Extraordinary Winter Skincare Tips for Dry Skin

Fact checked by Olga Sadouskaya, MD
Clinical Pharmacologist, Chief Medical Officer

Winter is a magical season. Just think of all the delicious comfort foods, uplifting celebrations, and outdoor fun!

But winter also has its downsides. Chapped hands, flaking skin on the face, cracked lips… Dry skin in winter is more common than you think! Fortunately, there are some simple and affordable ways to keep your skin silky and smooth.

How to tell whether your skin gets dry in winter

Most people’s skin naturally becomes drier as they age. However, it’s possible to have dry skin at any age, especially in winter. 

Some signs of dry skin include:

  • Redness
  • Flaking or scaling
  • A raw, rough texture
  • Itchiness
  • Cracks in the skin
  • A burning feeling

But why do so many people have dry skin in winter? The answer is simple: cold weather, wind, and low humidity take a toll on the outer layer of your skin. This layer (known as the epidermis) contains natural oils that prevent moisture from escaping. When it can no longer fulfill its function, skin becomes dry.

Dry skin under your eyes: What does it mean?

The skin around your eyes is very delicate, so it becomes dry easily. Developing dry skin under your eyes is usually a normal part of the aging process, but it can also be caused by environmental factors like sun damage or exposure to harsh wind.

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To protect the skin around your eyes, use gentle skincare products, avoid washing your face with hot water, and make sure to wear sunglasses with good protection from ultraviolet rays.

However, dry skin can also be a symptom of health conditions like blepharitis, psoriasis, or contact dermatitis. Ask your doctor for advice if the skin around your eyes is unusually dry or doesn’t get better with gentle skincare.

Dry skin vs. dehydrated skin: Is there a difference?

The terms “dry skin” and “dehydrated skin” are often used interchangeably. However, there’s a difference.

Dry skin is a skin type that doesn’t produce enough natural oils to maintain moisture. Patches of dry skin can also be a symptom of health conditions such as eczema (atopic dermatitis).

The term “dehydrated skin” refers to a temporary condition where the skin lacks water. Symptoms include itchiness, dullness, and more visible wrinkles, similar to dry skin.

The difference is that dry skin is a more or less permanent skin type, whereas dehydrated skin is a condition that goes away with a few lifestyle changes. Dehydration can affect all skin types, including oily skin.

Lifestyle tips to prevent winter skin dryness

Whether your skin is generally dry throughout the year or only becomes dry in the winter, you can minimize moisture loss with simple lifestyle changes.

Avoid dry air indoors

Indoor heating tends to make the air dry, and dry air can easily dry out your skin. If you have a humidifier, set it at around 60 percent. This is the ideal humidity to help your skin regain and maintain moisture.

If you don’t own a humidifier, you can increase air humidity by placing bowls of water around the room, hanging laundry out to dry, or decorating your home with houseplants.

Opt for short, lukewarm showers

While a long bath seems like the perfect way to spend a winter evening, spending too much time in hot water can damage the oily layer of your skin.

If you tend to have dry skin in winter, limit your showers and baths to 5–10 minutes and try to use lukewarm water. It might not feel as luxurious as soaking in a hot bath, but your skin will thank you afterward.

Adjust your laundry habits

Laundry detergents and fabric softeners can contribute to skin irritation, and it’s the last thing you want if your skin is already sensitive.

Consider avoiding fabric softeners and switching to mild, fragrance-free detergents (like the ones designed for washing baby clothes).

Try not to wash clothes by hand. If you absolutely need to do this, wear gloves so that your hands don’t touch hot water and detergent.

Leave that itchy scarf at home

If your skin is already dry, scratchy sweaters and itchy scarves can irritate it even further. While woolen garments are a must-have in many people’s wardrobes, not all kinds of wool are good for sensitive skin.

Avoid wearing fabrics that make your skin itch and opt for softer materials instead. You can try different kinds of wool (like merino) or synthetic fibers (like acrylic).

Wear gloves

Dry, itchy skin on your hands can be prevented by wearing gloves in the following situations:

  • Going outside in cold or windy weather
  • Cleaning your home
  • Washing dishes
  • Touching any potentially irritating chemicals

Remember that it’s possible to be allergic to materials used in gloves, so don’t hesitate to try different types of fabrics.

Skincare for dry skin in winter

Do you have favorite skincare products that you use all year round? Many of us do; however, experts urge people to adjust their skincare routine as seasons change. Here are some winter skincare tips for the coldest time of the year.

Moisturize your skin each time you wash it

Soap and similar products designed for washing your skin don’t just wash away the dirt and grime. Along with extensive use of sanitizer during the COVID-19 era, these products can also disrupt your skin’s natural protective barrier, making it prone to dryness. 

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To help your skin regain and maintain moisture, use a moisturizing product every time you wash your skin. There are three main kinds of moisturizing ingredients:

  • Humectants
  • Occlusives
  • Emollients

Moisturizers usually contain a combination of these ingredients in different proportions, depending on the kind of skin they’re formulated for. For example, products aimed at people with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis tend to contain a higher proportion of emollients. Moisturizers for winter weather can be especially thick and heavy.

Some moisturizers can feel greasy, so you may prefer to use them overnight. Others have a light texture so that you can apply them every time you wash your face, body, or hands. Ask your dermatologist for recommendations if you’re not sure which products to use.

Use gentle exfoliating products

Exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells, making your skin feel smoother and softer. It also makes moisturizers more effective by helping them reach deeper layers of the skin.

However, scrubbing your skin with abrasive exfoliants several times a week can have the opposite effect and make it drier instead.

Experts recommend that people with sensitive skin only exfoliate once or twice per week. Avoid mechanical exfoliation and opt for products containing alpha-hydroxy acids instead. These are chemicals that make your skin shed dead cells naturally, without any rubbing or scratching involved.

Don’t forget sunscreen (yes, even in winter)

Too much sun exposure is known to harm your skin. Dryness and itching are some of the signs of sun damage, so you’ll want to protect your skin as much as possible.

The most practical way to do this is to use sunscreen, even on short, dreary winter days. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can pass through clouds, so your skin is exposed to UV rays even when the sky is overcast.

Another thing to remember is that snow is the most reflective natural surface on our planet.

It can reflect more than 90 percent of the sunlight that falls on it. So when you’re outside on a snowy day, you’re actually exposed to UV rays from all directions, not just from above.

While sunscreen doesn’t offer absolute protection from UV rays, it can prevent sun damage if used correctly. Don’t forget about your lips as well. Protect them by wearing lip balm with a high sun protection factor.

Key takeaways

Winter weather, indoor heating, and certain lifestyle habits (such as taking hot baths) can damage the protective outer layer of your skin and cause dryness. To prevent this, you can humidify indoor air, avoid hot water, protect your skin with gloves, apply sunscreen, and use skincare products formulated for dry skin.

July 25, 2022