We’re in the thick of winter! You’ve unearthed your scarves and hats and pulled out your heavy coat…and now it’s time to adjust your skincare routine alongside your wardrobe. The chilly temps outside, warmed air indoors, and overall drier conditions can translate to skin that’s itchy, flaky, and lacking moisture. Fortunately, you can employ a few easy strategies to combat these challenges. Here are our best tips for combating the winter skin blues.
Tip #1: Adjust your facial moisturizer. The lightweight formulation that served you well during the summer months may not withstand temperatures close to or below freezing. To minimize dryness, look for heavier moisturizing creams that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, urea, and glycerin – they add moisture to the skin by drawing in water. Ingredients like vitamin E and aloe can be soothing if your skin is red and irritated. Avoid products with ingredients like salicylic acid, which can cause flaking and peeling. If you plan to be outside for any length of time during the day, you’ll also need a product with SPF (see Tip #2 below).
Tip #2: Remember the sunscreen. Sun exposure happens year-round, regardless of how cold it is outside! When choosing moisturizers, add one with an SPF of at least 30. If you’re using a chemical sunscreen with an active ingredient like avobenzone, oxybenzone, or octinoxate, apply it before any other moisturizer. Give it a few minutes to soak in before applying anything else. It should be the last layer if you use a physical sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Tip #3: Change your body moisturizer. Winter dryness doesn’t occur only on facial skin. Feet, hands, elbows, and other spots can also be affected. Since the skin on your body is generally less sensitive than your face, you can use products with a bit more oil. For extra-dry skin, look for thicker ointments or pastes in a tub or tube rather than a pump or squeeze bottle. Ingredients like mineral oil, lanolin, and shea butter can help restore moisture. Timing is also important; apply your moisturizer within a minute or two of stepping out of the shower to lock in the hydration.
Tip #4: Cleansers count, too. When adjusting your moisturizer, make sure you’re also adjusting the soaps, face washes, and other cleansers you use on your face and body. If your skin is irritated, products with fragrance or alcohol can worsen the problem. Look for simple body and face washes with few additives, and consider using creamy cleansers that add moisture while they work. They’ll remove impurities from your skin but won’t rob it of its natural oils.
Tip #5: Use a humidifier indoors. Cold outside air is naturally drier than in the summer, and indoor heating can worsen the ambient air. To give your skin a moisture boost in winter, run a humidifier in the rooms you spend the most time, like your bedroom. Aim for a humidity level of 30 to 50 percent; any more than that risks bacteria and mold growth. Humidifiers come in either warm or cool mist models; either is fine. However, if you have small children or pets, remember that the water in a warm-mist humidifier can become hot and cause burns if knocked over. Pro tips: Use distilled water in your humidifier to minimize mineral buildup and allow the water tank to dry out between uses. Finally, clean your humidifier regularly with vinegar and water or hydrogen peroxide and water.
Tip #6: Improve your hydration. Drinking more water alone won’t cure your dry skin. But if you’re dehydrated, your skin can appear flakier and drier, which certainly doesn’t help. Though you don’t sweat as much in winter, it’s still important to take in enough fluids — figure about half your body weight in ounces. You’ll need more if you’re exercising and sweating. Don’t love water? You can add flavor to it with slices of lemon or cucumber. While they shouldn’t be your main sources of fluid, you can also get a hydration boost from lower-calorie drinks like milk, tea, and unsweetened sparkling water.
Tip #7: Choose your clothes more carefully. Lots of winter gear is skintight and made with synthetic fabrics like polyester, but this can cause skin irritation, especially if you sweat while wearing it. When possible, switch your winter clothes to natural fabrics like cotton. If you plan on being out in freezing temperatures, consider base layers made of merino wool — it’s insulating just like regular wool, but its fine fibers are less likely to irritate the skin. Loose clothing is also less likely to chafe and irritate skin than slim-fitting clothing. Finally, wash your clothes in fragrance-free detergents and avoid fabric softeners, which usually contain irritation-inducing ingredients.
Tip #8: Use warm water, not hot water. A hot bath or shower can sound appealing when you’ve just come in from a chilly day. However, high-temperature water can make your skin drier by stripping away the protective oils that keep it supple. The same can happen with oils on your scalp, leading to — you guessed it — dry hair. Set your hot water temperature at about 98.6 degrees (the same as your body temperature) to prevent dryness during the winter. If you find yourself craving a hot shower, limit your time in the water to about five minutes to minimize the drying effect.