Cold weather often leads to dry skin and irritation, both of which are more visible in darker skin tones. Here are eight dermatologist-approved tips to keep your skin hydrated and healthy this winter.
Pampering your skin is important year-round, but it’s even more vital during the winter months when skin is taking a beating from cold, dry air. When temperatures drop, most people find that their skin loses moisture, which can result in dry, itchy, irritated skin, says Nada Elbuluk, MD, an assistant professor in the dermatology department at New York University School of Medicine and a Skin of Color Society Board Member. But Dr. Elbuluk notes that people with darker skin should be especially cautious this time of year: Not only can irritation and dryness be more pronounced in skin of color, she explains, but those with with darker skin tones may also be more prone to certain seasonal conditions.
"Any scratching, inflammation, [and] irritation is more likely to lead to darkening of the skin, or what we call hyperpigmentation," Dr. Elbuluk tells Health. "In darker skin, we're even more cautious of that because that pigmentation can last for a long time."
We asked dermatologists who specialize in darker skin to share the simple tips that can help keep your skin healthy this winter. Here, eight important steps to pamper your skin all season long.
Take colder, shorter showers
After a cold day, who doesn't love a 30-minute shower in the hottest water you can stand? But Dr. Elbuluk recommends lukewarm showers instead: "The longer you expose your skin to hot water will further dry your skin out," she explains, adding that limiting yourself to a five- to 10-minute shower each day is ideal.
Moisturize right after you shower
Make it a daily habit to moisturize your entire body as soon as you get out of the bath or shower. "Right when you've towel-dried your skin and it's a little damp, you want to seal in all that moisture," Dr. Elbuluk says. "So that's when you want to use a cream sort of as a barrier to seal all of that in."
She suggests using creams that contain ceramides, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid because they're thicker than lotions and help restore your natural skin barrier. Dr. Elbuluk also tells her patients with darker skin to use thicker products on their really dry areas, like petroleum jelly or Vaseline products ($17; amazon.com).
Avoid excess exposure to extreme outdoor elements
Sledding and building a snowman are fun ways to spend winter days, but people with darker skin tones should beware of staying out in freezing temps for too long. "A lot of my patients go skiing and they come back with freezer burn, which is basically like a modified sunburn but it's from excess exposure to the wind," says Seemal R. Desai, MD, a Texas-based dermatologist and president of the Skin of Color Society. "My skin of color patients are more prone to getting post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation from that, so then we are dealing with an issue of discoloration and dyschromia."
Throw out your scented soaps
They may smell amazing, but scented soaps could be stripping your skin of its natural oils, says Dr. Elbuluk. "I tend to tell my patients to avoid antibacterial soaps, [since]a lot of those are very drying to the skin," she says. "Try to use mild, gentle, unscented products that will cleanse the skin without taking away all your natural oils." Our pick: Dove Unscented Sensitive Skin Bar ($12 for 16 bars; amazon.com).
Wear sunscreen every day
Yes, that means every day. "I recommend sunscreen year-round," says Dr. Elbuluk. "That's a really important thing that a lot of people don't realize, especially in the skin of color community—people think that they don't need it." Pay special attention to your face, which is usually the area of your body exposed to UV rays in colder months; opt for a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, such as Glossier Invisible Shield SPF 35 ($34; glossier.com).
Avoid irritable materials in your closet
If you’re prone to eczema, you should be especially mindful of the clothes you're wearing, since wool and thicker fabrics can be irritating on skin. "Once you start that itch cycle, you scratch, then you itch more and more," Dr. Elbuluk says. "You can ideally avoid that by avoiding irritants to the skin."
Dr. Desai recommends buying coats, gloves, and scarves that are as close to 100% cotton as possible, since synthetic blends and polyester can make your already-dry skin feel even worse.
Invest in an humidifier
We tend to blast the heat in our homes, offices, and cars to keep cozy, but hot air can further dry out skin. "Having a humidifier in your bedroom can help if you tend to have really dry skin," notes Dr. Elbuluk. "It will help restore some of the moisture to the air to counteract all that dry air from central heat." There are countless different models out there to choose from, but the Honeywell HCM350W Germ Free Cool Moisture Humidifier ($68; amazon.com) is our favorite; it uses UV light to kill microbes that might be lurking in the water tank.
Moisturize, even on oily days
Dr. Desai tells us that a common skincare misconception is that your skin isn’t oily in the winter. However, he finds that some of his patients with darker skin tones actually end up being more oily in December, January, and February than they are in summer.
The reason? "In wintertime, your skin will start to dry out based on climate and environmental changes, but one of the body's responses to that dryness is to make more oil," he explains. "Your body is trying to maintain a balance."
He suggests using oil-reducing cleansers and continuing to slather on moisturizer, even when you're feeling oily. "A lot of people say, 'Why am I going to put a moisturizer on my skin, that's just going to make me more oily’," he says. "The answer to that is that it’s not true, because moisture is not the same as oil; you still want to maintain the moisture level in the outer part of the skin."