Dermatologist Answers: Winter Skin Care Tips

Written by Donna Hart, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on December 20, 2021 No Comments

winter skin care

The cold, dry winter months often lead to chapped, itchy or painful skin. Making minor changes to your skin care routine can prevent discomfort and embarrassing redness or flakiness. Learn how to care for your skin during the winter months with these winter skin care tips.

How Winter Weather Affects the Skin

Exposure to cold air and wind, as well as hot baths and artificial heat, damages skin by drying it out. Flaking, peeling, cracking, redness, irritation and itching are all a result of skin that’s in need of moisture. Not only are these symptoms uncomfortable, they can negatively impact your appearance and trigger unwanted symptoms of chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

Common Winter Skin Conditions

During the winter months, the following conditions become more common, a result of exposure to dry air.

Cold Urticaria: This condition manifests as the development of hives or itchy welts, shortly after exposure to the cold. Some people experience a mild reaction, while for others, hives are accompanied by lightheadedness, low blood pressure or a burning sensation on the skin’s surface. Urticaria is more common in younger adults.

Xerosis: Also known as Winter Itch, Xerosis is a dry skin condition which causes skin to turn red or pink and flake off in patches, leaving painful raw areas.

Eczema: While skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema are chronic, cold, dry air makes winter-time flare-ups more common.

Chapped Lips: Cracking skin on the surface of the lips is a result of dryness, something we’re all more susceptible to in cold weather.

A Winning Winter Skin Care Routine

If you live in a cold, dry climate, modifying your skin care routine during the winter months can help protect your skin. Following the do’s and don’ts below can help you avoid an uncomfortable reaction to the cold.

Winter Skin Care Don’ts: 

  • Products With Alcohol: Use toner and astringent sparingly, if at all. These and other products that contain alcohol are too drying for skin when the weather’s dry too.
  • Chemical Peels: Avoid using chemical peels, which can strip skin of its natural oils and contribute to dryness.
  • Fragrance: Avoid products containing fragrances, which can be irritating to winter skin. Choose products labeled ‘fragrance-free’ vs ‘unscented’, which can be a scent of its own.
  • Face Masks: Avoid using clay-based masks which tend to pull moisture, not just impurities, away from the skin.

Winter Skin Care Do’s: 

  • Cleansers: Choose a gentle cream-based cleanser such as a cleansing milk or foaming cleanser for added hydration.
  • Exfoliation: Opt for manual (not chemical) exfoliation. Also, exfoliate less often (once every 10-14 days) to avoid over-drying or irritating the skin.
  • Moisturizer: Change to a thick, creamy moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid or ceramides, and use it often! Apply moisture to hands and face immediately after washing, while skin is still damp.
  • Sunscreen: Keep using your sunscreen daily. Even on cold, grey days, UV rays can be damaging, especially if reflected off the snow.

Winter Skin Care Tips

Bundle Up: Protecting your skin from exposure to air and wind can prevent winter skin conditions. Avoid itchy clothing such as wool, which can irritate skin. Instead, choose silk, synthetics, or a soft knitwear. Cover your face, neck and hands as well as your body.

Keep It Clean: Winter jackets, hats, scarves and gloves don’t typically get laundered as often as our other clothes. Keeping these items clean can prevent winter acne by keeping dirt and oils away from your face.

Take Short, Warm Showers: Long, hot showers dry your skin by further stripping away oils. Taking shorter, warm (not hot) showers lets skin maintain its natural moisture. In addition, using less soap can prevent dryness. Lather just the necessary areas. Follow these same tips for hand washing, too.

Keep Your Home Humid: Lowering the temperature on your thermostat versus turning up the heat, and setting up humidifiers throughout the house can keep your home from getting too dry.

Hydrate: When it’s cold, remembering to drink water can be difficult. But staying hydrated benefits your skin by keeping it moisturized from the inside out. Drinking warm decaf tea throughout the day is a good alternative to ice water.

Always Carry Lip Balm: Purchasing a lip balm for your car, your home, and your purse is an inexpensive and easy thing to do to avoid chapped lips during winter.

Making a few small changes to your daily skin care routine can help keep your skin moisturized and healthy during the cold weather months. Taking care to avoid preventable skin issues will pay off in the long-run too.

Donna Hart, MD

Donna Hart, MD, a medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatologist, completed her dermatology residency at the John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, where she served as chief resident. Dr. Hart is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, and Women’s Dermatologic Society.

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