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How to Handle Dry Skin in Winter and Other Seasonal Skin Issues

When the season changes, so should your skin-care routine. We’ve got tips to help you combat common complexion problems that come with the cold weather.
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Skin is parched and irritated 

Humidity drops significantly this time of year—thanks to frigid temps outside and dry heat inside—leaving your skin thirsty. Hope Mitchell, MD, a dermatologist and founder of Mitchell Dermatology in Perrysburg, Ohio, explains that dry skin can present in different ways, including the accentuation of wrinkles, redness, flaking, and even burning. 

Try This: "Not everyone has the same needs," says Elizabeth Harvey, lead aesthetician at skin-care brand Naturopathica. However, Harvey says, winter skin requires hydrating products to make up for moisture loss. Dr. Mitchell recommends avoiding foam cleansers and formulas containing sodium lauryl sulfate, which can leave skin feeling stripped and tight. Also, swap your light summer lotion for a rich moisturizing cream with ceramides, glycerin or petrolatum, says Shari Marchbein, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Take a layered approach: A serum-moisturizer combo, a.m. and p.m., is a great place to start. If you're dealing with flakes, exfoliate with a gentle polishing product, says Harvey. And keep these tips and ingredients in mind for skin below the neck, too.

You're experiencing dandruff flare-ups 

Weather changes make scalps flake, as does what you wear to stay warm. Winter hats trap moisture on your scalp and create an ideal environment for microorganisms such as malassezia (a fungus) and bacteria to thrive. And dandruff isn't just reserved for your scalp: You can also experience it on your eyebrows, cheeks, and chest, says Dr. Marchbein. 

Try This: Over-the-counter shampoos and treatments that contain ketoconazole or selenium sulfide can help with redness and flaking, but to manage the malassezia that's associated with dandruff, pyrithione zinc is a tried-and-true derm favorite. Also, launder your hats frequently, and limit the amount of time you wear one. 

You slacked on your SPF routine & got burned 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the risk of sunburn is still high in winter—ultraviolet light from the sun is intensified when it reflects off of snow (the threat of a ski goggle tan is real!). Even if there's no fresh powder on the ground, the sun can still harm you on cold, gray days. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) indicates that up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays can penetrate the skin even on cloudy days, leaving unprotected skin vulnerable.

Try This: Get used to applying sunscreen daily, especially on exposed skin. Dr. Marchbein recommends wearing a facial moisturizer with SPF 30+ every day. And don't forget the neck and ears! 

You're breaking out 

With drier skin, you'd think you'd have fewer breakouts, but sadly that's not the case. To compensate for lack of moisture, the skin ramps up sebum production, which can cause acne to worsen.

Try This: Skipping moisturizer or using harsh, zit-zapping ingredients like salicylic acid will only exacerbate dryness and contribute to the vicious cycle. Instead, opt for a combo of moisturizer and an OTC retinol. Dr. Marchbein instructs her patients to use retinoids sparingly, starting with just a few times a week. And use the "sandwich technique": Smooth on a layer of moistur-izer before and after a pea-size dot of retinol.

This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Health Magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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