Skincare Shifts for the Winter Season

By: Dr. Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, FAAD

As cold, dry winter temperatures roll in we don’t hesitate to refresh our wardrobes (hello, sweater weather) but oftentimes neglect to do the same for our skincare routine. Our skin responds to our environment – that includes the air around us as well as the lifestyle choices we make that can either support it or stress it out. I’ve summarized some of the information I most often share with my patients during the seasonal transition into winter weather.

Weather Woes

Cold temperatures aren’t the only culprit here! It is also the low humidity levels and use of indoor heating systems in our homes and offices that pull moisture away from the skin leaving it dry and dehydrated and in extreme cases cracked and bleeding.

Your Barrier is Your Bestie

A dry, dehydrated skin barrier (stratum corneum) resulting from cold, dry temperatures, can lead to a variety of subsequent skin issues. The skin barrier is the outermost layer of our skin cells held together by a lipid matrix of ceramides, cholesterols and fatty acids. The skin barrier’s job is to act as a protective barrier from environmental irritants, while also maintaining skin hydration. It’s the gatekeeper to the deeper structures of our skin and when it is compromised by harsh winter weather, we see an uptick of skin irritation and inflammation as well as associated skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.

Skincare Swaps

Overall, go gentler – make some simple swaps in your routine to support your skin during this challenging transition.

  • Cleanser: Skip the medicated, AHA cleansers and try something gentle like Alastin Gentle Cleanser or Cerave Hydrating Facial Cleanser.
  • Retinols: Pull back to every other night, or every two nights, until your skin has adjusted to its environment.
  • Exfoliants: Pack away your physical scrubs (ahem, apricot, walnut – anything with a physical particle in it) and try a chemical exfoliant with AHAs, BHAs and enzymes. 1-2x a week. Some of my favorites are Skinbetter AlphaRet Peel Pads and SkinCeuticals Glycolic Overnight.
  • Peptides and Lipids: Support your skin barrier with the lipids and peptides it needs to repair and function optimally. My favorites for the face are Alastin Restorative Skin Complex and SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore and for the body Necessaire Body Lotion with Niacinamide.
  • Lip Love: Don’t forget the lips, which tend to bear the brunt of the winter weather. The skin on our lips lacks sebaceous glands so they rely on drops of our saliva for moisture – and in cold temps, that saliva evaporates quickly! My favorite winter weather lip balm is Dr. Dan’s Cortibalm.
  • SPF Stays: Don’t skip your SPF during the winter – I recommend a mineral SPF with broad spectrum coverage of at least 30, ideally 50 or higher. Mineral SPFs sit on the skin’s surface physically shielding away the UV rays from the sun. If you’re hitting the slopes, be sure to reapply every 2 hours – snowy surfaces can reflect up to 90% of UV radiation! I love MD Solar Sciences BB Cream and Skinbetter’s Sunbetter Sheer SPF 70.

Lifestyle Lessons

Aside from skincare products there are some lifestyle changes that can help support your skin in the winter.

  • Short Showers: Keep showers to less than 10 mins and keep the temperature warm – not hot. Hot water is harsh on the skin microbiome and strip the oils on our skin’s surface, which we need to support the barrier.
  • Add Humidity: Set up a cool mist humidifier in your bedroom, home office, wherever you spend a lot of your time. This will help to add moisture back into the air and therefore your skin.
  • Drink Up: Drink a minimum of half your body weight in ounces of water per day

If you’re reading this and your skin is feeling the winter blues, don’t worry it happens to most people this time of year. These treatments and products are a great way to gently reset. Consider them a holiday gift to the skin you live in every day.