The Norwegians have a saying: “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.” While the right parka and boots are keeping you warm and toasty, the cold, snow, and darkness can still wreak havoc on your skin. No matter how much fun you might have on the slopes or snowshoeing through the backcountry, there’s nothing fun about the windburned skin, cracked lips, and inexplicable acne breakouts that winter weather can bring.
Fortunately, just as the right outerwear can change your attitude toward winter, the right winter skincare routine can transform the way your skin reacts to the season. While winter brings some formidable forces to bear against the health and appearance of your skin, we’re here to help you win the fight. Along with researching the best products and techniques for nourishing your skin in winter, we consulted skincare experts Nina Zilka, co-founder and CEO of Alder New York, and Kerry Benjamin, the aesthetician behind StackedSkincare, to get their personal recommendations for winter skincare.
From Joshua Tree to Cape Cod to anywhere in between, all winter conditions share one climatic factor: dry air that literally sucks the moisture from your skin. Even those blessed with radiant skin will experience itchy, easily irritated skin at this time of year. If you already deal with dryness, the winter climate can mean flaky patches, scales, cracking, inflammation, and even eczema outbreaks. Add in the effects of constant radiant heat in every indoor environment, plus the breakdown of the skin’s natural moisture barrier due to too much time in the blissfully hot shower, and it’s no wonder that your skin resembles a thrift store baseball glove.
Enlarged Pores and Breakouts
If your skin tends to be oily, the dry climate will only exacerbate your oil production. Combine this with an increase in dead skin cells and you’re looking at serious risk of clogged pores, which not only appear more prominent but lead to issues like oily shine and acne.
Maybe it’s the effect of too many holiday parties. Maybe it’s a result of foregoing exercise in favor of a cozy evening with Netflix. Maybe it’s our primal brains trying to protect us from the starvation our pre-human ancestors faced during the lean winter months. Whatever the cause, winter tends to bring a lot more comfort food (and drink, too) into our lives. With a greater toxic load to deal with, and less exercise to help detoxify, your skin ends up looking pretty pasty.
Even if you use a humidifier religiously, winter’s decrease in humidity has a deflating effect on your complexion. Just a little less moisture in your skin can take all the “tone” out of your face, leaving you with sagging eyes, marionette lines, more visible crow’s feet, and — are those jowls forming? The horror!
Dark Circles Under Eyes
During the colder months, the body is depleted of vitamins D and K (which are absorbed through the skin from sunlight). Among other things, this vitamin depletion leaves the skin paler, which makes dark circles under the eyes much more prominent. According to some skincare experts, winter makes most people appear to age by about five years.
A quick and precipitous change in temperature will break not only glass but also some of the veins in your face. Going from raging hot to ice-cold, or vice versa, can actually cause the veins in your face to burst (thanks to contracting or expanding too rapidly), leaving your skin with deep red patches or spidery lines.
Ever wonder why your lips seem to turn to sandpaper as soon as frosty winds blow? Kerry Benjamin has the answer: “Your lips don’t have oil glands, which means little to no protection against the elements. While it may seem like the quickest solution, try not to lick your lips when they start feeling tender. Saliva evaporates quickly and promotes dryness.”
Now that you know how winter weather can affect your skin, it’s time to reach out for targeted support. Here are our favorite solutions to winter skincare issues.
The increased sensitivity of skin in winter makes it extra important to steer clear of shady ingredients in your skincare. Plant-based products are your best bet — they are gentle on the complexion and contain a wide spectrum of vitamins and antioxidants that will boost your skin’s native ability to protect itself against the harsh elements. Healthy skin is beautiful skin. Rather than exhaust yourself with reading one label after another, just look for a skincare line that is certified vegan. (The symbol on the package makes it easy to spot.)
Many all-purpose cleansers contain ingredients that strip a lot of moisture from your skin. Consequently, a cleanser that might work fine during spring and summer is much too harsh for moisture-deprived winter skin. Kerry Benjamin recommends switching to a gentle, non-stripping cleanser that can prevent irritation before it begins.
- With sea botanicals and low-dose glycolic acid, this cleanser glides on like a serum.
- This gentle cleanser uses allantoin, a plant-based hydrator, to help the skin retain essential moisture.
It’s understandable that you’d be hesitant to exfoliate skin that’s already dry and irritated. However, getting rid of dead skin cells is imperative if you want to avoid breakouts, rashes, and uneven skin tone. The key is what kind of exfoliant you use. Swap out your “beady” cleanser or abrasive products like apricot kernel scrub, and opt for something gentler. Nina Zilka says, “Gentle exfoliating ingredients like glycolic acid and kaolin clay are great because they get rid of dry skin and dullness without stripping the skin of beneficial oils.”
Another option is using a facial peel twice per week to remove dead skin build-up. You can also take a cue from Japanese skincare practices and use a raw silk mitten to gently buff away the top layer of dead cells, revealing the touchably soft new cells underneath. No matter how you choose to exfoliate, removing that dry layer will allow your other skincare products to penetrate more effectively.
- The silk protein amino acids will gently and effortlessly remove dry cells and excess oil from the skin,
Has your skin been suffering from winter overindulgence? Make it up to yourself with a facial mask. Look for ingredients like charcoal or French green clay; these ingredients draw impurities out of your pores and wash them right down the drain. If you want a sensory treat, find a mask that contains fragrant essential oils like eucalyptus (for clearing the sinuses), lavender (for promoting sleep), or rose geranium (for boosting the mood).
Best face mask:
- This is a deep cleaning mud mask that refreshes and softens skin with activated charcoal, bentonite clay, willow and rosemary extracts, and sulfur mud.
If toner doesn’t normally feature in your skincare routine, it should during winter. The astringent ingredients in toner act as a form of microdermabrasion, ensuring that you remove every bit of grease and dead skin. Skip the toners that contain sulfates or alcohol; instead, choose a
- This toner combines glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids with adaptogenic mushrooms to boost hydration while firming and brightening skin. It’s like an instant facial.
Be Strategic with Ingredients
If you typically take a meat-and-potatoes approach to skincare, winter is definitely your cue to expand your knowledge of targeted ingredients. At the top of your list, says Nina Zilka, should be hyaluronic acid, “a great ingredient to combat dryness because it draws in moisture to the skin and keeps it there.” Other special ingredients to look out for are ceramics (a type of lipid that helps form the skin’s natural protective barrier), charcoal (binds to dirt and pulls it out of your pores), squalene (a super-hydrating oil that mimics your skin’s own moisture), and bakuchiol (a plant-based retinol alternative that firms the skin and reduces the appearance of fine lines).
- Caffeine perks up saggy under-eye skin while pine tree extract and phytic acid go to work smoothing skin and stimulating collagen restoration.
Max Out Your Moisturizer
In the summer, you can get away with minimal moisturizing. However, in the winter, says Nina Zilka, you’ll want to layer up with the moisturizers. Start with a serum for the deep repair of fine lines, add a moisturizer to nourish your epidermis, and top it off with a heavier skin oil to serve as a moisture barrier. Give your skin a double helping at night, when it has extra time to absorb, rest, and repair. And it goes without saying that you need to keep that kisser moisturized, as well — lather on the lip balm all day and night, especially after eating or drinking, and even before you go to bed.
- This serum spreads deliciously over clean skin with a nourishing blend of 27 wild-harvested active botanicals harvested from the Grand Teton mountain range. If it’s good enough for the mountaineers and cowboys of western Wyoming, it’s good enough for your skin.
- For intensive lip treatment, apply this softening lip serum to dissolve dry skin and add a protective veil of moisture.
While we’re talking about face oils, find one that offers a little extra shine and swipe it on your cheekbones, temples, and any other structural highlights of your face. The shine will give your face a dewy glow and give your complexion a subtle but striking lift.
Best face oil:
- This handmade blend of camellia seed, marula, and other plant oils is not only fortified with vitamin C and omegas 3, 6, and 9, but it’s also super silky and lingers with a soft luminescence on the skin. If a hangover has left your skin with a telltale waxy look, a splash of cold water on the face and a swipe of this magic oil will erase all evidence.
Create a Ritual
If all this extra skin love feels like a lot of work, make it more enjoyable by turning it into a ritual. While your bathroom is still all steamy from the shower, light a candle or a palo santo stick, turn on some mellow tunes, and use your skincare routine as a way to unwind from the day. Turn up the relaxation factor by using a nifty tool that massages muscles or stimulates pressure points in your face while you cleanse, tone, and moisturize.
Best skincare upgrades:
- Massage tense muscles and promote lymphatic drainage while relieving tension, reducing puffiness and promoting circulation — this tool does it all. We recommend using it after applying your final layer of evening moisturizer to help your face absorb the product.
- This aesthetician’s tool runs super-tiny needles over the surface of the skin, stimulating collagen production. The result is a more even texture, visibly lightened dark spots, and generally smoother, firmer skin.
A scarf is more than just a fashion accessory. It’s your best defense against the sudden temperature changes that cause blood vessels to burst. Before you head out into the cold, wind that thing around your nose and chin, turn up your collar, and pull your hat brim down low.
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