10 Hacks to Beat the Winter Skin Blues
Winter skin is coming (or for many, already here), which means itchiness and dry patches. Why is that? Because winter air with its low temps and lower humidity is literally sucking your moisture barrier dry. How can you make it stop? Try these hacks.
Winter itch isn’t the seasonal reversal of spring fever where you’re itching for more winter. It’s an actual itch with a reputation for flaring up during cold spells. When temps drop, humidity (a.k.a. water vapor content) tanks with it. Winter air literally sucks your skin’s natural moisture barrier dry leading to itchiness, flakey patches, ashy appearance and, in more severe cases sensitivity and inflammation. When your rosy glow goes south for the winter, you need more than a bomb moisturizer to restore it back to its former glow glory. You need all 10 of these skincare and life-care hacks.
You’re Not Using the Right Cleanser
Shelve the gel-based or foaming cleansers until it heats up
A creamy, hydrating cleanser is going to work harder for you during dehyrating winter months. Avoid soap-based cleansers and acids that can strip moisture and choose fragrance-free cleansers (which, to be fair, is an entirely misleading term). Still, fragrances — natural or artificial — can be particularly drying and/or irritating. Removing them from the equation can help set your skin up for success this winter.
You Should Keep Exfoliating
The clearer your skin, the deeper your moisturizer can go
Sounds counterintuitive, but regular exfoliation can help with dryness. Think about this: you have approximately 1.6 trillion skin cells. Of those, you lose 30-40 thousand every hour, close to a whopping million every day. If your skin is struggling with its daily cell-shedding chores due to winter operational slow-downs, not every one of those million are collecting as dust on your bookshelf...some are collecting as a dullness-inducing blockade on skin’s surface, making it harder for your moisturizer to reach the layers below.
When choosing a gentle exfoliator for winter, shy away from physical exfoliators that scrub away the dead skin cells and cause damage. Instead, opt for a mild chemical exfoliator like glycolic or lactic acid, which gently dissolves dead skin then wash it away, no scrubbing required.
Your Summer Moisturizer Isn’t Enough
Opt for oil-based to keep water from evaporating off the epidermis
HInt: a lot of oil-based moisturizers are labeled “night cream” because they’re thicker, heavier and take more time to really get settled in and release their skin-nurturing powers. When choosing a winter moisturizer, look for ceramides, a fatty acid essential to barrier function; humectants like glycerin that attract moisture; and non-clogging oils like avocado, almond and primrose — especially if your skin has a track record of unbalanced sebum production.
Your Timing Makes a Difference
Post-shower is the best time to moisturize
This goes for both face and body, but the absolute best time to slather on your moisturizer is butt-naked, fresh out of the shower or bath. Ok, butt naked is optional, but c’mon! Time is of the essence, here. Pat lightly with a towel (don’t rub), but make sure your skin is still somewhat damp when you apply — your moisturizer will spread more easily and penetrate more deeply.
Speaking of Showers, Yours is Too Hot
Extra heat makes dryness worse
I get it. It’s cold outside. You went for a run anyway (yay, you). You’re chilled to the bone when you get home. You deserve a hot, drawn-out Epson salt bath or steamy shower. If only your dry, itchy winter skin loved hot water as much as you do. Fact is, too much water, especially hot water, repels oil and causes our skin to shed its natural oils...which it definitely needs to stay hydrated during the winter. See how you fare with 10-minute showers or baths and lukewarm water until the weather turns.
Your Indoor Heat is Too High
Which means your indoor humidity is too low
Not only am I telling you to take colder showers, but I’m also imploring you to turn down your heat. If you’re thinking at this point that dry skin through the winter might be worth it, fair. But also note that dry winter skin can quickly become itchy, irritated and inflamed winter skin. So hear me out. Cranking the heater sucks humidity out of the air. As air becomes dryer, more moisture is sucked out of your skin (like when you’re on an airplane and walk on as a mermaid but leave as a mummy), not to mention your mucous membranes leading to chapped lips, nosebleeds and sore throats.
During the winter months, combat humidity-depleting heaters by 1) using them less or, if that’s totally not an option because it’s negative 1,000 degrees where you live (I get it, I’m from Montana), 2) add more plants. Kidding. Order a humidifier or two and keep them where you spend the most time, like right by your bed. Pump moisture back into your living space until you reach 40-50% humidity.
Your DIY Mask Game Needs...Yogurt?
Parfait before bed, anyone?
Of course, you can find sheet masks for just about anything these days to really soak your skin in fatty acid juices like apricot oil. But in a pinch, your pantry will do. Soothe winter skin with yogurt, a good source of lactic acid and a surprisingly effective exfoliator. Thanks to its anti-inflammatory vitamin E, yogurt can help calm skin that’s been irritated or inflamed by the low temps and humidity. Leave on for 10-20 minutes once a week before bed, then lick off. Kidding...unless your tongue actually reaches that far. Weird.
Your Food Habits Should Change, Too
Add more healthy fats to help maintain oil levels in the skin’s moisture barrier
Too few healthy fats leave your skin more vulnerable to dry spells and breakouts (you can read more about how food fights acne here) because insufficient lipids mean moisture evaporates from the skin more easily. Make omega 3-rich foods a central addition to your diet by adding flax, walnuts, safflower oil, avocados, salmon, halibut and other cold-water fish.
It goes without saying, but less alcohol and caffeine, more tea and water. Staying hydrated from the inside-out is important for your overall health, not just your skin’s, and winter sometimes catches us skimping on our daily dose because we don’t feel as thirsty. Until there’s a hot toddy or spiked cocoa in front of us.
Your Sunscreen is Still Your Skin’s Best Friend
Fact: Snow bounces 80% of the sun’s rays back on your face
That’s more than sand or surf (under 20%). Even that soft-focus winter light that gives your selfies their best no-filter life is packing serious sun damage. Especially if there’s snow on the ground or you spend lots of time at higher altitudes chasing freshly fallen powder. This is not the season to skimp on SPF, my friends.
Speaking of Beds, Beauty Sleep’s
And nothing beats cozy winter nights and feeling rested
When your sleeping, every cell in your body is renewing or repairing, including your skin’s. Why cut those valuable 8 hours short when it does so much good? On that note, I’m going to go slather on a yogurt mask, turn down the heat and get my humidifier whirring before I cuddle up with all ten pillows and wait out this winter bear style: asleep.