Winter can wreak havoc on your skin — making it dry, itchy, and irritated. And it can feel like there’s no escape: Cold, blustery conditions outside can leave your skin feeling raw, while indoor heat zaps moisture from the air and from your skin.
Even the things that make winter wonderful, such as sitting by a roaring fire, can dry your skin, as the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) notes. And though taking a hot shower might seem like a good way to warm up, hot water dries out your skin by stripping it of its natural oils.
But there are many simple ways to combat the causes of dry winter skin and help keep your skin feeling moist and supple all season long, including some easy changes to your everyday routine. For example, after taking a not-quite-so-hot shower, "blot skin dry and apply a thick moisturizer within a few minutes after bathing to seal the water into the skin," says Linda Stein Gold, MD, a dermatologist at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield, Michigan.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind when it comes to effective winter skincare, so that you can feel your best all winter long.
Top 10 Tips for Healthy Winter Skin
1. Invest in a Humidifier to Maximize Moisture
Using a humidifier in your home or office will add moisture to dry winter air and help keep your skin hydrated. Run a humidifier in the rooms you spend the most time in, including your bedroom.
2. Lower the Thermostat to Avoid Dryness
When it's chilly outside, what's the first thing you want to do? Crank up the heat! But central heat can make the air in your house even drier. Try setting the thermostat at a cool yet comfortable setting — 68°F to 72°F — to maintain healthy skin.
3. Limit Shower Time and Temperature
It may be tempting to take a long, steamy shower, but your skin will be much better-served with a 5- to 10-minute lukewarm shower (or bath), as the AAD suggests. You should also avoid using excessively hot water when washing your hands — if the water causes your skin to turn red, it’s too hot. Washing your hands in cooler water appears to be as effective at removing germs as warm water and is less irritating to skin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And if you're using a restroom air hand-dryer, use it just until your hands are damp rather than perfectly dry.
4. Opt for Gentle, Fragrance-Free Cleansers
The wrong soap can worsen itchy, dry skin. For instance, regular bar soaps may contain irritating ingredients and fragrances. Instead, wash with a fragrance-free, moisturizing cleanser or gel. (And do look for products specifically labeled “fragrance-free,” because "unscented" products may actually contain fragrances.) You can also prevent winter skin problems by using less soap overall, so limit your lathering to necessary areas, such as your hands, armpits, genitals, and feet.
5. Modify Your Facial Skin-Care Regimen for the Season
During the winter months, choose cream-based cleansers, and apply toners and astringents sparingly, if at all. Many astringents contain alcohol, which can further dry your skin. When your skin is dry and itchy, the AAD recommends you stop using products that contain alcohol and fragrances in order to help skin retain its natural oils. At night, use a richer moisturizer on your face.
And don’t forget your lips. Applying a moisturizing balm (such as petroleum jelly or another ointment) can help heal dry, cracked lips and keep them from getting chapped, according to the AAD. If, however, your lip product causes a stinging or tingling sensation, try switching to a different product.
6. Moisturize Frequently, Especially Your Hands
Maintain healthy skin by moisturizing after washing up. "It's best to use a cream or ointment in the winter. Lotions are better in warmer, humid climates. And don't forget your hands,” says Dr. Stein Gold. Hand-washing, as the CDC notes, is vital, especially during cold and flu season. But, as Stein Gold points out, "constant washing will cause the hands to take a beating.”
Applying a hand cream after each washing can help, Stein Gold adds. She also recommends wearing waterproof gloves when washing dishes or cleaning around the house.
7. Apply Sunscreen — Even on Gray Winter Days
On bright winter days, snow reflects the sun’s rays — up to 80 percent, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation — increasing your risk of exposure. That means whether you’re out on the slopes, playing in the snow, or just walking through a parking lot on an errand run, it’s just as important to be applying sunscreen in the harsh winter weather as it is in the summer.
And don’t be fooled by darker, dreary days in winter, either. The sun’s harmful UV rays can permeate clouds and still cause damage.
Before you go outside, apply a moisturizing, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher to all exposed areas of your body.
Many cold-weather fabrics can aggravate dry winter skin. "Keep wool and rough clothing from directly touching your skin," Stein Gold says. "This can cause dry skin to get irritated and itchy."
Instead, wear light layers made from soft, breathable materials directly against your skin, and then pull on your heavier, warmer sweaters. Be sure to protect your hands from cold winter air with gloves or mittens, remembering to choose a pair that won’t irritate your skin. If you prefer wool gloves, put on cotton or silk glove liners first.
9. Remember to Eat Right and Stay Hydrated
"Sometimes when skin is very dry, it can be helped by foods or supplements that contain omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids, such as fish oil and flaxseed oil," says Barbara R. Reed, MD, a dermatologist in private practice at Denver Skin Clinic. "For the most part, however, it is important to help the skin moisturize from the outside."
10. Change Out of Wet Clothes Quickly to Avoid Itchy Skin
Wearing wet clothes and shoes can further irritate your skin and cause itchiness. If gloves, socks, and pants become wet, be sure to remove them as soon as possible.
If you still experience dryness, discomfort, and irritation after trying these healthy skin tips, Stein Gold suggests using an over-the-counter, 1 percent hydrocortisone cream. "If you don't see improvement in a few days, talk with your doctor," Stein Gold says. You may need a prescription-strength moisturizer to overcome winter's drying effects on your skin.
The holidays are a great time to enjoy the company of friends and family, indulge in delicious foods and splurge on a dream vacation. That said, the festive season can also have a tremendous effect on the skin—and not in a good way. We share all the ways the holidays can wreak havoc on your complexion, plus some of the best holiday skin care tips to get you through, ahead.
1. Lack of sleep deprives your skin the chance to repair itself.
Between food prep and party hosting, getting a good night’s sleep around the holidays can be quite the challenge. Dr. Robert S. Rosenberg, board-certified sleep medicine physician and author of Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic Every Day, clarifies what happens when our bodies are asleep. “Our brains have a system—the lymphatic system—that flushes out neurotoxins. This is turned on mainly during sleep,” he explains.
But it’s not just that. According to him, our brains also produce body-repairing hormones when we sleep, such as growth hormones, which are necessary for tissue repair and cell regeneration, as well as myelin, the sheath that surrounds and insulates the nerves. Constantly depriving yourself of sleep also causes an elevation of cortisol, putting your body in a constant state of stress. As the body’s largest organ, skin is usually where the first signs of damage appear, and we’re not just talking about dark circles and eye bags.
“Beauty sleep is essential,” adds Dr. Debra Jaliman, board-certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “You need to get seven to eight hours of sleep because that’s when the skin repairs itself,” she adds.
Holiday Skin Care Tip #1: Need help in the sleep department? Spritz a fine mist of a deep sleep pillow spray, which is infused with calming ingredients like lavender, vetivert and chamomile, to help relax your mind and body and get you ready for sleep.
2. Sugary treats trigger glycation, which accelerates skin aging.
Let’s be honest, the best part about the holidays is all the delicious treats. That said, Dr. Jaliman warns against indulging too much on sugary desserts, which leads to glycation.
“Glycation is when sugar binds to other molecules in your body, such as protein and lipids,” says New York–based dermatologist Dr. Whitney Bowe. “These sugar by-products do two things. First, they stop your cells from functioning properly, and then they create free radicals, which can further damage your cells. As a result, the molecules in your skin that keep your complexion looking tight and young—namely, collagen and elastin—are no longer able to do their jobs. Furthermore, you become more vulnerable to environmental stressors such as UV light, pollution and cigarette smoke.”
Holiday Skin Care Tip #2: If you’re having a hard time controlling your sweet tooth this holiday season, opt for something that will satisfy your cravings, yet provide your skin with beneficial nutrients. Our holiday go-to? Berries. Chock-full of powerful antioxidants, berries can help protect your complexion from aging, environmental aggressors and more.
3. Alcoholic drinks produce free radicals that damage skin.
In addition to sugary treats, the effects of alcohol from your holiday drinks on the skin can also be substantial.
“Flushing is due to accumulation of acetaldehyde (what alcohol gets broken down to) in the blood. Acetaldehyde is thought to cause flushing by stimulating release of histamine,” explains board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD. “Acetaldehyde [also] produces reactive free radicals and damages DNA. This leads to the breakdown of collagen fibers, skin inflammation, skin hyperpigmentation and can cause wrinkles.”
Holiday Skin Care Tip #2: Instead of a booze-filled holiday drink, try a wine spritzer with sparkling water and a splash of red wine. Red wine spritzers are a great way to satisfy a craving without overdoing it. Not to mention: Red wine is full of antioxidants and a splash of it can actually be great for your skin!
4. Piling on makeup—and not removing it before bed—can clog your pores.
While upping your makeup game for your back-to-back holiday soirees won’t necessarily cause breakouts, forgetting to remove it before you hit the sack can clog your pores and make your skin a breeding ground for bacteria. “People come home late from parties and they forget to take their makeup off,” says Dr. Jaliman. “This leaves [the] skin bumpy and prone to breakouts,” she adds.
Holiday Skin Care Tip #4: While thoroughly washing your face before bed is one of the best ways to avoid breakouts, sometimes there are just not enough hours in a day. For days when you just can’t, keep a package of makeup remover wipes by your bedside table.
5. Stress compromises your skin’s natural barrier.
The holidays are a stressful time—and stress can have a tremendous impact on the skin. From breakouts to excess oil, the side effects of stress on the skin can seem endless.
“Distress increases cortisol release, which can thicken hair follicle cells and increase oil product in the skin, leading to stress-induced skin breakouts or acne,” explains Heather Hickman, senior director of education for Dermalogica and the International Dermal Institute. “Chronic negative stress can also disrupt the skin’s natural barrier, which prevents harmful substances from penetrating and fluids from escaping. This can lead to irritated and dehydrated skin and makes lines and wrinkles more evident.”
Holiday Skin Care Tip #5: The best way to help your skin defend itself is by strengthening your skin’s natural barrier. As for stress, lucky for you, there are a few ways to de-stress and care for yourself around the holidays without going anywhere or spending a lot. One of our favorite ways to chill out? Take a relaxing bath with Calming Bath Salts. Formulated with Epsom salts, vanilla oil and ylang-ylang essential oil, these bath salts work to detox the body, balance the skin and relieve tension.
6. Hectic schedules disrupt your normal skin care routine.
Around the holidays, everyone’s busy. Because of that, our skin care can be put on the back burner—especially when it comes to those weekly treatments like masking and exfoliating. “People are busy and don’t exfoliate enough [around the holidays],” says Dr. Jaliman. “This leaves dead skin on the surface, [making it hard for] moisturizers [to] penetrate deep into the skin,” she adds. “Makeup doesn’t go on smoothly, so the skin looks rough and dull,” she explains.
Holiday Skin Care Tip #6: Want silky soft skin all season long, but don’t have the time for multiple treatments a week? Exfoliating masks, can work to slough off dead skin cells, rejuvenate the skin and leave your complexion feeling silky soft and ready for moisture.