I can always tell winter is in full swing when my usually oily/combination skin gets dry patches around the sides of my nose and my lips become so dry and cracked that even a thick balm won’t help them. Such are the woes of winter skin: Between the dry air and cold temperatures, this season leaves skin dehydrated, irritated and sometimes itchy — and it can even make fine lines and wrinkles stand out more.
Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at Cleveland Clinic, says our skin is particularly vulnerable to the drying effects of the environment when you factor in our routines of hot showers and harsh soaps. “Cold winter air is less humid than warm summer air. Add to that the hot air from the furnace and hot water in the shower, and our skin can become very parched,” says Piliang. “The outer layer of the skin is composed of lipids and fats that serve as a barrier and protect the skin from drying out. Hot water, dry air and harsh soaps all cause that outer layer to break down faster.”
As a result, we have to take extra care of our skin in the winter. But what’s actually effective at keeping dry winter skin at bay? I asked Piliang and two other skin experts for their best advice.
Change up Your Skincare Routine
“Most people don’t realize that, during the winter, not only does the weather change but so does your skin,” says celebrity esthetician Gina Mari. When your skin changes, so should your products.
Piliangs says your regular skincare routine won’t cut it anymore. “In the winter you need a heavier, cream moisturizer instead of a lighter watery lotion that you use in the summer,” she says.
Adds David Lortscher, dermatologist and founder and CEO of Curology: “Your skin may require a heavier moisturizer in the morning to help it adjust to the environmental changes. Gel-based products are best for spring and summer but not ideal for fall and winter. For those living above a certain latitude (say, north of Miami), heavier emollient creams are better during fall and winter to combat the dryness from indoor heating and cold dry winds.”
Use Winter-Friendly Products
Lortscher suggests looking for a long-lasting moisturizer like the EltaMD Intense Moisturizer or a thick cream containing hyaluronic acid or glycerin, which draw in moisture. He even suggests petrolatum-based products such as CeraVe Healing Ointment or Vaseline for super-dry skin. (There is a lot of talk about petrolatum and mineral oil being potentially harmful ingredients, but scientific studies show there is no risk.)
If your skin is sensitive, look for products with ceramides, which are naturally occurring lipids (fats) in the skin. “Ceramides support barrier function, protecting sensitive skin from the outside,” Lortscher says. One option is Dr. Jart, which makes a ceramide cream that is thick, moisturizing and winter-ready.
For the colder months, you should also consider switching out your exfoliating or foaming cleanser for something more hydrating. I like the Biologique Recherche Lait U Cleansing Milk, but some good drugstore options include CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser or Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser.
You can also add in a hydrating serum and layer a few more products than you normally would, Lortscher says (and in my experience, this might be especially good for those of you with oiler skin who are worried about using thicker creams right off the bat). I love the Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion (and the Super Hyaluronic Acid Lotion in the gold bottle) under my regular moisturizer for intense but lightweight hydration.
If you’re a makeup wearer and you still notice dry patches after applying foundation, try a hydrating primer like Too Faced Hangover Replenishing Face Primer or the Lorac I’m So Sensitive Soothing Face Primer. These add an additional layer of moisture to prevent flakiness while helping your makeup last longer.
Also, stay away from anything with fragrances and alcohol, which could make dry, sensitive skin worse, Piliang says.
In addition to changing products, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking warm showers instead of hot ones, slathering on the moisturizer while your skin is still damp to trap in the moisture and using a humidifier or vaporizer in your bedroom to bring moisture back into the air.
You might think that going hard with your face scrub or lactic acid toner will get rid of the dry patches, but don’t overdo it.
“Most people think it’s best to exfoliate more often during the winter to rid themselves of winter’s dry flakes,” Lortscher says. “While regular exfoliation can be beneficial to the skin, exfoliation is easy to overdo, and that can cause redness, as well as a feeling of tightness, sensitivity and soreness.”
You can still exfoliate, but if you find that you’re getting particularly red or sensitive from your stand-by exfoliants, try other gentler options, like a konjac sponge. Lortscher suggests the Japanese Sponge Pure White Puff or EcoTools Konjac Pure Complexion Sponge.
Give Extra Attention to Hands, Lips, Cuticles
Because we regularly wash our hands, eat and lick our lips, our hands, cuticles and lips often get drier faster. In the winter, when the weather makes us more vulnerable to dry skin, these can be tough extra spots to keep moisturized.
Try to use a hand soap that doesn’t contain fragrance or super irritating ingredients, like alcohol. You can also carry around a travel-size cream or ointment to apply after washing your hands, and wear gloves when going outside or when washing the dishes.
Avoid licking your lips if you can; saliva contains chemicals used to break down food that can be irritating to lips, making them dry out faster, Piliang says. To keep lips as moisturized as possible, use a lip balm or ointment before going out in the cold and before bed. (Use one with SPF when you’re outside.) Don’t forget to exfoliate your lips to get rid of the dry skin. I make a DIY lip scrub with coconut oil and sugar, then use a toothbrush to exfoliate my lips.
As for cuticles, I love using oils. I’m currently using the Jessica Phenomen Oil Intensive Moisturizer, along with the Jessica Nourish Cuticle Cream. These two have really helped me moisturize my cuticles, which were in bad condition from a lot of nail biting, and made worse by the dry winter air.
Mari suggests finding a multi-tasking oil to use in these ultra-dry spots. “Finding a rich oil that you can use on both your lips and cuticles, even your hands, is key. I love using Goldfaden’s Fleuressence Native Botanical Oil. It gives you the perfect amount of moisture, without leaving you feeling greasy,” she says.
What are your favorite winter skin products and tips?
Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi; Art Direction by Emily Zirimis.