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Winter Skincare & How to Deal with Dry Skin

7 min
by Courtney Brooks
January 02, 2022

Admittedly, the weather has been weird all across the country. But winter is coming, eventually, in one form or another. And when that happens, nine times out of 10, your skin is going to feel drier. That’s because there’s less moisture in cold air. And when there’s less moisture in the atmosphere, that means there’s less moisture to be absorbed by skin.

Ergo, dry skin becomes common. And that has a cascade effect: The skin barrier of dry skin is weaker and more fragile than that of regular skin. As a result, it cracks more easily and also gets irritated quickly. Guess what those two reactions do? Yep, they release the small amount of moisture that was already inside of skin. And so begins a vicious cycle of dryness that—if left unchecked—will only get worse as the season progresses.

However, flaky, fragile skin doesn’t have to be your fate! With a few simple tweaks to your routine, and skincare specially formulated for dry skin you can have skin that’s as soft in winter as it is during summer. 

How to recognize dry skin

There’s a difference between run-of-the-mill dry skin and skin that’s suffering from a dermatologic condition, such as psoriasis or eczema. Although some of the advice is the same no matter what the issue (baths, showers, or hand washing in hot water is always a hard no, as is using ingredients that strip the skin barrier, such as detergent soaps), dry skin can easily be treated by you, while you may need an appointment with your dermatologist to assess whether you need to add a prescription topical in order to get full eczema or psoriasis clearance. The catch is that all these conditions can sorta look the same (flaky, red). Here are some key points:

Eczema and psoriasis are inflammatory conditions that often appear in areas like the elbows, knees, hands, feet, and scalp. Dry skin can really happen anywhere.

Dry skin can be itchy; eczema is really itchy. Psoriasis, on the other hand, often produces a burning sensation.

Eczema usually appears as red patches; psoriasis forms much larger areas of built-up cells. 

Call your derm: If extra moisturizer and some TLC don’t remedy the situation quickly, it’s probably more than simple dry skin.

How to treat dry skin

Successfully managing regular dryness is a combination of the right ingredients and making some behavioral changes. 

First, the ingredients:

Hyaluronic acid: Everyone’s favorite acid that’s not really an acid (it’s actually a glycosaminoglycan, which is a type of sugar), hyaluronic acid is a molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. In skincare, it’s used as a humectant. That means it draws moisture from the air and holds it on the skin’s surface. This also helps slow transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is when water evaporates from skin.

Oil: Unlike humectants, occlusive ingredients (such as oil) don’t draw any water from the air. Instead, they’re like a layer of cement that seals the area and prevents moisture from escaping the tissue. If you’re prone to clogged or congested skin, however, you may want to leave face oil as your option of last resort. (See: Occlusives seal skin shut like cement.)

Ceramides: Ceramides are a type of fatty acids known as lipids. In skincare, ceramides are considered emollients. They, too, help lock in moisture and also speed the rate of the skin barrier’s self-repair and reduce irritation.

Alpha hydroxy acids: Although their inclusion may seem like a trick, gentle alpha hydroxy acids can actually aid in reduction of dry skin because they whisk away dead surface cells, which allows your hydrating ingredients to penetrate deeper into skin. The key word here is gentle. Think acids that are well-tolerated by sensitive skin, such as Lactic or Mandelic. And don’t go overboard. Unless your chemical exfoliant is specifically formulated for daily use, two to three times a week is plenty of peeling.

Bakuchiol: This plant extract is much lauded for its ability to turbocharge cellular turnover and reduce the appearance of fine lines. But one of its lesser-known superpowers is the fact that Bakuchiol also strengthens the skin’s moisture barrier, leading to a decrease in TEWL.

Second, start some new habits:

We’ve already touched on the hot water and harsh ingredients (no and no). But there are a couple of things that you can add into your routine. One is a humidifier, which will pump moistened air into your room. While there’s nothing to say you can’t keep your humidifier running 24/7, most people run theirs at night, while they’re asleep. The key is to keep your machine near your face (as opposed to across the bedroom) and to clean it thoroughly at least once a week (otherwise, it will fill with mold and bacteria, which is just gross).

The second addition to your regimen is a moisturizer—one for face and one for body. That may seem obvious if you have dry skin, but sometimes those who are acne-prone take a firm pass on any facial product that even alludes to moisture or lotion. But seriously, your skin needs this. Oil-free versions abound like Dr. Dennis Gross’ Hyaluronic Marine™ Oil-Free Moisture Cushion and can give you the dose of hydration your dry complexion craves without clogging pores or triggering a breakout. 

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