wind (Roure et al, 2012).

    To protect your skin from wind damage, wear protective clothing, including a toque, face covering and gloves to protect your hands.

     Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Chinook winds cause dry skin

    Calgary is in the core of Canada's chinook belt and experiences approximately 50 chinook days between November and February (Nkemdirim et al, 1997).

    Chinook winds are warm and very dry winds that blow down the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains and into the prairies.

    Chinook winds are named after the Chinook Indians who lived along the Columbia River, and who were the first people to tell stories of “The Great South Wind”, or the “snow eater”.

    "Chinook" is also a Blackfoot Indian term meaning "snow eater".

    Chinook winds can raise the temperatures 20 or 30 degrees Celsius over the course of a few hours, and cause all of the snow to evaporate.

    The chinook winds of southern Alberta belong to a family of warm winter mountain winds, including the Föhn winds of Southern Europe, the Zonda in Argentina and the Northwesters in New Zealand, that occur in locations where long mountain ranges lie perpendicular to the prevailing wind (Nkemdirim et al, 1997). 

    During a chinook, there are defined rapid changes in wind speed and direction, rises in temperature and decreases in relative humidity (Nkemdirim et al, 1991). 

    A chinook is defined as:

    1. winds from the south–southwest and west–northwest;
    2. strong winds (> 16.4 km/h);
    3. a sharp rise in temperature, with the eventual daily mean exceeding the normal for the day;
    4. a marked drop in relative humidity; and
    5. occurrence during the Chinook season (October–March).

    Chinook winds cause the skin to become dry and parched (Ward et al, 1923).

    In Calgary, skin disorders in women were found to be significantly related to chinook conditions (Verhoef et al, 1995). 

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Sun exposure causes dry skin

    Ultraviolet (UV) exposure from sunlight can damage dry skin.   

    Calgary experiences sunny weather almost year-roundCalgary is Canada’s sunniest city, with 333 average sunshine days per year.

    The UV Index is low during the winter in Canada, but skiing and other outdoor winter activities can increase your exposure. Bright white surfaces like snow can double your exposure to UV.  If you are skiing or doing other activities in the mountains, you will receive even more UV due to the elevation.  

    UV exposure from the sun is still a concern during the winter months in Canada and proper sunscreen or sunblock should be worn when spending time outdoors. 

    Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    Summary

    Winter in Calgary, Alberta can be harsh and wreak havoc on your skin.

    Calgary is in the Chinook belt and has high variability in weather conditions.

    Exposure to cold temperatures, low humidity, strong dry winds, and UV from sunlight can damage your skin.

    To protect your skin from cold, wind and sun damage, wear protective clothing, including a toque, face covering and gloves to protect your hands, when spending time outdoors.

    To protect your skin from sun damage, wear proper sunscreen or sunblock when spending time outdoors.

    If the air in your home is too dry, then your dry skin will benefit from a humidifier.

    To learn more about protecting your skin against winter conditions, please visit: Winter Dry Skin - How To Prevent Dry Skin

     

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     Winter in Calgary - Chinooks and Low Humidity Damage Dry Skin

    References

    City of Calgary. What to do in high winds or a windstorm (calgary.ca).  Available: https://www.calgary.ca/emergencies/windstorm.html

    Dawson GM. 'Chinook winds.'. Science. 1886 Jan 8;7(153):33-4. doi: 10.1126/science.ns-7.153.33. 

    Eero Lehmuskallio, Juhani Hassi & Päivi Kettunen (2002) The skin in the cold, International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 61:3, 277-286.

    Engebretsen KA, Johansen JD, Kezic S, Linneberg A, Thyssen JP. The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Feb;30(2):223-49.

    Goad N, Gawkrodger DJ. Ambient humidity and the skin: the impact of air humidity in healthy and diseased states. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Aug;30(8):1285-94.

    Knapik JJ, Reynolds KL, Castellani JW. Frostbite: Pathophysiology, Epidemiology, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention. J Spec Oper Med. 2020 Winter;20(4):123-135.

    Nkemdirim LC. Frequency and sequencing of Chinook events. Phys Geogr. 1997;18:101–13. 

    Nkemdirim LC. An empirical relationship between temperature, vapour pressure deficit and wind speed and evaporation during a winter Chinook. Theor Appl Climatol. 1991;43:123–8.

    Schieman C, Graham A, Gelfand G, McFadden SP, Tiruta C, Hill MD, Grondin SC. Weather and chinook winds in relation to spontaneous pneumothoraces. Can J Surg. 2009 Oct;52(5):E151-5.  

    Uter W, Gefeller O, Schwanitz HJ. An epidemiological study of the influence of season (cold and dry air) on the occurrence of irritant skin changes of the hands. Br J Dermatol 1998; 138: 266–272.

    Verhoef MJ, Rose MS, Ramcharan S. The relationship between chinook conditions and women's physical and mental well-being. Int J Biometeorol. 1995 Mar;38(3):148-51.

    Ward. (1923). Hot Waves, Hot Winds and Chinook Winds in the United States. The Scientific Monthly17(2), 146–167. 

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