A scratchy wool sweater may make your skin itchy and sensitive during the cold months, but winter weather itself poses a special threat to your skin. There’s little humidity in the air and revving up the heat indoors makes it even worse. The result: Dry skin in need of moisture, says Francesca Fusco, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and a spokeswoman for the Skin Cancer Foundation.
When you have dry, sensitive skin, it itches, appears dull, and may be flaky. Darker skin tones may look ashy, Dr. Fusco says. Dry skin can become cracked and even split. In an extreme case, dry skin can look thickened and leathery, she says.
Before you decide to relocate to a warmer, more humid climate, take these steps to sea in the moisture and repair winter skin.
Your Moisturizer: Go From Thin to Thick
While you might only need a thin lotion on your body during summer months, Fusco suggests switching to a thicker skin moisturizer, such as an ointment or cream, in the winter. Apply it when your skin is still damp from a shower.
An ointment such as petroleum jelly is the thickest skin moisturizer you can buy and will work well for treating dry skin, Fusco says. Although it can be greasy, if you put it on when your skin is damp, the greasiness will go away. “But don’t put it on the bottom of your feet because you could slip and fall,” Fusco cautions.
Creams are also thicker than lotion and are great for winter skin. If your skin is very, very dry, you may want to try one that contains alpha hydroxy acid, or AHA, to exfoliate dead skin, Fusco says.
Winter Complexion Protection
Be sure to use a separate moisturizer specifically designed for your face, Fusco says. The skin on your face is thinner and more sensitive, so always choose a moisturizer that’s labeled “non-comedogenic” because it won’t clog your pores or lead to pimples. If you have sensitive skin, it’s a good idea to look for a hypoallergenic moisturizer, adds Fusco.
Go with a lighter moisturizer such as a lotion if you have oily skin and a heavier formula if you have dry skin. If you have a combination of oily and dry skin on your face, use a lighter lotion overall and dab the areas of dry skin with the thicker cream, Fusco says.
The sun’s damaging rays can still reach your skin in the winter. Fusco recommends using a face moisturizer with an SPF, or sun protection factor. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests using a sunscreen all year round, with an SPF of 30 or higher that protects against ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays.
Switch Up Your Shower Strategy
It may be hard to resist a long soak in a hot bath when it’s cold outside, but it doesn’t do your skin any favors. “Sitting in hot baths has a drying effect on the skin,” Fusco says. A better idea: Take a short, warm shower.
Keep showers under 10 minutes and apply your skin moisturizer within three minutes of stepping out. Also, avoid soaps with deodorants, fragrance, or alcohol because they can strip your skin of its natural oils.
Other Ways to Add Moisture
Using a humidifier in your home will help put moisture back into the air and keep your skin from getting dry, Fusco says. No humidifier? Fill a bowl with water and put it near the source of your heat, suggests Fusco.
Getting good-for-you fats into your diet from unsaturated sources like oils and nuts will also help skin look healthy and stay supple during the winter, Fusco says. Drinking plenty of water helps to moisturize your skin from the inside out.
Winter doesn’t have to mean itchy, flaky dry skin. Choosing the right skin moisturizer and taking some simple steps can help you look your best all season long.