13 Instant Fixes For Every Winter Skin Issue

Unless you’re living in Miami, ‘tis the season when all your favorite moisturizers start to feel like they gave up. Your regular lip balm isn’t even touching the cracks in the corners of your mouth, your legs are ashy 15 minutes after you apply lotion, and your hands look like they belong to your grandmother.

Maybe you've got one friend who swears by her kid’s diaper rash cream, another who only buys vials of oil from the health food store, and another who invests in a vat of Vaseline and calls it a day. For those of you who want to soften your skin wisely and without superstition, we offer our definitive guide.

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A+D Ointment

What it's made of: Petrolatum (53.4%), Lanolin (15.5%), cold liver oil, light mineral oil, and microcrystalline wax

Best for: The combination of lanolin, a waterproof wax emitted by sheep’s sebaceous glands; and petrolatum, a semisolid ointment, “creates a serious barrier between the skin and outside factors, [like] moisture or wind,” says cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “This would be great for someone with really cracked, tight lips who spends time outdoors in the winter.”

Worst for: Because some of the ingredients are derived from an animal source, vegans and vegetarians may want to steer clear. And Long Island, NY, dermatologist Jeanette Graf, MD, does not recommend it for run-of-the-mill moisturizing, like on facial skin. It’s too thick and occlusive, meaning it doesn’t let oxygen in and could cause blemishes.

A+D Original Ointment, $10.39, available at Target.
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What it's made of: White petrolatum

Best for: Petroleum jelly creates a barrier that holds in moisture. We repeat: Petroleum doesn’t penetrate the skin and add moisture on its own. It just forms a layer that keeps additional moisture from seeping out.

Worst for: If you have naturally dry skin, petroleum jelly can actually prevent your body from resetting its barrier function, which can exacerbate further dryness.

Vaseline 100% Pure Petroleum Jelly, $4.27, available at Walmart.
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What it's made of: Petrolatum, mineral oil, ceresin, and glycerin

Best for: Because petroleum jelly is incredibly non-irritating, dermatologist Jeannette Graf, MD, likes Aquaphor “for everything healing, soothing, and hydrating — on the lips, legs, and even eyes.” The addition of mineral oil and glycerin make it less goopy than plain petroleum jelly, which means it’s particularly nice on the thin skin of the eyelids and around the nose.

Worst for: If you’ve got intertrigo, or rashy, irritated skin that’s caused by moisture retention — think the band of your sports bra or Lululemons — Aquaphor is probably not heavy-duty enough to keep the moisture away from your skin while it hydrates and heals.

Advanced Therapy Healing Ointment, $4.79, available at Drugstore.com.
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Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream

What it's made of: Petrolatum (56.8%), lanolin, mineral oil, castor oil, corn oil, and salicylic acid

Best for: Again, because the petrolatum here is cut with other, lighter moisturizers, it’s more versatile and less heavy duty. “The addition of salicylic acid means it can exfoliate away dead skin particles,” adds Wilson. Turn to it to soothe sunburned or wind-irritated skin.

Worst for: It’s not a thick formula, so it won’t protect against chafing or rubbing, and it doesn’t provide deep moisturization. Think of this as a soothing treatment, not a preventative one.

Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream Skin Protectant, $21, available at Nordstrom.
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Bag Balm

What it's made of: Petrolatum, lanolin, 8-Hydroxy quinoline sulfate (0.3%) (an antiseptic)

Best for: The ingredients in Bag Balm are pretty similar to A+D Ointment, with the addition of a mild antiseptic, meaning it’s ideal for lips, hands, or feet that have open cracks or fissures that might become infected.

Worst for: This stuff isn’t lightweight, meaning it’s probably not a good facial moisturizer — unless you’re a sherpa.

Bag Balm, $11.49, available at CVS.
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Hydrocortisone Cream

What it's made of: Hydrocortisone (1%), aloe vera leaf juice

Best for: Hydrocortisone is a steroid hormone used to calm inflammation and relieve itching. “Reach for hydrocortisone if you’ve got itchy, irritated skin from eczema or a minor allergic reaction,” says Dr. Graf.

Worst for: Hydrocortisone will not heal or soothe itching from fungal infections, like Athlete’s foot. It also could cause sensitivity on the lips or face, so only use it on thin skin if you have to. And don’t try it for burns, as it could just cause more irritation.

Aveeno 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream, $6.99, available at Walgreens.
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Raw Shea Butter

What it's made of: Pure, unrefined shea butter

Best for: Shea butter, or the neutral fat extracted from the nut of the African shea trea, is one of nature’s best moisturizers. It absorbs readily, has a mild scent, and doesn’t irritate sensitive skin.

Worst for: It doesn’t have any deep antiseptic properties, so don’t expect it to soothe major cuts, burns, or wounds.

Out Of Africa 100% Pure Raw Wild Crafted Shea Butter, $14.99, available at Drugstore.com.
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Coconut Oil

What it's made of: Expeller pressed extra virgin coconut oil

Best for: Ending world poverty. (Just kidding! But it can do a lot.) Coconut oil is an occlusive moisturizer, meaning it locks moisture into the skin. It’s great for making legs look shiny.

Worst for: It’s too heavy for anyone who has concerns about acne, and, because of its relatively low melting point, it’s liquid at body temperature, meaning it doesn’t readily stay put. Be mindful if you’re putting it on your feet (too slippery) or layering it under a silk blouse (too greasy).

Barlean's Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, $13.28, available at Swanson Vitamins.
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Aloe Vera Gel

What it's made of: Aloe vera

Best for: Studies have shown that the compounds in aloe vera, a succulent, can speed the healing of minor topical burns. “It’s the best thing after a sunburn,” says Graf.

Worst for: Aloe vera isn’t intended for really deep burns and it’s not an ideal full-body moisturizer, as the gel can feel sticky and filmy on top of the skin. In a pinch, you could try a dab on a zit, as the anti-inflammatory properties could be beneficial.

Fruit of the Earth Aloe Vera 100% Gel, $3.97, available at Walmart.
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What it's made of: Vaselinum album (petrolatum), calendula officinalis, phytolacca officinalis, bryonia (an anti-inflammtory)

Best for: The primary ingredient, Vaselium album, is — you guessed it — petrolatum, so again, it’s great for creating a barrier on the skin to protect and moisturize. The other ingredients are anti-inflammatories, so it’s excellent for soothing red or ruddy complexions, chalky hands, or ashy elbows.

Worst for: “Women think this cream does everything, but it’s not an SPF and it doesn’t contain any anti-aging ingredients,” says Graf.

Boiron Homeoplasmine, $16.50, available at Amazon.
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What it's made of: Lanolin

Best for: At room temperature, lanolin is hard, waxy, and nearly solid — which makes it great for big-time barrier protection (i.e., nipples for breastfeeding moms, blistered feet on ballerinas, knuckles on boxers). Even if you’re not in an extreme situation, a slick of the stuff on the back of a heel when breaking in new shoes isn’t a bad idea.

Worst for: “The smell is polarizing and it’s really sticky,” says Wilson, which makes it a no-go for many people. And, again, because of where it comes from, vegans and vegetarians may want to steer clear. Also, even after it's refined for cosmetic use, small traces of impurities and toxins may still remain, which can cause allergic reactions on extremely sensitive skin types.

Lansinoh HPA Lanolin for Breastfeeding Mothers, $8.56, available at Walmart.
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Lucas’ Pawpaw Ointment

What it's made of: Pharmaceutical grade petroleum jelly and wax, carica papaya, gum balsam peru (fragrance)

Best for: Another excellent petrolatum-based moisturizer, only this version contains papaya, which “may have an anti-inflammatory benefit to help with the healing of minor irritations,” says Wilson.

Worst for: If you’ve got sensitive skin, steer clear. The fruit and balsam are potential irritants, notes Graf.

Lucas' Pawpaw Ointment, $15.99, available at Ricky's NYC.
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Palmer’s Cocoa Butter

What it's made of: Theobroma cacao extract (fragrance), mineral oil, microcrystalline wax, theobroma cacao seed butter, dimethicone

Best for: Another mild fat, only this one is extracted from the cocoa bean. It’s solid at room temperature, which is why it’s often cut with other oils. It’s an excellent moisturizer for ultra-dry skin.

Worst for: It’s greasy and it smells like chocolate, so you might not want to slather it on your face.

Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula with Vitamin E, $3.89, available at Drugstore.com.
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