Winter Wonderland or Wasteland? Here Are My Survival Tips

Snowman Winter Beijing United Family HospitalI really should be more comfortable with Beijing’s cold winters, as I grew up in chilly New England. But after six years here, i still struggle with those long nights. I’ve developed a few survival skills for winters which I’d like to share with you.

My top tip is to keep the air moist in your home. Beijing’s humidity levels from October to March are as dry as an airplane cockpit, so humidifiers are an important household appliance. Humidifiers can boost your indoor humidity levels up to a much more pleasant 30-50% (you should buy a hygrometer to get the readings). Dry indoor air can be very rough on furniture wood, but the biggest health nuisance is dry skin. Oftentimes our winter skin can be so dry and cracking that our skin gets very itchy, irritated and sometimes painful. I’ve tried a few humidifier models and my current favorite are the cool mist evaporators. These use ultrasound waves to quietly release a mist into the room. Their maintenance is easy and their large storage tanks can last at least a couple days. It’s important that all models are cleaned often, usually weekly, to prevent harmful mold and bacteria from growing inside the water tanks and getting dispersed into the air. Also, calcium deposits can be an issue in Beijing’s hard water, so using water filters, distilled or boiled water can help decrease this benign problem. You can buy humidifiers of all shapes and sizes in many stores, or you can easily buy online from a more trusted site such as Amazon China (

Another staple of winter life is the struggle to keep your skin dry with moisturizers. Besides using humidifiers, most people should treat their skin to a good moisturizer. You should apply it as often as needed, perhaps even three or more times a day. The best time is just after a shower or bath, when your skin is still a bit moist. If your skin still feels dry and itchy, first try more moisturizer! Sometimes, an itchy dry rash can become so inflamed that a topical steroid is needed. You could try the over the counter hydrocortisone cream for this, but never use for more than one week at a time. If your skin is still itchy, you should visit your family doctor to discuss other options. Read more information about dry skin here.

It’s also quite cold right now, but there are some unique Beijing ways to keep warm. I am sure you’ve noticed Beijingers wearing those colorful masks, called kouzhao口罩, to keep their breath warm. I think these are very useful and fun, but if you want to combine warmth with air pollution protection, you can consider the new microfiber pollution masks from Vogmask, which come in many designs and can be washed multiple times. A typical cotton kouzhao filters only 30% of air particles, but specially designed pollution masks, especially those certified N95, can filter more than 95% if worn properly. You can read more about pollution masks here.

For extra warmth, I am also a big fan of the heating pads that attach to your clothes and radiate warmth for over twelve hours. Called nuanbabao 暖宝宝 in Chinese, these are wonderful to keep your lower back and other areas warm whenever you’re outside. You can find these at most stores in China, including pharmacies, hypermarkets and Watsons.

Another winter treat in Beijing is to soak your feet in a hot water foot bath. Most of these machines also include vibration and massage features. This can feel wonderful after a cold day! Many people also add epsom salts or herbal packets for extra muscle relaxation and enjoyment. You can buy these useful machines at all major stores (or again, online at and other sites).

While we’re discussing soaking, don’t forget that Beijing‘s suburbs also have a few hot springs resorts which can be wonderfully relaxing and therapeutic both for body and soul. Fengshan in Changping, towards Badaling; Shunjing across from Ikea; and Longxi in the southern suburb of Daxing are my favorites. Click here for my hot springs review.

Try these tips and before you know it, springtime will be here !


(This article was originally printed in Beijing Kids magazine, where I am a contributing editor. You can click here to read the rest of my BeijingKids “The Doc Is In” columns.)

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