13 Easy Ways to Combat Dry Winter Skin

Aly Walansky
Photo: I Love Images/Cultura/Getty Images

Photo: I Love Images/Cultura/Getty Images

Don’t toss that high-SPF sunscreen aside: We didn’t persevere through summer sunburns, breakouts, and beach-fried hair just to let another season’s inclement weather get the best of us … and our skin. “Winter is tough enough as it is—you don’t want to add dry, itchy, red skin, and discomfort to the mix,” says Dr. Mona Gohara, Assistant Clinical Professor, Yale University Department of Dermatology. “Your skin is your largest organ, so you need to provide it with nourishment, both inside and out.” Of course, the best offense against dry winter skin is a good defense.

Add the good kind of humidity.
Most winter flaking and wrinkling is due to local dehydration, with artificial heat sucking the moisture out of the room—and with it, your skin. Since both steam heat and electric heating systems further dehydrate the skin in winter months, Dr. Douglas Altchek, a New York City dermatologist, recommends humidifiers strategically placed both in the bedrooms and in the living areas. Try it for a month along with your day and evening moisture and nourishment regimen and you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your skin.

Bring in the moisture.
Water-based moisturizers play an important role in healing dry winter skin, Dr. Altchek says, because they restore the moisture that’s lost when you’re indoors and exposed to artificial heating for long periods of time. Humectant ingredients bring much-needed moisture into the skin, too. It’s important to provide good hydration and nourishment, both day and night, to counter the impact of wind, cold temperatures, and indoor heating systems. Dry skin enhances the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, making you look older than you are.

Keep ratios in mind.
As you find less moisture in the air, you should find more emollients in your creams. Light lotions are appropriate for summer months when your skin produces more natural oils, but when the temperature drops, reach for creams that linger on skin’s surface longer to form an emollient and protective layer. These will fortify skin’s lipid barrier, which is important to maintaining healthy moisture, says Charlene Deegan, Director of R&D at Borghese. Look also for hygroscopic ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid—they attract and bind essential moisture to skin.

Be gentle.
“Avoid using anything abrasive on your skin in the shower, like a loofah. Instead, use a soft cloth with a soap-free foaming cleanser, such as Mustela Stelatopia Cream Cleanser, which gently cleanses without drying,” says Dr. Gohara. “This also applies to your clothes. During the winter, try to wear cotton instead of wool, which is rough and can irritate the skin.”

Maximize your minutes.
“Make sure you use a body lotion, preferably one that contains glycerin or vegetable oil, within three to five minutes after getting out of the shower,” says Dr. Gohara. The “ambient heat” that remains on your skin for a few minutes post-shower “will help seal in more moisture.”

Don’t forget the SPF.
“It may not be beach weather, but you still need to wear sunscreen,” Dr. Gohara advises. “Not only do UV rays reflect off snow as much as they do sand, but even indoor lighting can lead to melasma, a skin condition that causes patchy, uneven skin.” She recommends using a mineral-based sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

Think inside out.
“What you put in your body is just as important as what you put on it,” says Dr. Gohara. “Continue to eat some of your favorite summer foods, like salmon and avocado, which contain healthy fats that can help add moisture.”

Pack portable protection.
“It’s crucial that you protect your skin from the elements, especially during the winter,” Dr. Gohara says. “As soon as your skin is exposed, you risk redness created by windburn or eczema.” She says to look for products that contain vegetable oils, which help to replace the skin barrier.

Get some sleep.
To improve dry, scaly skin, use a hydrating mask while you sleep, which will penetrate your skin and gently remove dry skin cells from the surface of the skin by the next morning, says Dr. David Bank, a dermatologist, author of Beautiful Skin: Every Woman’s Guide to Looking Her Best at Any Age and Founder & Director of The Center For Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery. Don’t choose an oil-based hydrating mask for the face, as they tend to clog your pores and your skin may develop blackheads. Look instead for a mask that’s non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog the pores.

Now keep the moisture in.
Most people bathe for too long: Although a thorough shower can be accomplished in under 5 minutes, most of Dr. Altchek’s patients share that they love to shower for 20 minutes or more, particularly in the winter. This may be relaxing and make the skin feel good at first, but within a few minutes, skin becomes dehydrated. Instead, Altcheck recommends lukewarm showers lasting between 3-5 minutes. Very warm or hot water should be avoided especially during the winter months, as it only increases drying.

Don’t skip exfoliating.
Even if you have sensitive skin, it’s still important to exfoliate during the winter to slough off the dead cells from the weather, says Dr. Bank. There are many products that have been engineered to be less irritating and have softer mechanical exfoliators—polyhydroxy acids, lactic acid, glycolic acid, and citric acid are wonderful even for sensitive skin.

Don’t neglect your feet.
Another common winter skin problem is dry, scaly feet, not only from the cold weather but from wearing socks and closed shoes every day, Dr. Bank says. A glycolic foot cream under a sock to aid in penetration can work wonders to both exfoliate and hydrate the skin. Try leaving the cream on your feet overnight with socks to let it penetrate while you sleep. Elbows suffer a similar fate during the winter, and the only cure is exfoliation. For a natural approach that’s also super effective, douse some sugar on a lemon to help to scrub away the dry, flaky skin cells with both physical and chemical exfoliation.

It goes without saying that the end of the year is party time, and often entails too much eating, drinking, and late hours. All of these will dehydrate the skin while also causing unsightly swelling of the eyelids and face. To prevent this,  Dr. Altchek recommends drinking two extra glasses of water per day to help flush out toxins and water-retaining salt to keep your skin looking its best … or as good as possible.

Read more: 10 Expert Tips for Surviving Winter Hair Woes