When cold weather hits, our wardrobe sure isn’t the only thing getting an overhaul. It’s true that our skin care routines require major changes to protect against the blistering elements, like freezing temperatures and harsh winds—but before you make the seasonal swaps, keep in mind these common skin care myths that can make the transition even more complicated. Dr. Michael Shapiro, Medical Director and Founder of Vanguard Dermatology, sets it straight.
Myth: The thicker the cream, the better it hydrates.
Fact: “Concentrated doesn’t necessarily equal optimum hydration,” says Shapiro. “An overdose of lipids can actually trap dead cells and leave skin looking more dull.” Instead, he recommends layering a serum under your cream for an added boost of hydration. Although they feel much lighter on skin, serums are super concentrated and are absorbed easily.
Myth: Overcast skies mean you can cut back on sunscreen.
Fact: “Because a depleting ozone has led to stronger UVB burning rays, SPF is a year-round endeavor,” Shapiro says, and believe it or not, clouds provide no protection against UVA rays. He recommends applying a daily moisturizer with a broad spectrum SPF of at least 15 to protect and provide hydration: “PCA Skin’s Hydrator Plus SPF 25 ($34, onlinestore.complexions.com) offers additional emollients to soothe dry skin during the winter season or in dry climates.”
Myth: Exfoliating in winter exacerbates dry patches.
Fact: “Have you ever wiped away pieces of dry skin just to see double the amount reemerge after a few seconds? If your skin is trying to shed itself, there’s a reason—so don’t fight it,” Shapiro advises. By wiping away those dead skin cells, you’re actually removing the dry patches. Two more benefits: acne-free skin and a brighter complexion. “A gentle exfoliator will clean dirt and debris from your skin before it becomes trapped in your pores and attracts acne-causing bacteria. Dead skin cells can also make your face appear dull, so a gentle exfoliation can brighten and improve its tone.” Shapiro recommends Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Pore Scrub ($6.99, naturals.neutrogena.com).
Myth: Steamy showers impart moisture to dry skin.
Fact: “Exposure to hot water with temperatures over 98.6 degrees causes blood vessel dilation that results in water loss throughout the epidermis,” Shapiro warns. Because we all know that avoiding hot showers is almost impossible this time of year (how else are we supposed to get the chill out of our bones?), he advises to keep it under five minutes and use a soap-free body wash, like Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash ($8.99, aveeno.com), as opposed to bar soaps or heavily perfumed products, which can cause irritation.
Myth: Indoor heating is the cause behind winter dryness.
Fact: “It’s not so much the heat as the amount of moisture in the air. Being that warmer air has the capacity to hold the most moisture, cold air naturally has a lower humidity, meaning that it carries little moisture,” Shapiro says. When this cold (and yes, dry) air is heated inside, the temperature is increased, but not the moisture level. “Even though you have the same levels of moisture inside as outside, it will be much drier inside because now the warmer air can potentially hold more moisture, resulting in lower relative humidity and a faster water evaporation rate.”
Myth: Fresh air gives your skin a healthy glow.
Fact: That natural flush isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Shapiro has some bad news: “This healthy glow is actually considered to be broken capillaries in the cheeks, which is what regular exposure to harsh wind can do. It can also lead to permanent redness, also known as rosacea.” He suggests covering up with a protective-barrier moisturizer and scarf. If wind burn still occurs, calm the redness with a gentle cream cleanser and balm-like moisturizer.
Myth: Oily skin doesn’t need moisturizer.
Fact: “Cold, dry climates wear on all skin types, even oily. Without some added protection, the skin’s barrier function, which keeps pollution and other damaging elements out, gets compromised,” Shapiro says. Furthermore, the less you moisturize, the more natural oil the skin produces, which results in breakouts. He recommends a gel cream, like Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel ($26, clinique.com), or lotion formula. “For true combination skin, use different moisturizers for different areas—try a light formula for your T-zone and a richer one for cheeks that get dry, patchy spots.”
Myth: Lip balm is addictive.
Fact: No, there won’t be a weekly meetings of Lip Balm Addicts Anonymous anytime soon. “While applying lip balm can be habit-forming, lip balm does not contain any ingredients capable of causing a true physiological addiction,” Shapiro assures us. A common problem cause is that wearers simply become accustomed to the feel of the wax on their lips.
Read more: You’re Doing It Wrong: Applying Moisturizer