6 Dry Winter Skin Causes & 10 Ways to Remedy Them
If you find yourself feeling dry, itchy, flaky, and even scaly during the winter, you’re not alone. Every year, as we face the increased cold, wind, and dry winter weather common in many parts of the U.S., we likely start taking extra steps to moisturize. Yet it never seems like there’s enough to keep hands from cracking, legs from looking ashy, and faces from looking dull and gray. What, oh, what can be done about dry winter skin?
What Causes Dry Skin in Winter?
Why do we tend to experience more dry skin in winter? There are several potential causes, such as:
- Winter Weather: As both temperatures and humidity fall, it’s only natural to expect everything—including the skin—to begin to dry out.
- Home Heating: Once it’s cold, thermostats are dialed up, turning on central heating. For additional heat, many add in wood-burning stoves, fireplaces, or space heaters. While they do help keep a house cozy and warm, they can also reduce humidity.
- Water: Whether you’re warming up with a hot bath or shower or enjoying a warmer water swim for exercise and stress relief, water can dry out the skin. It’s even worse due to chlorinated water from pools or harsh soaps and detergents to keep you “clean.”
- Job Choice: People who often immerse their skin in water, such as nurses and hairstylists, tend to battle dry skin. Other professions find their skin is dried out due to ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Farmers, gardeners, landscapers, postal workers, mechanics, welders, construction workers, and roofers are all at greater risk for dry skin.
- Age: While anyone can develop dry skin at any age, it’s more likely to affect those who are over 40. In fact, 50% of more mature adults experience dry skin.
- Climate: Dry skin is also more severe for folks who live in cold, dry climates, such as Colorado and Wyoming and parts of Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona.
How to Remedy Dry Winter Skin
Yes, the regular recommendations like slathering on moisturizer can help, but there has to be more we can do to fight off dry skin in winter! Indeed, there is. Here are some steps to help remedy dry winter skin:
1. Keep Your Cool
I know… when you’re cold, a hot shower or bath sounds heavenly to thaw out and let your blood flow again. Unfortunately, that hot water is also hard on the skin as it removes the natural moisturizing oils. So, to help your skin lock in moisture, if you must go hot, keep the shower short—no more than five minutes. Better yet, wash off with some lukewarm water. And even then, keep your shower to ten minutes or less to avoid stripping away too much of the skin’s protective oily layer.
If you have access, you can use a sauna or steam room to instead thaw out and sweat out the toxins (without washing away oils) before rinsing off with a nice cool (or lukewarm) shower.
Then to stay cozy and warm, dress in layers with soft, breathable materials close to the skin, and add warmer, heavier layers on top.
2. Cleanse Without Cracking
Of course, before you can moisturize your skin, you need to ensure it’s clean. Unfortunately, many cleansers are made with harsh chemicals, soaps (especially those that are alkaline, deodorant, or perfumed), and other drying ingredients that can lead your skin to crack. During the winter, leave the standard soaps alone and search out hydrating skin cleansers instead as they’re gentler on the delicate barrier. Look for products that are creamy and made with glycerin or natural oils like apricot extract or almond, olive, or coconut oils or butters.
You may, however, need to choose a different product to keep your face clean as the rich creams for your body may lead to breakouts. Whatever you choose, avoid any with drying ingredients like alcohol, chemical fragrances, or other additives.
To dry off, gently pat down the skin with a soft towel. Vigorously rubbing or using a rough cloth can strip away the top layer of skin and the natural oils with it, leading to dry skin.
3. Buff It Out
No matter how many creams, lotions, or serums you invest in, if you don’t make time for some light exfoliation, dry winter skin will begin to build up, and your skin will begin to look dull and dried out. On the daily, you’ll want to use a gentle cleanser, but a couple of times a week (no more than three), swap that out for something that will remove the dead skin.
You can choose a chemical exfoliant like glycolic or lactic acid, or you can use a gentle scrub that mechanically scrubs away the dead skin. Even using a washcloth instead of your fingers can help exfoliate the skin—especially for those with very sensitive skin.
That said, if your skin is looking irritated, cracked, or raw, avoid any exfoliation until the skin has a chance to heal.
4. Schedule Your Skin Sessions
Yes, keep your hand cream in your purse or at your desk to use throughout the day. But there are also times when you can use your cream to make it more effective. When? Right after you step out of the shower or bath. To make it easier to remember when to schedule your full-body skincare, keep your moisturizer in the shower, so you can smooth it over damp skin.
Before bed, you will also want to give the delicate skin under your eyes some extra attention. Gently apply a cream or serum made specifically for this skin under and around the eyes and over the lids.
5. Seek Skin-Repairing Ingredients
Many of us look for the best smelling (or non-smelling) moisturizers we can find. But picking skincare products goes beyond the nose. Look for ingredients that have been found to actually help the skin heal and repair itself. Some skin-rejuvenating ingredients to look for in a quality anti-aging serum include:
- Vitamin C is any skincare product complete without vitamin C? This key nutrient is known for helping reduce the signs of aging from wrinkles to discoloration, and it promotes the appearance of firmer, healthier skin.
- Sodium hyaluronate is another common skincare ingredient known for hydrating and plumping the appearance of skin
- Squalane both hydrates the skin and helps the skin better absorb other moisturizing ingredients.
- Vitamin E is another key antioxidant that is well-known for supporting the appearance of radiant skin.
Other ingredients that may help attract moisture to the skin include ceramides, glycerin, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, and lecithin. Other ingredients that can help lock in water include silicone and lanolin. Finally, emollients like linoleic, linolenic, and lauric acids may smooth the skin by filling in spaces.
You’ll also want to avoid harsh chemicals that can dry out your skin or disrupt your system, including alcohols, parabens, phthalates, and sulfates. And while petroleum jelly and mineral oil have long been used in skincare, they are made from petroleum (as in the stuff we refine and use to fuel cars and lawnmowers) and are thus not recommended for the skin or the environment. More environmentally-friendly and potentially safer, more gentle options include shea butter, cocoa butter, mango butter, rosehip oil, and jojoba oil.
Finally, avoid fragrances. That doesn’t necessarily mean to use unscented formulas as these too can contain chemicals that are damaging to the skin. If you want a product that smells nice, look for products that use essential oils rather than chemical fragrances for scent.
6. Go for Deep Relief
If you use the same moisturizer year-round, now’s the time to stop. The products that work well enough during the rest of the year just can’t take the cold-weather changes. Now’s the time to pull out the big guns. In other words, look for creams rather than standard lotions or serums. You don’t have to stop using your favorite serum, though. Just double up with an extra layer.
In addition, if you focus your skincare routine to either morning or evening, now’s the time to pamper your skin morning and night.
7. Mask Off
When your skin is feeling intensely dry, you may need to take it up a notch beyond your rich night cream. How? Why not deeply indulge your skin with a sleep mask? By creating a permeable seal on top of the skin, the moisturizing ingredients underneath can better penetrate the skin.
Start by applying your favorite hydrating serum or oil first, and then coat with a think layer of the sleep mask. Then close your eyes and dream as your skin gets the deep care it deserves. While you’re at it, you can also slather some extra cream over your feet and calves and cover them with long socks. Then do the same for your hands with gloves.
8. Hydrate the Air Around You
While you’re getting your beauty sleep, you can set up your skin for greater success by keeping the room fairly cool (around 67 degrees F). Then add a humidifier to add moisture to the air—as dry air leads to dry winter skin.
9. Hydrate from the Inside Out
If your body is dehydrated, your skin may be the first to tell you. Of course, you’ll want to drink enough water (around 9 to 12 cups per day). But you’ll also want to avoid consuming too many diuretic drinks (like alcohol and caffeine-containing beverages), which can cause dehydration. Finally, you’ll also want to consume a diet that’s rich in antioxidants and healthy oils. This includes fatty fish, walnuts, olive oil, and avocadoes.
Other nutrients that can help support skin health include collagen, which can benefit skin elasticity and hydration as well as help strengthen the structure (including elastin and fibrillin) to help slow aging and reduce wrinkles.
10. Watch What You Wear
No matter how stylish that trendy wool sweater or scarf is, if it’s uncomfortable on the skin, it can irritate it and dry it out. The same goes for clothing that’s too tight. Choose loose, comfortable, natural fabrics instead to avoid physical irritation. And, choose gentle detergents for sensitive skin, so the clothes you do wear aren’t irritating your skin due to harsh chemicals and fragrances left in the fabric.
When you’re outside in the cold and wind, be sure to cover up your skin as much as possible. Wear warm gloves, a good jacket, and cover your face with a soft scarf or face mask. By limiting the dry air from touching your skin, you’ll help keep the moisture in for softer, smoother skin.
Just because the weather is cold and dry doesn’t mean you have to be. There are many steps you can take to protect your skin and look glowing and radiant.