We’re deep into winter now, and your velvet-coated midnight manicure might look divine, you’ve found the perfect shade of lipstick, and you’ve found the best outfit to ring in the new year. But, with the season comes unpredictability, and when your skin is behaving all kinds of crazy, it can really interfere with a night out — or, let’s be honest, general confidence levels. How is it possible that skin feels dry and parched while looking greasy and flakey at the same time? Welcome to the woes of winter skin. All this activity is actually quite the norm at this time of the year, so click through to find out why you're skin is misbehaving — plus, exactly how to fix it.
Winter and our own cold-weather habits can create havoc on our skin’s protective lipid barrier. If you strip away the sticky stuff between cells, important moisture within leaks out (what we call TEWL in the biz, or transepidermal water loss) and the annoying irritants get in, making your skin dry, flakey, and way more sensitive. Everything from wind, sun, intense cold, alternating temperatures, low humidity, heat, alcohol, and hot soaks in the hot tub can strip away the good stuff from your skin.
To add insult to injury, areas of skin with no hair (like your lips and palms) also lack oil , or sebum, making these zones extra vulnerable to the elements especially when you factor in the frequent hand washing and copious amounts of germ-fighting antibacterial gel. The silver lining to this is that you don’t have hairy lips or palms, but painfully-dry skin isn't much of a runner-up prize.
The oily but dry dilemma
You have oily skin, so how can you be breaking out if all this "dryness” is happening? Shouldn’t your pimples be drying up and looking better? You’d think that would be the case, but the skin can detect when the surface is dehydrated and lacking in moisture, and because it’s like a Libra, it has to balance everything out. Regrettably, it can’t make more water or cell lipids, so it does what it can to fix the issue and, in this case, turns up the oil production. Increased oil production in an acne-prone skin that already has more dead cells than normal skin types makes for more pore-clogging, which leads to a higher risk of breakouts.
Step away from the rich stuff
What do you do when your skin feels tight and dry? You reach for that jar of luxe caviar cream that you paid way too much for. You can’t possibly use it in warmer months since it’s too heavy and greasy, right? So, you slap it on liberally, which is unfortunately like throwing fuel on the fire. You need water, you don’t need fats or wax, and you definitely don’t need occlusive or comedogenic ingredients like lanolin (sheep wool fat, yum!), mineral oil, or any petroleum by-product for that matter. Why? Because these coat the skin, it can’t expel its waste, leading to bumps and congestion trapped under the skin. They can also irritate your follicles and exacerbate the clogging issue, so if your skin is also feeling sensitive and inflamed you need to say goodbye to products with artificial fragrance and color.
So, how can you combat your seasonal skin miseries and get your skin back to its normal glowing self? By following these nine skin-saving tips to ensure you make it safely through the chilliest season.
Oilier skin types need light layers of water-based hydrating products to cap in the moisture below and repair the barrier, not heavy products high in fat and oil content. Layer a hydrating booster under a medium-weight moisturizer, spritz your skin throughout the day, and use a hydrating masque two to three times a week. Think of your skin as thirsty and seek out ingredients like hylauronic acid — which attracts moisture — algae, and yucca.
Give yourself a hand.
Your hands are highly susceptible to winter itching and dryness, so apply an antioxidant-rich nourishing cream throughout the day after washing your hands. And, at night reapply cream, then cover with 100% cotton gloves, if you can stand it. Ditch the alcohol hand sanitizer and look for one with tea tree oil instead.
Ditch the foam and ban the bar.
High-foaming cleansers or bath and shower gels will increase dryness. Perfumed soaps and antibacterial bars even more so, since they strip lipids and leave a residue. Switch to creamier, non-foaming washes to replenish lipids and soothe sensitivity.
Lube up from top to toe.
After bathing or showering, applying body lotion to warm, damp, freshly cleansed skin to allow for greater product penetration. Add a few pumps of an aromatherapy massage oil to make your body lotion extra soothing and comforting.
A hot shower may be just the thing to take off the chill, but you’ll exasperate skin dryness. Take a tepid shower, and apply your moisturizer within two minutes of patting yourself dry.
Ease up on the exfoliation.
Aggressive scrubs can cause micro-lacerations to the skin, resulting in more water loss. Microfine powder exfoliants are safe for even sensitive skin, gently loosening and lifting dulling cell debris from the surface without causing irritation. After cleansing and microfoliating, blot and pat skin to dry — don’t rub. Winter calls for TLC.
Protect with plants.
Products containing bioactive moisturizing ingredients such as Shea Butter, Cocoa Seed Butter, Avocado Oil, Argan Oil, and Vitamin E deliver soothing and hydrating lipids and hydrators to skin, even in rugged Arctic conditions.
Get clued in on your cosmetics.
Screen your makeup to avoid irritating ingredients and avoid sparkly, frosted lipsticks which can draw out moisture, and opt for a nut butter-based lip balm instead.
Go easy with your stockings and wooly sweaters.
Nylons can trap dead skin cells next to the skin and increase dry winter skin itch. And, that cute lamb’s wool sweater might not be so great for your skin, either. Remember the lanolin thing? It coats wool, and if you have sensitive skin, you’ll be itchy and wildly uncomfortable.
So, there you have it! Some simple, straightforward education and tips on surviving winter’s wrath! Keep these in mind for your skin’s health so come spring, you’ll be ready for shorts and lighter layers in no time.
As Dermalogica's in-house skin care guru (oh, and their Director of Global Education), Annet King is an invaluable trove of beauty know-how. Luckily, she's letting us pick her brain on everything from hyperpigmentation to the best supplements for your visage. Prepare to get schooled.