In winter, skin just can’t win. That’s because it has a lot to contend with — both indoors and out. “Cold air and wind constrict blood vessels and can result in decreased moisture to the surface of the skin. Hot showers and heating inside evaporate water from the skin faster, resulting in drier skin that can crack and become inflamed,” explains Purvisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Memphis, Tennessee, and founder of Visha Skincare. All that to say, if you’ve been grappling with angry skin, you’re not alone.
While that may mean this season isn’t the most ideal for your complexion, it doesn’t mean you can’t have glowing, healthy skin right now. All you need to do is make a few pivots within your existing routine, depending on your skin type or concern. It’s also important to recommit to caring for your skin with an inside-out approach, sticking to healthy habits like getting eight hours of sleep every night, drinking water to stay hydrated throughout the day, and, if your healthcare team okays it, taking a daily probiotic, says Dr. Patel. Early research suggests these supplements may offer anti-aging benefits by balancing skin pH, strengthening the skin barrier, reducing photoaging, and more, noted a review published in January 2016 in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.
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When it comes to topical tweaks, here’s how the right cleanser, a good moisturizer, and smart wellness habits can battle environmental elements, indoors and out.
If You Have Dry Skin, Layer Moisturizers for Added Hydration
The biggest focus of your winter skin-care routine should be preserving moisture in skin to prevent dryness. It’s likely that the moisturizer you’re currently using won’t cut it — and that’s normal. “I recommend that everyone rotate through three to four moisturizers, as skins needs change,” says Michele Green, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
If your complexion runs on the drier side, you might find that one moisturizer is not enough. For these people, Dr. Green recommends using a hydrating serum (look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid or squalane) as the base layer. Allow that to seep into skin for five minutes. After, apply a cream-based moisturizer (these are thicker than a lotion and often come in a tub) on top to lock everything in.
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Easing Eczema During COVID-19
Recorded 3/11/21. Managing eczema can be a struggle, especially in harsh winter temperatures. Factor in pandemic-related stress and that’s a recipe for flare-ups. Tune in to hear dermatologist Ross Radusky, MD, and eczema patient advocate Nicola Johnston…see more
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If You Have Acne, Switch to a Gentler Cleanser
In the summer, you’re usually sweatier and may have used harsher cleansers to dry out your complexion, especially if you’re regularly riddled with pimples. Now that it’s cold, even acne-prone skin is at risk for dryness. As such, you need to switch to a creamier facial wash, says Green.
These cleansers will feel different on your skin: They won’t foam up, and their texture will be more lotion-based, she says. Of course, you don’t want to run the risk of clogging your pores. One option is CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser ($9.89, Target.com), a gentle exfoliating cleanser that contains ceramides for moisture and is noncomedogenic, so it’s less likely to contribute to breakouts, notes the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
After making that one change, evaluate how things are going. You probably won’t need to adjust your acne-fighting topicals (like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids, as the AAD notes in a June 2017 article in American Family Physician) but it’s possible that you may still need a bit more moisture.
Noelani Gonzalez, MD, a board-certified dermatologist affiliated with Mount Sinai in New York City, advises her acne patients to go for a richer or thicker moisturizer at this time. That might scare you a bit, as it’s common to equate moisturizing with oily skin (and thus, pimples). But even acne complexions need a good balance of hydration. Look for a product that is oil-free and, again, noncomedogenic to help keep pores clear.
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If You’re Concerned About Anti-Aging, Use Actives Wisely
Dry air can almost sap the life out of skin. As such, a dull complexion may inspire you to start or add products to an existing anti-aging routine in hopes of bringing back your glow. Before you do that, consider a few things. One, if you haven’t started a retinoid — a vitamin A derivative that research, including one study published in March 2016 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, has shown to stimulate collagen production in skin to plump and lessen the appearance of lines and wrinkles — you may be considering it now. It certainly will exfoliate the outer layer of skin to reveal fresher, more radiant cells underneath. But the not-so-great news is that now may not be the ideal time for a new retinoid regimen.
Retinoids speed cell turnover. In winter, this is both a boon and a curse. Here’s why: Because of this process, common side effects of starting a retinoid include dryness and irritation. If skin is already dry, you’ll find using retinoid uncomfortable at first.
If you still want to start, you can take steps to mitigate these potential problems. Gonzalez advises beginning slowly by applying a pea-sized amount to your entire face twice a week. Work your way up to every other day, and then if you’re not irritated or flaky, move up to every night. Always apply your moisturizer on top. Another option is a “sandwich”: Smooth on a moisturizer after cleansing, then use your retinoid, and add another layer of moisturizer on top, she suggests.
You can also look for products that formulate retinol (a milder version of the vitamin A derivative) into a hydrating base. One example is Visha Skincare Advanced Correcting Serum with Illuminotex ($65, VishaSkincare.com), one of Patel’s products that combines retinol, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E. If you are currently on a retinoid regimen, Patel recommends layering with a hyaluronic acid moisturizer to decrease the chance of peeling.
Another option is a newer ingredient called bakuchiol, which is considered a more naturally derived retinoid alternative. A study published in February 2019 in the British Journal of Dermatology compared the effects of a 0.5 percent retinol cream and a 0.5 percent bakuchiol cream, and found they were similar in decreasing wrinkles and hyperpigmentation with less risks of irritation. It makes sense then that bakuchiol may be a skin-friendlier option if you’d looking to get the youth-boosting benefits of a retinol without the drying side effects.
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For Any Skin Type, Adjust Your Shower
Winter may seem like the perfect time to bring back the luxuriously long hot shower, but “this habit only dries out skin more,” says Dr. Gonzalez. Be sure to stick to milder temperatures and stay in only for the time it takes to wash up.
For Flake-Free Lips, Use Ointment Liberally
Red, cracked lips are a hallmark effect of winter’s wrath. Not only do the dry air and wind give your kisser a beating, but then there’s the fact that you’re probably licking your lips in response, setting up a cycle of chapping.
“We have enzymes in our saliva that can break down skin and cause moisture loss and cracking,” says Gonzalez. Prevention is the best medicine here. She recommends an ointment like Aquaphor Lip Repair ($2.99, Ulta.com) or Vaseline Lip Therapy ($1.99, Walgreens.com).
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No Matter Your Complexion Concern, Always Wear SPF — Even When It Snows
You may not pay much attention to the sun now that you’re wrapping up in a hat and scarf, but the UV rays are still there — and they’re strong. “Wearing at least SPF 30 is always a must,” says Patel.
A sunscreen is important daily, but is also critical when you’re out enjoying winter activities, like a winter walk or weekend ski trip.
As the Skin Cancer Foundation points out, snow reflects 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays. That means you “get hit twice” by the light, according to the World Health Organization. If you’re planning to be out for a long duration, treat the ski hill like the beach: Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out and then reapply every two hours, per the Skin Cancer Foundation. Because if there’s one thing that’s constant in your skin-care routine it’s the fact that sun-care products are your hero products — no matter the season.