When the temperature plummets, it's necessary to bring out the skincare big guns. You might supplement your routine with ingredients like hydrating hyaluronic acid and repairing ceramides, or switch to a heavier moisturiser to cocoon dry, sensitive skin. But autumn and winter is also the best time to start using one unlikely skincare ingredient.
Whether you're a skincare obsessive or simply a cleanse-and-moisturise type of person, you've probably heard dermatologists extolling the virtues of vitamin A (aka retinol). By speeding up skin cell turnover, the powerful skin ingredient has the ability to unclog pores (lessening breakouts), fade hyperpigmentation and minimise the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol can make skin sensitive and flaky if overused but consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto makes a strong case for using it in the autumn and winter months.
"Winter is a good time of year to incorporate vitamin A products into your skincare routine as there is little ultraviolet radiation [or UV] around in northern Europe during this time," says Dr Mahto. The dermatologist explains that the risk of burning or experiencing pigmentation (which can be side effects of using retinol in the spring or summer, when UV is stronger) is actually relatively low if you live in the UK. At least there's one small advantage of freezing cold weather and darker afternoons...
Dr Mahto mentions that as skin tends to be drier in the winter months for many people, reducing the strength of some active agents like retinol might be beneficial. In other words, don't reach for the highest percentage. If you're dipping your toe into retinol skincare, Dr Mahto suggests starting at a low percentage and rates the SkinCeuticals range. Try the Retinol 0.3% Cream, £65, two or three nights a week. If you're on a budget, pick up the R29-approved Versed Press Restart Gentle Retinol Serum, £20, or Glossier's Universal Pro-Retinol, £30, which is thicker in texture and better suited to skin that's on the dry side in winter.
Once your skin starts to build up a tolerance to the ingredient, you could look at increasing the percentage. It also pays to wear SPF during the daytime while using retinol to protect those new skin cells against the environment and to invest in a nourishing lip balm. Dr Mahto likes Laneige Lip Sleeping Mask, £19.
While Dr Mahto loves using retinol in the colder months, there's one product she'd ditch from her own routine at this time. "I am personally not a big fan of face oils," she said. Skin tends to get a lot drier in the cold and you could risk doing more harm than good by slotting face oils into your skincare routine. "I think they risk blocking pores and the formation of small bumps under the skin known as comedones," which make skin appear bumpy and uneven in texture.
Face oils are especially a no-no if you're prone to spots although they may be beneficial for other skin types. "If one has dry, very dry or post-menopausal skin, then face oils could be an option," said Dr Mahto. She suggests looking out for ingredients such as vitamin E (highly moisturising and also an antioxidant, which protects skin against environmental factors like pollution), as well as oleic acid, almond and moringa. "These can help prevent water loss from the skin's surface," she said.
If your skin type is combination, oily or anything in between and you aren't keen on face oils, Dr Mahto suggests winter weather-proofing your skin further by adding a hyaluronic acid serum underneath your regular moisturiser. "This is also a handy trick in layering skincare to improve hydration levels and skin barrier quality," she concluded, especially if you're using retinol. Try this tip in the daytime, and use your chosen retinol at night.
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