The Major Mistake You're Making With Your Winter Skin-Care Routine

Photographed by Kate Anglestein.
It seems obvious enough that when the weather changes, so does our skin. Windchill, central heating, and other environmental factors have the ability to knock it out of whack — cue the onslaught of dry patches, tightness, and fine lines. These new concerns often mean the skin-care products we used religiously over the summer and into autumn might not quite cut it when it comes to delivering adequate moisture and hydration.
At this point, it's probably a good idea to switch things up, swapping lighter, gel-textured products for something a little more substantial in terms of ingredients and texture. But according to Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and author of The Skincare Bible: Your No-Nonsense Guide To Great Skin, many of us are making the mistake of overhauling our entire skin-care routine in one go — and this could be a recipe for disaster, especially if your skin is reactive.
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"Cold weather and central heating result in less humidity in the environment and more evaporation of water, otherwise known as increased transepidermal water loss from the skin surface, leading to dryness," Dr. Mahto explains, which is why it pays to invest in products that keep moisture under lock and key when the temperature drops. But whatever you do, don't introduce them all at the same time. "Making a large number of changes to your skin-care routine at once has the potential to disrupt your skin barrier, which can result in further dryness, irritation, sensitivity, and even eczema or dermatitis," she says. "Start with one product and gradually build it into your routine as tolerated before adding in extra steps or layers. This will minimize irritation and dryness."
So what should you look out for? Dr. Mahto explains that, when it comes to moisturizer, ingredients tend to fall into one of three categories: humectants, which retain moisture in the skin (like hyaluronic acid); emollients, which sit on the surface of the skin and prevent water from escaping; and occlusives, which form a protective layer over the skin to trap in much-needed moisture. "Some ingredients have more than one function," Dr. Mahto says. "For those with very dry or mature skin, using moisturizers high in occlusives and emollients, like glycerin, can be beneficial."
If your skin tends to feel particularly dry or tight, you're going to need more than just a new moisturizer. Dr. Mahto recommends adding a hyaluronic acid serum into the mix, applying a few drops while your skin is still damp after cleansing. She also says to be particularly careful when supplementing your skin-care routine with active ingredients like AHAs, retinoids, and antioxidant serums around this time of year, when skin is especially sensitized.
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But if you're dealing with acne and dryness at the same time, ditch the emollients and occlusives and stick to humectants instead, to keep skin clear and hydrated. "Those with acne-prone skin can benefit from humectant-containing moisturizers, such as hyaluronic acid, or the use of products with additional ingredients such as salicylic acid or niacinamide," Dr. Mahto says.
Just keep the same ingredients you use year-round in mind when you shake up your skin care for winter — there's no need to swap in a rich, heavy cream if that's not what works for you. And always remember the golden rule: Introducing thicker products into your routine gradually is the key to keeping breakouts at bay.
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