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This Winter Skin Care Routine Will Leave You Glowing: Top Dermatologists’ Best Advice

Plus the "magic window" of time when it's best to apply your skin cream

When gearing up for winter, we swap out any warm weather-appropriate clothing and lightweight bedding in favor of sweaters, thick coats, flannel sheets and heavier duvets. But what also needs changing up for colder weather is our skin care routines. That’s because our skin is exposed to harsh climates and seasonal elements that leave us dealing with dryness, dullness and more. To help, we turned to top dermatologists for the best winter skin care routine so you can put your best face forward all season long.

Why a winter skin care routine is important

As opposed to the more humid spring and summer months, “in most areas of the country the winter months will bring cooler, dryer temperatures as well as some other triggering weather factors like wind and subzero temps,” says Deanne Mraz, MD, FAAD, dermatologist, President of Modern Dermatology in Westport, Connecticut and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital. “We also tend to spend more time indoors with the heat pumping — most heating systems pull moisture from the air and our skin, further drying us out.”

Another reason your skin is feeling parched this time of year? “Other factors such as hot showers can also disrupt the skin barrier leaving the skin susceptible to moisture loss and worsening dryness, irritation and sensitivity,” notes Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York and New Jersey and an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Cornell — New York Presbyterian Medical Center.

In other words, this time of year your skin is in need of way more moisture and hydration than the rest of the year and that means looking for skin care products that target these issues. As far as ingredients go for your winter skin care routine, this is a time when our skin needs more nourishing moisturizers and reparative ingredients like peptides, ceramides and lipids, says Dr. Mraz. “It is typically also a time when we pull back on retinols and chemical exfoliation.”

Dr. Garshick adds that it is “especially important to incorporate humectants such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, which help to draw moisture in, emollients, which work to soften and smooth the skin and occlusives, which help to lock moisture in by providing a protective barrier. There are also skin-soothing ingredients such as niacinamide and colloidal oatmeal as well as ingredients that work to help strengthen the skin barrier.”

Keep scrolling for the simple winter skin care routine steps and product recommendations that contain some of these ingredients so your skin will stay looking and feeling great.

Your best winter skin care routine: 5 easy steps

Winter skin care routine step 1: Use a gentle cleanser

Woman cleansing her face, which is one of the steps of a winter skin care routine
seb_ra/Getty

“It is important to use a cleanser that won’t strip the skin of its natural oils, especially in the winter months, so it won’t leave the skin feeling dry,” says Dr. Garshick. She advises opting for a gentle creamy or hydrating cleanser. For an affordable option, try Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser (Buy from Walmart, $8.86). It’s made with hydrating glycerin that removes dirt, oil and other impurities from skin without drying it out.

Step 2: Apply a thick moisturizer

“A thick cream or ointment can help to lock moisture in and prevent moisture loss while also helping to support the skin barrier, which can be especially important for dry, cracked or chapped skin in the winter months,” explains Dr. Garshick. One to try: Untoxicated Moisture Boost Hydrating Cream (Buy from Untoxicated, $24.95). This rich cream’s skin-strengthening ceramides and peptides and moisturizing hyaluronic acid keep the complexion hydrated and looking healthy.

Winter skin care routine step 3: Layer on sunscreen

During the daylight hours, “there is still a risk of UV exposure,” notes Dr. Garshick. Which is why “it is important to still wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.” One that fits the bill is EltaMD UV Daily Tinted Sunscreen SPF 40 (Buy from Amazon, $38). Besides SPF, it’s made with hydrating hyaluronic acid and antioxidant-rich vitamin E that also wards off sun damage. And it’s tinted so it works double-duty to conceal skin flaws, too.

Step 4: Swipe on a lip mask

Woman applying a lip mask, one of the winter skin care routine steps
izkes/Getty

Since lips lack oil glands to keep adequately hydrated, it’s best to use a hydrating lip mask daily, says Dr, Mraz. And one like Clean & Pure Berry Lip Mask (Buy from Clean & Pure, $9.99) contains moisturizing shea butter and castor oil to prevent chapped lips. Plus, this mask gives lips a pretty, sheer pink tint to also enhance the pout.

Winter skin care routine step 5: Slather on hand cream

Our hands are especially prone to dryness in the winter months. So Dr. Garshick recommends CeraVe Healing Ointment (Buy from Amazon, $8.94), which contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides to restore moisture. And for hands that need extra TLC, use an overnight treatment, like Paume Hand Hydration Mask (Buy from Paume, $38). This mask contains moisturizing squalane and glycerin that sink deeply into hands for softer, smoother skin come morning.

For more winter skin care routine tips and recommendations, watch the below YouTube video from dermatologist Andrea Suarez, MD.

3 lifestyle tweaks to add to a winter skin care routine

  1. Use a cool mist humidifier. Dr. Mraz suggests placing one in your bedroom, or any room you spend a lot of time in, as it will add moisture to the air and support your skin. “A humidifier does not replace topical skincare products, but can be used in addition to provide benefits for the skin,” notes Dr. Garshick. One we like: Pure Enrichment Cool Mist Humidifier (Buy from Amazon, $29.98).
  2. Up your water intake. Dr. Mraz says to hydrate with plenty of water. “It’s harder to do when you’re not hot and sweaty — aim to drink half your body weight in ounces of water daily.”
  3. Nosh on omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods. Dr. Mraz says to incorporate foods like wild caught salmon, walnuts, oysters and flaxseeds into your daily diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for skin health as they keep skin moisturized from the inside out. 

What to avoid adding to your winter skin care routine

1. Long, hot showers

As mentioned above, hot showers are drying to skin, especially during wintertime, notes Dr. Garshick. “Additionally, it is best to avoid long showers as prolonged exposure to water can be drying on the skin.” Instead, to keep skin hydrated, she suggests taking short, lukewarm showers only once a day. And “when getting out of the shower, it is best to gently pat skin dry, avoiding vigorously rubbing, and apply a thick layer of moisturizer to help lock in any moisture.” Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, the best time to slather on your skin cream is within “the magic 3 minute window” post-shower so it will absorb into skin better.

This YouTube video from the Mayo Clinic explains why:

2. Harsh soaps and scrubs

A bar of soap, which should be avoided for your winter skin care routine
Achim Sass/Getty

Many of the soaps we use to clean our hands and bodies can be very drying to skin. “This is because certain surfactants are known to dry out the skin as they strip the skin of its natural oils,” notes Dr. Garshick.

It’s also best to avoid abrasive scrubs as these can cause micro-tears in the skin and disrupt the skin barrier. “This can contribute to increased skin sensitivity and may lead to redness and irritation,” says Dr. Garshick. “Instead, opt for a gentle exfoliant, such as a polishing powder or a gentle chemical exfoliant.”

3. Fragrances in beauty products

If you have sensitive skin, avoid heavy fragrances especially during the winter months by opting for fragrance-free products. “When the skin is dry and the skin barrier is disrupted, it can be more susceptible to allergy and irritation from fragrances,” says Dr. Garshick.

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