Five ways to keep your skin healthy during the wintertime. Photos by Francie Wilson.
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Seasonal Affective Disorder, exponentially more dangerous driving conditions and a bone-chilling cold are staples during the winter year after year. Another common complaint during the winter season is dry, flaky skin ― as if everything else wasn’t enough! While dry skin can occur at any time of the year, winter’s low humidity and harsh winds exacerbate skin dryness. If you happen to be a human cursed with skin, here are five tips to keep the skin happy, healthy and hopefully hydrated.
A small disclaimer first: technically speaking, “dry skin” and “dehydrated skin” are not the same thing. The former implies a genetic lack of oil, while the latter implies a conditional lack of water. However, because they are both associated with winter weather and flakiness, they will be used interchangeably for our purposes today, but it is something to be aware of!
1) Avoid over-cleansing
While cleanser is generally an essential part of any basic skincare regimen, those prone to dry skin should be wary of overcleansing. Using cleanser too often can strip the skin of its natural oils and worsen water loss. Enter: quintessential winter skin.
Sarah Blade, a sophomore biology and classics double major and owner of dry skin, only uses face cleanser once a day ― just during her nighttime routine ― for this very reason.
“I just wash my face with water in the morning,” Blade said. “Using a cleanser twice a day is too stripping for me.”
2) Layer multiple moisturizing skincare products
Cleanser and even water are necessary for removing sweat, dead skin cells and under-mask grime, but they can damage the skin barrier and natural hydration. Ergo, piling on multiple moisturizing products is the name of the game.
Rather than thinner lotions or gels, opt for thick, rich creams during the winter like the Elf Cosmetics Holy Hydration Face Cream. Those with year-round dry skin should look for moisturizers with oil/lipids in the ingredients such as argan oil, squalane or jojoba oil such as the Versed Skin Soak Rich Moisture Cream. To really lock in the moisture, use a face oil such as the Elf Cosmetics Nourishing Facial Oil as the very last step. However, avoid using a dedicated face oil in the morning, as it can wear sunscreen away.
For additional hydration, layer hydrating serums after cleanser and before creams. Look for products that have evidence-proven hydrating ingredients ― arguably the most important of which are humectants like hyaluronic acid/sodium hyaluronate, aloe vera/aloe barbadensis leaf extract, glycerin and urea. Ceramides are also wonderful for the skin barrier.
Based on Blade’s personal experience, she recommends the Cosrx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence, the Krave Beauty Great Barrier Relief, a thicker serum and the Paula’s Choice Hydrating Treatment Mask, her nightly moisturizer. As a general rule for layering skincare products, start with thinner, more water-based products and end with the thickest, oil-based products.
A very important note: be sure to apply any hydrating products ― especially anything with humectants ― as soon as possible after washing your face, as the skin best retains moisture while it is still damp.
3) Use chemical exfoliation ― but not too much!
Chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid, glycolic acid and lactic acid “unglue” dead skin cells, which is a gentler way of getting rid of flakes than using a harsh physical scrub. The Pixi Glow Tonic is a popular product for chemical exfoliation. Many products marketed for acne also contain chemical exfoliants. Look for items labeled with AHA or ”alpha hydroxy acid,” BHA ”beta hydroxy acid” or any of the aforementioned acids.
However, too much chemical exfoliation can damage the skin barrier and cause more peeling and flaking. To ensure you won’t have any adverse reactions, start out using an exfoliator occasionally ― perhaps just once a week ― before using it more frequently ― such as every night. Make sure to listen to your skin if it’s feeling tight or irritated!
4) Yes, you still need sunscreen in the winter
It is a common misconception that sunscreen is not necessary during the winter season. For those using chemical exfoliants, those active ingredients can cause the skin to become more photosensitive, i.e. more likely to react from sun exposure. In addition, loss of moisture is actually a symptom of sun damage.
Lastly, and most importantly, ultraviolet radiation still persists during the winter. In fact, snow and ice reflect UV rays, increasing everybody’s risk for sunburn and ultimately skin cancer. Dry winter skin can be unfortunate, but melanoma is definitely worse!
5) Be gentle, be consistent and be forgiving
Don’t overload your skin with new products! Everybody is unique; therefore, everybody’s skin will react differently, even to the same exact products. Make sure to patch test any new products, and be wary of ingredients that may irritate your skin, especially if you know you have sensitive skin.
Blade has both dry and sensitive skin, and she finds that products with fragrance or essential oils irritate her skin, worsening her dryness.
“Whenever I use something with a lot of fragrance, it just negates whatever the effect is [supposed to be],” Blade said. “If something’s supposed to hydrate me, and it has fragrance, I might break out, or I might get more dry, but [the product] won’t do anything for me.”
Additionally, consistency is essential in your routine. The importance of moisturizing every single day cannot be stressed enough! Especially for skincare beginners, going from no skincare routine at all to a simple routine of cleansing, moisturizing and sunscreening religiously every day can make an incredible difference in the state of one’s skin.
Consistency is still important even for skincare veterans like Blade. She observes an immediate negative change in her skin after skipping her skincare routine just a single morning.
“Never skip skincare,” Blade said. “[My skin] always gets worse if I’m running late, and I decide not to wash my face and put on new skin care or something like that. So don’t skip anything.”
Lastly, be forgiving about your tragic status as a person made of simple skin and flesh. We all have skin, and we all shed a lot of it ― about a million cells per day, to be precise.
This is all to say that losing skin flakes is a natural and necessary part of being a living, breathing human. It can be annoying, but whether you happen to send off into the ether a few more or a few less skin flakes has no inherent weight on who you are. Everyone is made of brains and bones and meat, and life is meaningless; your dry skin doesn’t matter too much in the whole breadth of the universe.
Winter will eventually pass, and you will survive.