12 Winter Skin Care Tips From A Dermatologist

12 Winter Skin Care Tips From A Dermatologist

As the cold winter weather rolls in, you might also notice your skin feeling dry and irritated. That’s why, experts say, it’s time to switch up your skin-care routine to keep your skin feeling moisturized and healthy. Swapping in some new products and scaling back on others can be a game-changer to soothe angry winter skin.

Winter typically brings air that’s cold and dry, which can affect your skin, Dr. Shasa Hu, associate professor in the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, tells TODAY.com.

“Those who also have a heater in their office or apartment, that further dries out the air,” she says. Thanks to these environmental factors, it’s common for skin to feel dry more frequently in the winter. The cold, dry winter season can also exacerbate some skin common conditions, including eczema and rosacea. Another condition, psoriasis, can also flare in the winter, which can also be due to a lack of ambient sun exposure, Hu explains.

Whether you have one of those skin conditions or not, pretty much everyone can benefit from making some simple tweaks to their skin care routine as the weather and our habits change.

Go easy on the cleansing.

You should definitely wash your face at least once a day, Dr. Shari Lipner, associate professor of clinical dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells TODAY.com.

But if you find that your skin feels tight or dry after washing it in the winter, you don’t need to wash it any more than that, she says. “Cleansing your skin is OK, but you don’t want to be washing your face multiple times a day.”

Instead, she recommends cleansing your face fully in the evening and just using a splash of water in the morning.

You can also try using more moisturizing cleansers, like cream cleansers, rather than foaming face washes, Hu says. “Lotion cleansers are typically less stripping of the natural (oil) on the skin,” she adds.

Try using a thicker moisturizer.

Winter is not the time to slack on using your moisturizer.

“If you’re not regular about moisturizing your skin, it may not matter much in the spring or summer,” Lipner says. “But in the winter, your skin is going to feel it.” 

You may even want to level up your moisturizer to something thicker during the winter months to help prevent dryness, Hu says. She also recommends playing around with thicker formulations of the other products in your rotation, like swapping your vitamin C serum for a vitamin C-containing cream.

And if you find that you’re still getting dry spots on your skin, Lipner suggests carrying a travel-sized container of ointment (such as Vaseline or Aquaphor) around with you to apply throughout the day.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people with dry skin looking for moisturizers that contain these ingredients:

  • Dimethicone.
  • Glycerin.
  • Hyaluronic acid.
  • Oils, such as jojoba oil and mineral oil.
  • Lanolin.
  • Petrolatum.
  • Shea butter.

Keep using sunscreen every day.

With shorter days, people may get a little “lazy” with their sunscreen application, Lipner says. But you should keep wearing it — at least 30 SPF — every day as part of your usual skin care routine.

We get fewer UV rays in the winter, Lipner says, “but we do get them.” And if you’ll be outside at high altitudes or skiing, it’s especially important to stay protected and remember to reapply every two hours.

Scale back on retinol and exfoliation.

Lipner recommends people don’t do too much exfoliating year-round — and especially during the winter. If you’re someone who gets a lot of buildup on your face, you may want to exfoliate once a week or even just once a month, she says.

“For winter I would recommend doing it even less,” Lipner says, because these products are more likely to be irritating on dry or sensitive skin. 

And when it comes to using retinoids, “if you’re used to using them, see how your skin feels,” Lipner says.

Some people may be able to keep using them just as frequently despite the change in weather. But others may find that their skin gets too sensitive in the winter and that they need to use retinoids less often or to cut them out temporarily.

Another retinoid tip from Lipner for those with irritable skin: “You can dilute (your retinol or retinoid) with a drop of moisturizer and that makes a big difference,” she says.

The AAD specifically recommends that people with dry skin take caution with (or completely avoid) skin-care products with these ingredients:

  • Alcohol (except for hand sanitizer).
  • Alpha-hydroxy-acids, such as glycolic acid.
  • Fragrance, including those in deodorant soaps.
  • Retinoids, such as retinol.

Combat dry indoor air with a humidifier.

Because a heater can dry out already dry winter air, Hu suggests using a humidifier in your bedroom or at your desk to keep your skin a little happier.

“A humidifier can make a big difference in your skin if the air is very dry,” Lipner agrees. 

Limit time in the shower.

Long, hot showers can actually dry your skin out, the experts say. So try to keep the water lukewarm and your time in the water short.

And, when you get out of the shower, put your moisturizer and body lotion on while your skin is still damp (but not dripping wet), Lipner says. That will help seal that hydration into your skin.

“It’s something we recommend to people with dry skin all year long, but in the winter, it’s even more important,” Hu agrees.

Try to limit your shower or bath time to just 5 to 10 minutes, the AAD recommends.

Keep an eye out for hidden irritants.

People with sensitive skin likely already know to be on the lookout for common irritants — including fragrance — in any product that may touch their skin. And that becomes even more important during the winter, Hu says.

If you’re prone to skin reactions and not already using fragrance-free laundry detergent, dryer sheets and body care products, now is the time to switch, she says.

Don’t ignore your nails.

People typically don’t notice that their nails are in need of care until the weather gets warm enough for sandals, but many of those issues (including fungal infections) may start building up in the winter, Lipner explains.

If you notice your nails getting brittle, yellowing or lifting, those are signs that you should check in with a dermatologist now rather than waiting until the spring or summer.

Dress for the weather.

If you have dry skin during the wintertime, dressing warmly — in particular, wearing gloves — can help protect your skin and keep you comfortable.

People with dry skin should wear gloves whenever they go outside in cold winter weather, the AAD recommends. They should also wear gloves whenever they perform tasks that require them to get their hands wet, such as washing the dishes, or when their hands may come into contact with cleaning products or other harsh chemicals.

Avoid festive fires.

It’s the season to gather around the fireplace or stay bundled up near the heater, but the AAD cautions that spending time near heat sources like these can further dry out your skin.

Don’t forget the lip balm.

Along with your nails, your lips also may need some extra attention during the winter. That’s why the AAD recommends using a gentle lip balm that doesn’t tingle or sting your dry lips.

A tingly reaction like that might feel nice temporarily, but it could also mean that your lip balm contains an ingredient like camphor or menthol. Unfortunately, these ingredients can exacerbate dehydration and cause sensitivity down the line.

Look for ingredients that hydrate, moisture and protect your lips, experts told TODAY.com previously, such as glycerin, shea butter, beeswax, olive oil, castor oil and coconut oil.

Be patient with irritated skin.

People with really severely dry and cracked skin may have a broken skin barrier, which can take weeks or months to properly heal, Hu explains.

“It takes at least three to four weeks for that skin barrier to fully repair, so start early,” she says. And if you’re not seeing results after a few days, don’t give up.

Finally, if you’re someone with a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis or rosacea, or you’re just not getting what you want out of your skin care, don’t hesitate to contact your dermatologist. “If you have any of these conditions, it’s a great time to check in to make sure the winter is not causing havoc on your skin,” Lipner says, adding that telemedicine is a great option for this.