Winter Skincare Tips, From Head to Toe
Get soft skin in winter
It's everyone's dream in the dead of winter: to have dewy skin that's immune to the effects of icy temps, whipping winds, and Sahara-like heating. Good luck with that, right?
"The air is frigid and dry outside, and any kind of indoor heat leaves it even more parched. Your skin's protective barrier cracks, making it less able to repair itself," says San Francisco dermatologist Katie Rodan, MD. "It becomes a vicious cycle unless you do something to prevent it—or treat it fast."
Here, just in time: a guide to protecting your most moisture-starved parts so you can stay soft and smooth all season long.
Smooth as you soothe
Extra-dry skin like on dry upper arms can trigger a flare-up of keratosis pilaris, that annoying rough skin, says New York dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD.
"Try a lotion with salicylic acid to exfoliate dead cells around your hair follicles and reduce the appearance of bumps." We like CeraVe Renewing SA Cream ($23; mass retailers).
Handle with care
To prevent chapping parched hands, embrace wipe-off, soap-free cleansers and alcohol-free hand sanitizers.
"They're less drying than washing repeatedly with soap and water," Dr. Rodan says. "It's the wet-dry, wet-dry that really sucks the moisture out of your skin."
When you do wash, choose a moisturizing soap-free cleanser or a hydrating antibacterial gel, then slather on lotion right away.
Anything that creates an occlusive barrier (i.e., traps moisture) on skin helps lotions and creams soak in. So slip on some cotton gloves over lotion to help moisturize parched hands.
"Even wearing them for an hour can really soften up your skin," says Miami dermatologist Alicia Barba, MD. Start with
Vaseline Intensive Rescue Healing Hand Cream ($4; mass retailers).
Just add honey
To soften stubborn dry patches on rough elbows and knees, opt for a rich, hydrating scrub. "I use a simple mix of honey and sugar," says Ford makeup artist Lisa Trunda. Studies show that humectant honey reduces inflammation, and sugar (applied topically) increases circulation in skin, says Miami dermatologist Jeremy Green, MD.
"This can be especially helpful in winter when blood flow is typically diverted from the skin to keep your core warm."
If your arms or legs look scaly, try a 12 percent lactic acid lotion like AmLactin Moisturizing Body Lotion ($15; drugstore.com).
"Cleopatra used to bathe in milk because of the lactic acid," Dr. Barba notes. "It's an incredibly effective moisturizer, and it also works as a powerful exfoliant, so those scales go away."
For arms, legs, and torso, start with a rich bath oil or moisturizing body cleanser, "something that leaves a creamy film on your skin," says Dr. Barba.
C. Booth Original Bath & Body Oil ($10; Ulta) with a mix of natural oils (olive, sesame, sunflower, evening primrose).
Follow with a generous slathering of lotion once you’ve toweled off.
"It'll brighten your skin, and your moisturizer can penetrate better if you don't have a 50-car pileup of dead cells," Dr. Rodan says.
Pick super-gentle exfoliators when using for chest and back like tiny, rounded polyethylene microbeads.
Also effective: the mineral salt in St. Ives Purify Exfoliating Body Wash ($3; mass retailers).
Treat feet at night
For roughed-up feed, before bed, "gently buff away calluses with a hydrating scrub or pumice stone, and apply a thick, buttery moisturizer while feet are still damp," Dr. Barba says. (If this doesn’t help, you may need an OTC or Rx cream containing glycolic acid or urea that exfoliates while it moisturizes.) Then wear socks overnight.
"If you do that religiously for a month, the changes will be magical."
A good bet: the heel-hugging
Keep showers short
"A long, hot bath or shower might seem tempting when you've been out in the cold, but it will strip your skin of moisture," Dr. Green says.
"If you like warmer showers—and who doesn't?—keep them to no more than 10 minutes, and not more than once a day."
Pick the right PJs
The softer your sheets and sleepwear, the better, but you needn't invest in silk. "Tightly woven natural fabrics like cotton or cotton flannel are best for patients with sensitive skin or eczema," says Dr. Zeichner.
Avoid blends of cotton and synthetic fibers, which might be irritating.