How A Dermatologist Cares for Winter Skin

How A Dermatologist Cares for Winter Skin

Winter brings to mind holidays, snow-play, cozy fires, and family togetherness. It’s one of our favorite times of the year! Unfortunately, cold weather outdoors and heating indoors can wreak havoc on skin—most common are dry, itchy skin and rashes. We’re here to help you combat these changes by showing you a routine to help support a glowing, hydrated complexion. Here are some tips that can help your skin look and feel its best during the upcoming colder months. 

Hydration is the name of the game

During winter, cold air outdoors combined with indoor heat will lead to drier, more sensitive skin, and if moisture isn’t replaced regularly in the skin, many will develop itching. Look for cleansers that gently rinse off the day and add moisture back into the skin, rather than stripping it out. Swapping your light serums out for richer, soothing moisturizing products can help fight dryness and itching as well. Creams are better than lotions at providing hydration and protecting the skin; look for products that you squeeze from a tube or scoop from a tub rather than those that come from a pump, as thicker formulas pack in more moisture. Products containing ceramides and hyaluronic acid can help maintain that all-important skin barrier. Those with extremely dry skin might consider applying an ointment-based product, like petroleum jelly, 1-2 times a week at night to help seal in extra moisture and allow the skin to repair itself. 

And don’t forget the skin below your neck needs just as much care as your face. A moisturizing cleanser in the shower followed by immediate application of a gentle, bland cream to damp skin can help lock in moisture and keep the skin on your body well-hydrated.

Gentle products are key  

We recommend you look for gentle cleansers that don’t strip excess oil and disturb the skin barrier. Skin should ideally feel calm, hydrated, and plump after cleansing, so look for cleansers containing hyaluronic acid and consider those labeled creamy instead of foaming. It can be especially helpful to look for products formulated for extra-sensitive skin, such as those that are fragrance free, as dry, irritated skin may react to ingredients such as essential oils and strong scents. 

When it comes to treatment products like antioxidant serums, these can be layered under a moisturizer in the morning. With retinoids, you can keep them in your routine, but consider dropping the frequency of use to every 2-3 nights instead of nightly, to decrease the drying effect, and make sure to follow with a rich, moisturizing night cream. Remember that retinoids are not recommended for those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Don’t drink yourself dry

It’s not just your skincare routine that’s important to your health: staying well-hydrated is also key.  When at all the holiday parties, don’t forget that caffeine and alcohol are weak diuretics, and excess intake (especially if you’re not drinking enough water to balance things out) can lead to dehydration. Try to make sure you’re regularly drinking enough water and getting enough sleep, as both are important to help your skin repair itself. 

Helping your hands is important too  

Once you’ve settled on an effective, gentle routine for your face, don’t forget your hands. Frequent handwashing and all those extra dishes put your hands at extra-high risk for chapped, cracked skin. A thick moisturizing cream or ointment applied regularly can help prevent overdrying or calm irritated skin. Another tip is to always wear gloves when doing the dishes, as all that hot water and detergent may pull all the grease off your plates and your skin. If you’re finding your hands are past the dried-out stage and are cracked or itching and red, try applying ointment or cream and then wearing cotton gloves at night for a few nights. And as always, talk to your dermatologist if the above isn’t helping. 

Don’t forget sun protection! 

Even though the days may be short or cloudy, sun protection is still important and should be part of your daily morning routine year-round. Continue to use a sunscreen labeled SPF 30 or above, with broad-spectrum protection. You can look for a cream-based formulation, or apply moisturizer first, and then follow with sunscreen on top. Even winter clothing can help protect your skin from the sun - pair those cute gloves or hats with sunglasses to shield your skin when outside in the sun. These tips are especially important if you are out enjoying winter sports like skiing or ice-skating, as the bright, sparkling surfaces will reflect the sun’s rays onto your skin. 

Disclaimer: As with all our posts, this blog is meant to be for informational and educational purposes, and is not medical advice. When in doubt, please ask your physician.  

Teresa Fu, M.D.

Dr. Teresa Fu is a board certified dermatologist and mother of two. She graduated from Stanford Medical School and practices in the San Francisco Bay Area.