How To Take Care Of Your Poor, Winter-Ravaged Skin

Advice from the experts

We’re well into winter now, which means we’ve all already noticed the seasonal skin changes that occur once the temperatures drop.

Suddenly, the dewy, glowy complexions we worked so hard to maintain all summer and fall are nothing but a distant memory, and our face and bodies are dry, rough, red, and irritated. And no matter how much body lotion we slap on, nothing seems to change.

Why? Because we’re doing it wrong.

We chatted with experts in the field of skin care, from dermatologists to cosmetic chemists, to get their advice on how we can better take care of our skin during these treacherous times—and get real results.

Get your oatmeal baths, humidifiers, and ceramides ready and read on, below.

What's happening to our skin?First of all, what the hell is happening to us, and why does our skin suddenly look and feel terrible?

Susie Wang, cosmetic chemist and co-founder of 100% Pure, breaks it down:

Just as the cold weather constricts blood vessels and lungs, it also constricts our pores. When this happens, it reduces our pores’ ability to both excrete and absorb oil—which leads to even drier skin. It slows skin’s natural regeneration process and, in turn, breaks down collagen—resulting in an increase of fine lines, loss of elasticity, and, of course, dry skin.

In shorter terms, Dr. Amanda Doyle, dermatologist at Russak Dermatology, explains that the dry and cold winter air “wreaks havoc on the skin.” Basically, winter's conditions are the perfect recipe for rough and flaky skin, but the fluctuation in weather can also aggravate other existing skin issues, such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and more. 

So what can we do to fix it?

Moisturize, moisturize, moisturizeWhen our skin is dry, itchy, irritated, and red, the logical (and obvious) solution would be to moisturize, right? Right. But not just using any old body lotion.

Dr. Michele Green, dermatologist and RealSelf contributor, explains that there are two kinds of moisturizers that we should be looking out for: One that keeps the skin cells hydrated, such as a formula that includes hyaluronic acid, and a barrier moisturizer, which locks water into your skin’s top layer.

Doyle suggests looking out for barrier moisturizers with ingredients like ceramides, which are lipids that are found in skin cells that act as a natural barrier. When you find them in moisturizers, they help to both protect and replenish the skin.

If your body is particularly dry or itchy, Doyle recommends applying moisturizer up to two or three times daily. And, of course, don’t even attempt to slather on anything with synthetic fragrance. Warm Apple Cinnamon and Cucumber Melon aren’t going to do anything for you, other than irritate the hell out of your skin.

Your face also deserves some extra love during the treachery that is winter, as it’s taking quite a beating every time you venture out into the cold. While you probably won’t want to use the same heavy creams that you’re using on your body on your face, you’ll definitely want to opt for more moisture-rich formulas during the colder months.

First, Wang suggests jumping on the serum bandwagon if you haven’t already, as it’s great for adding extra moisture benefits to your skin-care routine. Second, she encourages you to select a winter moisturizer that’s heavier than your normal one and one that either feeds the skin water or oil hydration. Basically, now is the time to set aside anything light and airy.

Wang also suggests incorporating vitamin C and retinol into your regimen—which speed up cellular regeneration, brighten, and promote collagen production—as you won’t be as exposed to the sun as you would be in the summer. However, they do cause skin sensitivity, so these should still only be applied at night.

Invest in a humidifierThere’s probably nothing worse than the way you feel upon waking up after blasting the heat all night long. Your skin, your sinuses, and throat—everything—feels dry, itchy, and awful.

As the heat in your home (as well as your car, your office or classroom, basically anywhere with a thermostat) tends to dry out your already parched skin, Greene suggests investing in a humidifier, which will pump much-needed moisture back into the air around you.

There are plenty of affordable portable options that are perfect for your nightstand and even your desk at work—just do a quick search on Amazon or Target. If you’re looking for something more powerful, there are also humidifier attachments for your furnace.

You’ll likely see an improvement all around.

Change up your shower routineWe know, we know. A long day of being out in the cold (or hell, just walking from the car to the front door) can tempt us to jump right into a scalding hot shower to quickly defrost. Unfortunately, this totally wreaks havoc on our skin.

Hot water strips the skin of its natural oils, which can make all of our winter skin issues feel way worse. Instead, Doyle suggests taking showers and baths that are lukewarm. What you use in the shower can also make a difference—she suggests opting for soaps that are gentle, rather than anything harsh.

If you have particularly dry and itchy skin or find that winter’s harsh conditions have caused your eczema or psoriasis to become particularly uncomfortable, Greene suggests taking an oatmeal bath. “Oatmeal acts as a natural humectant [something that retains moisture] and also normalizes the skin’s pH levels, preventing dryness and irritation,” she says. You can learn how to make one of your own, here, or you can buy bath-ready mixes, here.

She also suggests switching up your post-shower routine a bit, as well. Instead of waiting until you're all dried off to slather on some lotion, you should actually apply it immediately upon getting out, while you're still wet. "Applying moisturizer while the skin is still damp will help the skin retain moisture longer and keep your cells hydrated," says Greene. So, leave a bottle of your favorite lotion in your medicine cabinet and prioritize making an after-shower lotion moment one of your two-to-three daily moisturizer applications.

Of course, don't forget your SPFI think we all know the importance of daily SPF at this point, so when it comes to wintertime, don’t skimp on it! Sure, we may not be at the beach and the days may be shorter, but UV rays are just as strong during the winter months—and if you’re on top of a snow-covered mountain, you’re at an even higher risk for UV damage.

“Snow strongly reflects the sun’s rays, and altitude can also play a role in UV exposure,” says Shelby Moneer, director of education for the Melanoma Research Foundation. “UV rays are technically not stronger during the winter months than the summer months, but we tend to be less cautious during the winter months and are sometimes less diligent about using sunscreen and reapplying regularly, as well as other sun safety precautions. It’s important to remember that the longer you’re outdoors and exposed to UV rays, the more likely you’ll get a sunburn if you’re not properly protected.” With that said, remember to reapply, reapply, reapply—every two hours, as Moneer suggests, and more often if you’re sweating.

Of course, there are other options when it comes to protecting ourselves against UV rays. “Seek shade whenever possible, use sun-protective clothing like long sleeves, pants, hats, and sunglasses, and limit sun exposure between 10am and 4pm,” says Moneer. But, as we’re likely to bundle up when hitting the slopes, it’s protecting our faces that we really need to be mindful of.