Keeping your skin looking flawless when the weather cools isn’t always easy. Last winter, you may recall struggling with dry, chapped skin, flaking, irritation, and redness. Not pretty. If you’ve vowed for this year to be different, this handy guide is all you need.
Australia’s leading cosmetic surgeon, Dr. Bernard Beldholm, FRACS sat down with dermal nurse Lea Barclay to learn tips and tricks for beautiful skin all season long. He put together this article to share with you professional advice that will transform your winter skincare routine. You will learn the reason your skin changes in winter, and easy ways to fix common winter skin problems like dryness, itchy skin, and irritation.
Are you ready to make these game-changing changes to your winter skincare regimen? Read on to learn how to fix your toughest seasonal skin challenges. — once and for all.
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Reasons your skin changes in winter
Most people notice that their skin changes a bit in winter. You may notice dull, dry skin and even some irritation. This is not limited to just your face. The skin on your body can become quite dry as well. So, what causes skin to change in winter? Environmental factors have a big impact on skin. Let’s talk more about it.
The biggest reason for skin troubles in winter is low humidity. Low water vapor leaves skin without essential moisture that it usually gets from the air. Cooler months deplete the epidermal lipid barrier, making your complexion look dull and dry. Your skin needs water to stay plump, healthy, and glowing. Think of your skin like a kitchen sponge. When you leave the sponge to dry, it becomes hard and appears to lose life. The color gets paler, and it starts to tighten and shrink. Like a sponge, low humidity leaves skin without its usual radiance.
When you combine the dry outdoor air with hot showers, that can make dry skin in winter worse. Most people prefer hotter showers when the weather is cool. A long, hot shower can feel comforting on a chilly day. But it is really sapping the moisture from your skin even more. With the air outside being so dry, it really can’t afford any extra moisture loss. Even though a hot shower feels great, try to keep the water warm rather than hot. It is also a good idea to limit your time in the shower. Follow up with a moisturizer while skin is still damp. A moisturizing body wash can also go a long way toward keeping your skin healthy.
Central air and heating systems
This goes along with the hot showers we just talked about. In Australian winter, you probably won’t have to crank the heat up that high at night. However, if you are the kind of person who likes to keep your home as warm as possible, it can be tempting to raise the heat. That is especially the case for those of you in cooler climates outside of Australia.
Heating systems dry the air out rather quickly. The same goes for your car heating system. It may feel nice to turn the dial to hot when you are on the way to work on a brisk winter morning, but it really is doing your skin a disservice since it dries out your skin. Instead of turning up the heat, layer up with cozy sweaters. You can also add a warm comforter to your bed for the winter season so you are less chilly at night. A thick robe can do wonders for keeping you warm around the house, not to mention it saves a lot of money on utility payments or firewood. Little changes like this can will help you see how to get rid of dry skin in winter fast.
How skin protects itself
It is hard for your skin to stay strong and healthy when it doesn’t have moisture. The biggest skin problem in the cool season is dry skin. Dry skin in winter can be really troublesome for many people. When skin is dry, it makes you look older. Parched skin is thin and delicate. It emphasizes fine lines and wrinkles on the skin. A dry complexion tends to look dull and dreary, which is the opposite of how healthy skin looks. Dryness and flaking can lead to itchy skin in winter, even for normal skin types. Some people develop skin rashes during winter For people with conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne, this is a real problem.
Your skin’s lipid barrier
The lipid barrier is important for understanding how to take care of dry skin in winter. The main function of the lipid barrier is to protect the surface of your skin and prevent moisture loss. That is a big reason skin gets more sensitive in winter since the dry air depletes the lipid barrier. When the skin’s natural moisture barrier is compromised, all sorts of problems can occur. The skin becomes weak as a result. Using the right skin products and treatments can help strengthen this protective layer so you have healthy, radiant skin all season long.
What are ceramides?
Ceramides help maintain the integrity of your skin barrier. These lipid molecules are vital to a healthy stratum corneum, but they tend to be low in patients with dry skin and atopic dermatitis.2 Skincare Products containing ceramides can help fortify your skin barrier, protecting it from water loss that leads to common problems like winter time dry skin. Ceramides can be found in moisturizers and cleansers. Research shows that ceramides can improve the barrier function of damaged skin, which is really helpful in winter.2
Basic steps for your winter skincare routine
Winter demands changes to your skincare routine so that your skin can look and feel great all season. That goes for both your face and body. If you keep your beauty routine the same year round, you’re likely to face problems as the months get cooler. We all know it is much easier to achieve a vibrant, glowing skin in summer than winter. Once the seasons turn, your skin needs extra help to look healthy and beautiful.
It is important to update your skin regimen as early in the season as possible. If you wait too long, it can be much harder to get your skin looking good again. Repairing skin is far more difficult than preventing winter skin problems in the first place. If you wait until the point that your hands are dry and cracking, for example, it can take weeks to get that skin healthy again. Prevention is key.
Treat your skin kindly this winter by making the switch to the right products. A gentle cleanser and nourishing moisture are the foundation of good skincare. This is especially so in winter, when skin needs a little extra attention. Follow the steps below, in this order, for a healthy complexion this season. You can do these steps both morning and night each day.
STEP 1: Cleansing face and body
Choosing an appropriate facial cleanser is your first order of business. If your skin is red in winter, that is a good indication that your cleanser if working against you. This can affect both men and women. Women have the luxury of makeup, but persistent redness can be difficult to cover up in winter time. Getting the skin healthy is a better way of dealing with winter skin redness.
Let’s not forget about the skin on your body. Bar soap and even body wash can be very drying. Again, you want to avoid strong detergents. Look for cleansers designed to add moisture to the skin. There are even some drugstore brands that do exactly that. It will usually say so right on the label. French oil soaps are also great for your hands and body in winter. They clean well without stripping skin dry. In wintertime, it is worth the splurge.
Lea’s advice is to steer clear of detergent-based cleansers since they strip skin of natural lipids. This leads to moisture loss and sensitized skin. The best cleanser for dry skin in winter have mild formulas. Fragrance-free cleansers are ideal because scents can irritate sensitive skin. You want to look for low-lather formulas without harsh surfactants like SLS. Creamy, non-foaming cleansers do a very good job cleansing the skin. The foam may make you feel like you are getting your skin “extra” clean, but it they often contain irritating chemicals that are stripping away your lipid barrier.
STEP 2: Serum
Serums are concentrated. They are perfect for boosting your skincare with active ingredients. There are many serums that are great for hydration. Two of the best ingredients Lea recommends are hyaluronic acid, which draws moisture to the skin, and niacinamide (aka vitamin B3), which also improves water content. Antioxidants like vitamin C are great for shielding your skin from redness and inflammation. Resveratrol, for example, contains plenty of antioxidants that are excellent for warding off free radicals. It is derived from the skin of a red grape.
STEP 3: Moisturize
The best way for how to keep your skin hydrated in winter is to moisturize. After you cleanse gently, it is vital to lock in moisture. Your daytime face lotion can be light-to-medium weight, depending on your skin’s level of dryness. Choose a gentle, fragrance-free lotion for the morning. If it has SPF in it, that is even better.
Your night cream is also extremely important. For extra dry skin, try an intensive night cream and lay it on thick. Since you will be applying it just before bedtime, it really doesn’t matter much if it has a bit of a greasy look to it. That is something you can’t always get away with in daytime. Evening is the best time to treat your skin to a healthy dose of moisture.
There are many different types of moisturizers to choose from. We have made it easy to decide which type is best for you. We have devoted an entire section of this article to moisturizers, so you can simply scroll down to read more about that.
STEP 4: Sunscreen
The last step of your daily winter skin regimen is sunscreen. Of course, you’ll only need to do this step in the morning. In Australia, it is always a good idea to keep your skin protected since our sun is stronger than many other places on earth. UVA rays can still penetrate through the clouds. Lea reminds us that these harmful rays play a major role in photoaging, not to mention skin cancers. Physical barrier sunscreens, also known as sunblock, are better for the environment than chemical sunscreens.
Best winter skin treatments
Now that you have your daily skincare regimen sorted out, the next thing to look at is your occasional skin treatments. These are not things you need to do on a daily basis — perhaps weekly at most for some, while others, like chemical peels can be done every 4-6 weeks by a trained professional. The following treatments are great for maintaining skin health during winter.
A build-up of dead skin cells can make it harder for moisturizer and active ingredients to penetrate your skin. That means the products don’t go where they are needed, and you get less benefit from them. Dead skin can also leave you with a lackluster skin tone that is uneven.
Clearing away dead skin cells should be done gently and sparingly. It can be tempting to scrub dry, rough skin, but doing so can lead to irritation. The better way is to exfoliate with a gentle polishing facial scrub or soft manual brush once per week and following with a moisturizer. You can do this easily at home. Just remember not to be too aggressive. Go for a refined polish instead of a harsh apricot kernel scrub. Micro-beads are also popular in skincare products, but they are often made of plastic. Your skin, and the environment, will thank you for saying no to those.
Peels (chemical exfoliation)
Fruit acid peels with AHA and/or BHA are nice exfoliating treatments to get next time you visit the aesthetician. Enzyme peels are excellent, too. These are perfect for skin that does not respond well to manual exfoliation. Gentle, natural acids helps lift away dead skin cells without having to scrub the skin. Lunchtime peels can be done every 4-6 weeks in the winter, and there is little to no downtime. A mild peel will leave you with a healthy glow right after the treatment is complete. It is important to moisturize and use SPF afterwards.
LED light treatment
In wintertime, Lea says an LED light treatment for a month can make a big difference. This is perfect for skin inflammation and redness that is so common in the cool season. Rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and acne sufferers can also benefit greatly, as these conditions tend to flare up in winter.
Lea says treatments such as Healite are great for inflammation. She explains that they target specific cells that are responsible for the synthesis and repair of your skin. Various wavelengths are used to stimulate the cells, thereby reducing inflammation and destroying bacteria. For example, blue light reduces the bacterial load that contributes to acne. Red light can boost collagen production. Lea says it is great for anti-aging and tissue repair.
A trained skincare specialist can examine your skin and help choose the light therapy that is right for you. In winter, you want to focus on reducing inflammation while healing and hydrating the skin. LED light therapy can be combined with hydrating masks containing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and turmeric for even better results.
Types of moisturizers
Let’s take a closer look at moisturizers. As mentioned earlier, they are an important part of your daily winter skin routine. There are three types you should know about: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. Each serves a different purpose. How do you choose which moisturiser for dry skin in winter? You skin condition can help you choose the intensity of the moisturizer you need.
Your skin loves water, and so do humectants. A humectant is a hygroscopic substance, meaning it attracts H20. Humectants are commonly found in lotions and creams. Their job is to help keep your skin moist. Anyone with dry, itchy winter skin can benefit from humectant-based moisturizers and lotions.
How do humectants work
When you apply a humectant to your skin, it does a great job attracting water in the air around you to the upper layer of skin, known as the stratus corneum. This gives you a healthy, hydrated glow. The catch is that the air humidity should be around 70%,1 which is unlikely in winter. But humectants have another trick up their sleeve.
Humectants also draw moisture from the lower layer of skin known as the dermis to the upper layer of skin, known as the epidermis. The epidermis is the outer layer that is exposed to the elements. In winter, flaking, cracking, and peeling are common skin problems. This can also mean tight, itchy winter skin. By pulling the moisture from deep in your skin toward the surface, humectants can help alleviate dryness and itching. It is important that those deeper layers of skin have enough moisture so this can occur. Stay hydrated by drinking eight glasses of water a day.
Benefits of humectants
The main benefit of humectants is their ability to draw moisture to the driest part of your skin: the surface. But the benefits of humectants do not end there. They also encourage the shedding of old skin cells by breaking up the proteins that bind them to skin.1 This process is known as desquamation. Getting rid of dead skin cells can relieve that tight, dry feeling skin has in winter. It also allows for better product penetration so your skin gets the benefit of active ingredients. Finally, desquamation helps you achieve a radiant glow and more even skin tone by clearing away dead skin buildup.
What are some of the best humectants for winter skin?
According to Lea, the best humectant to try in winter is hyaluronic acid. This ingredient has made a big splash in the skincare industry in recent years. But it is more than just a hype ingredient. It is truly one of the best humectants there is. This one is a must in wintertime. The reason for this is because it holds 1000x its weight in water,4 making it one of the most powerful humectants there is. It can be found in lotions, creams, and serums.
Propylene glycol and glycerin are two of the most common humectants found in skincare products. Take a look at your moisturizer and you will likely see one of these two ingredients listed.
Emollients go a step further than humectants. While humectants are great for attracting moisture to the epidermis, emollients help condition and smooth the epidermis. Emollients are excellent for nighttime, so look for night creams containing them. If you have severely dry skin, you may want to apply it in the daytime as well. Emollients are great for areas that get driest such as your hands, feet, and elbows. Skin products often contain a blend of humectants and emollients to give your skin maximum benefit. Creams, lotions, ointments, and gels can contain them.
How emollients work
Dry winter skin can look better in an instant thanks to emollients. They rehydrate the skin by replacing lost moisture and binding it to your epidermis. Their primary role in skincare is to smooth and soften the skin surface. Emollients are great conditioning agents which work by smoothing down flaky, dry skin while adding nourishment.
There are two types emollients: oil based and water based. The former tend to have a greasy feel, which is fine for extra dry skin on your body and even your lips, but might be too much for facial skin (unless it is extremely dry or used at nighttime). Water-based emollients have a thinner consistency that is more blendable, which is better for daytime.
Benefits of emollients
Emollients leave your skin with a nice, smooth canvas that is ready for makeup, along with managing any flakiness. Dab an emollient-based cream or lotion to tame dry, itchy skin this winter. You’ll be amazed how your skin instantly appears more healthy. Regular use will help your skin stay soft and supple. They can also provide soothing relief for eczema and others skin conditions, so long as the formula is gentle and fragrance free. One of the best winter skin tips is to apply your favorite emollient moisturizer right after washing your hands — every time. This can stop dry, scaly winter skin from occurring on your hands in the first place.
Common emollient ingredients
Some of the best emollients to try come from plants. Plant oils like shea butter and cocoa butter are soothing for dry, cracked skin in winter. Plus, they smell great. This is a bonus if you have a hard time switching to fragrance-free moisturizers. You can still get a pleasant aroma without artificial scents, which tend to irritate sensitive winter skin. Urea is another common example, though it is relatively odorless. For sensitive and acne-prone skin winter, dimethicone has both occlusive and emollient properties. It is noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic, and less greasy than others.2
Occlusives act as a barrier to lock in moisture and keep dry air out. When the skin’s lipid barrier is weak due to dry winter air, occlusives can be a lifesaver. Occlusives are very rich, intensive moisturizers. They are designed to sit on top of the skin, creating a wall between the skin and the harsh outside air. For people with severe dry skin, which can sometimes crack and bleed, occlusives are quite helpful. Chapped hands, elbows, and feet can benefit greatly from them.
How do occlusives work
Occlusives are the final step for locking in moisture. They tend to feel oily or waxy compared to humectants and emollients. They work by reinforcing your skin’s lipid barrier by creating a hydrophobic layer that sits on top of your epidermis for protection. Your epidermis is constantly exposed to the elements. Cool, dry air, wind, and sun can be quite harsh. In winter, you can stave off dryness with an occlusive film over the skin.
Benefits of occlusives
Occlusives are ideal for your toughest scaly winter skin. Severely chapped hands and cracking feet need an extra layer of protection in particular. Thin skin, such as the skin on your shins, tend to hold less moisture. Delicate skin loses moisture easily, too. Adding occlusives to your skincare routine can help prevent moisture loss. Use them early in the season to stop your skin from getting too dry. Every night before bed is a great time to apply a thick barrier cream for maximum benefit.
What are some of the best occlusives?
Mineral oil and petroleum jelly are two of the most popular occlusives in skincare products. They may get a bad rap for feeling greasy, but that is exactly what makes them hydrophobic. Petrolatum is one of the most effective occlusives because it reduces transepidermal water loss by 99%.3
Diet changes for better winter skin
Adding vitamins to your diet is a great way to keep skin looking healthy in winter. According to Lea, upping your vitamin intake can make a big difference. She is a big believer in the power of vitamin B3, also known as niacin. It is excellent for reducing transepidermal water loss, reversing the dehydrating effect that winter air has on skin.
Adding niacin to your diet is perfect for winter. B3 is great for soothing your skin, giving it a natural boost and healthy glow. Some foods that are high in vitamin B3 are chicken breast, turkey, tuna, and salmon. Crimini mushrooms and asparagus are two excellent sources of B3 for vegetarians. Eating your vitamins from whole foods is best. However, if you can’t do that, multivitamins are your next best bet.
Drinking water is also key for good skin year round. Winter skin craves moisture from the inside out. Hydration from within helps your skin cells perform optimally. With adequate water and nutrients, the cells are in better shape to repair and protect your skin. Experts have long recommend drinking eight glasses of water per day. You can also get water in your diet from eating fruits in vegetables that have high water content.
Are you ready for your best winter skin ever?
We hope this article has helped prepare you for the winter season that is upon us. The main takeaway is to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Again, prevention is key for fixing winter skin. Doctor Bernard and Lea recommend that you keep your skincare routine gentle, and focus on hydrating ingredients. Adding water and vitamins to your diet can encourage moisturization. That is important for preventing dry itchy skin in winter. Finally, skincare treatments both at home and with a trained specialist can help keep your skin on track all season long.
- Brannon, Heather. “How Certain Moisturizing Ingredients Help Dry Out Skin.” Verywell Health, Verywellhealth, 13 Dec. 2018, www.verywellhealth.com/skin-care-humectants-moisturizers-1069333.
- Chularojanamontri, Leena, et al. “Moisturizers for Acne What Are Their Constituents?” Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, May 2014, pp. 36–44.
- Nolan, K. and Marmur, E. (2012), Moisturizers: Reality and the skin benefits. Dermatologic Therapy, 25: 229–233.
- Price, Richard, and Hannah John. “Perspectives in the Selection of Hyaluronic Acid Fillers for Facial Wrinkles and Aging Skin.” Patient Preference and Adherence, 2009, pp. 225–230., doi:10.2147/ppa.s3183.