Dermatologist Tips: Preventing and Treating Winter Acne

Written by Emily Wood, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on November 3, 2022 No Comments

winter acne

The cold, dry nature of winter months has been known to make numerous chronic skin conditions worse. Winter has been known to cause eczema flare-ups, affect individuals with psoriasis and rosacea, and lead to excess dullness and dryness. One common skin issues the winter season affects is acne. Contrary to popular belief, winter acne can be more severe than summertime blemishes.

If you notice the severity of your acne worsens during colder months, continue reading to learn how you can minimize the affect winter has on your breakouts.

What is Winter Acne?

Winter acne is a name for acne breakouts that occur during the winter season. These breakouts can often be more severe and difficult to treat, primarily due to winter’s dryness.

The cold outdoor winter weather holds less moisture in the air, which draws moisture away from your skin. In addition, heaters keep indoor air just as dry. Hot showers, scarfs bundled around faces, comfort foods and holiday treats can all contribute to winter acne.

Dry, flaky skin also makes winter acne notoriously difficult to treat. Many go-to acne treatments contain skin drying agents, which only further irritates flaky skin.

Why Does Winter Acne Occur?

When the air is lacking in humidity, moisture is drawn from the skin. In response, the body produces excess sebum, a naturally occurring oily substance. Dry skin is also more prone to flaking, meaning more dead cells linger on the skin’s surface. In response to lack of moisture, skin can also become inflamed and more vulnerable to bacteria.

This trifecta of excess sebum, increased flakiness, and vulnerability to bacteria is a recipe for acne.

When excess sebum and dead skin cells get trapped in pores, bacteria often build up and breakouts soon follow. This leads to the formation of whiteheads, blackheads and even large, inflamed pimples.

What Parts of The Body Can Winter Acne Effect?

At any time of year, acne is most likely to appear on the face. Winter acne is especially common in the T-Zone, or the forehead, nose and chin, where oil-production is highest.

Winter acne can also occur anywhere on the body. Susceptible areas include the shoulders, back, and upper chest.

Who Is Most Vulnerable to Winter Acne?

If you’re already prone to breakouts, you’re more susceptible to winter acne, too. However, the change in weather means even those who don’t normally experience acne could see unexpected flare ups.

Those with naturally oily skin may produce more oil to combat winter’s dryness, while those with dry skin may struggle more with flaking and inflammation.

Exposure to excessive cold, abrupt changes in temperature, or a change in diet can all increase your risk of winter acne.

How to Prevent Winter Acne

Avoid Hot Water

It can be tempting to warm up in a hot shower or bath when you’re cold. But sudden changes in temperature and excessively hot water can be even more drying for skin. Keep showers and baths tepid to maintain skin’s natural moisture.


Moisturize your skin immediately after bathing or washing, especially in acne-prone areas. This helps seal in any moisture that’s lingering after your shower or face wash. Look for non-comedogenic moisturizers which prevent clogged pores. Moisturizers that contain humectants, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid attract and hold water. Avoid choosing the heaviest creams, and use multiple layers of lighter product instead.


Because skin tends to flake off due to winter dryness, regularly removing dead skin cells becomes even more important to prevent clogged pores. During the winter, exfoliate just once or twice weekly. Too much, and you could dry your skin, triggering more oil production. Always moisturize immediately after exfoliation. Chemical exfoliators such as glycolic or salicyclic acid are recommended over physical exfoliators as these are less likely to irritate the skin.

Keep Your Face Clean

Keep your face clean, but don’t overdo it. Washing your face twice daily is plenty to avoid too much dryness. If you’re wrapping yourself with scarves, heavy coats and hats, be sure these items are regularly washed, to avoid transferring dirt and bacteria to your face.

Avoid Touching Your Face

Picking at blemishes can cause even greater inflammation and may lead to infection, making acne worse. In addition, avoid every-day face touching, to keep bacteria away from your skin. During the winter, hands may be more prone to carrying germs, especially if you’re using heavy hand creams.

Mind Your Diet

Winter tends to be a time when we turn more towards heavy comfort foods. The winter holidays also encourage consumption of sugar and dairy, both of which can put you at greater risk for acne. Eating well during the winter months can have a big impact on your skin.

How To Treat Winter Acne

Dry air can make acne-fighting products less effective. Benzoyl peroxide, glycolic or salicylic acid and retinoids all tend to dry skin further, which can exacerbate dry skin. Sometimes decreasing use of these products to only a few times weekly instead of daily can help prevent dry, irritated skin. Treat your acne with the following tips:

Use Gentle Cleansers

While oil-reducing cleansers work great during the summer months, you might want to seek something gentler for your winter skincare routine. Avoid cleansers and skincare products with fragrance, colors, or harsh ingredients. Look for sensitive skin formulas, or cream cleansers that include hydrating ingredients.

Switch to Spot Treatment

Your go-to acne fighting products may be too drying to use daily on your entire face. Instead, save your retinoids and salicylic acid products for use as spot treatments. Apply them to affected areas only when needed.

If your year-round acne fighting protocol just isn’t working well during the winter months, it may be time to see a dermatologist. A professional can help you find products that maintain skin’s moisture while keeping you breakout free.

Emily Wood, MD

Emily Wood, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and fellowship-trained cosmetic dermatologic surgeon specializing in the practice of both cosmetic and medical dermatology. Dr. Wood is an expert in the use of lasers to improve a variety of medical and cosmetic conditions including acne, rosacea, scars, acne scars, birthmarks and wrinkles. She specializes in skin rejuvenation therapies, including neuromodulators (such as Botox and Dysport), fillers, liposuction, sclerotherapy, skin tightening, treatment of cellulite and rejuvenation of the aging chest, neck and hands.

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