5 Must-Know Winter Skincare Tips, According to Dermatologists

Fast Facts

  • Winter conditions eliminate moisture from skin, often causing dryness, redness, and other uncomfortable sensations.
  • To keep your skin hydrated, prioritize moisturization through simple habits.
  • If irritation persists after two weeks of home remedies, it may be time to see a dermatologist.
woman applying lotion to hands after shower

Getty Images/Strauss/Curtis

Longer days, intense wind chill, snowstorms—wintertime brings annual certainties. With the changing weather comes physical factors to consider, perhaps most notably dry, flaky skin.

Freezing wind chills, low humidity levels, and dry indoor heat are all winter conditions that can leave your skin looking less hydrated and radiant than normal. These various seasonal characteristics eliminate moisture from your skin, which can cause dryness, redness, flakiness, itchiness, cracking, peeling, and bleeding to the face, hands, feet, legs, and other areas that are exposed.

“Dry air and wind strip the outer skin layer of oils needed to maintain healthy barrier function. As the skin loses hydration, microscopic cracks develop in the outer layer along with inflammation,” Joshua Zeichner, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and the director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told Health. 

The good news, Dr. Zeichner explained, is that making small changes to your skincare routine, as well as using the right products, may help soothe your skin, prevent irritation, and help with hydration. 

Here are some ways to combat dry and flaky skin during the winter months, according to dermatologists. 

Limit the Length of Your Showers and Dial Down the Temperature

Taking long, hot showers may feel comforting when it’s cold outside, but according to dermatologists, hot water can strip away your skin’s natural oils, causing the skin to dry out.

Instead, experts like Suzanne Friedler, MD, a board-certified fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology with expertise in medical and cosmetic dermatology recommends “keeping showers short, anywhere between five to 10 minutes.” 

People should also consider dialing down the temperature to warm or lukewarm water during their shower. “The water temperature should be what you would imagine a heated pool to feel like in the summertime,” Dr. Zeichner said.

Apply a Moisturizer Right After Washing 

Dr. Friedler told Health to prevent drying out the skin even more, apply a moisturizer such as a cream or an ointment immediately after getting out of the bath or shower, or after washing your hands. Doing so will help lock in any moisture while your skin is still damp and prevent moisture evaporation.

“As soon as you finish the shower, while you still have a little bit of moisture on your body, lock in that moisture with a cream or ointment,” she said.

It’s also important to use creams or ointments that contain hydrating and barrier-repairing ingredients like ceramide 3, squalene, and glycerin rather than lotions, Melanie Palm, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Art of Skin MD, told Health. That’s because not many lotions contain water content, a key component for sealing in moisture.

Moisture-Boosting Ingredients

Other ingredients that can help lock in moisture into your skin include:

  • Cocoa butter
  • Shea butter
  • Rosehip oil
  • Jojoba oil
  • Sunflower oil 
  • Safflower oil 
  • Petroleum jelly-based products like Vaseline 

Avoid Allergens and Irritants 

Dryness, itchiness, and mild eczema flare-ups can often be managed at home by avoiding irritants like certain soaps, perfumes, fabrics, and other scented products, Dr. Palm noted. Deodorant soaps and other products that are perfumed, scented, or contain alcohol can strip away natural oils from the skin and irritate it even further. 

Instead of using these kinds of products, Dr. Friedler recommends using gentle, fragrance-free moisturizers, soaps, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners. Vetting products to match these criteria can be as easy as habitually reading the ingredient label before adding something new to your cart.

In addition, steer clear of bath sponges, scrub brushes, wool, and other fabrics that can be abrasive and cause irritation to the skin. 

Drink Plenty of Water 

Another way to keep your skin hydrated and healthy is to make sure you are drinking “plenty of water” throughout the day, Dr. Palm said. Drinking an adequate amount of water daily not only hydrates the skin but is necessary for your overall health. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirm Dr. Palm’s advice, noting how water helps the body maintain a normal temperature, lubricates and cushions the joints, and helps get rid of waste. Increasing your hydration, especially if you’re an individual with a lower water intake, can make noticeable differences in your skin health.

Use a Humidifier 

Depending on where you live, you may want to use a humidifier. This is because when you live in cold places, the humidity in your environment drops with the temperature during the winter months. “When that happens, your skin tends to dry up as well,” Dr. Friedler said.

Using a humidifier can help add moisture back into the air during a season when many families crank up their indoor thermostats. This added moisture may prevent and relieve skin dryness, itchiness, and other skin irritation. Studies show that even a 30% change in humidity levels can affect skin properties.

When to See a Dermatologist 

If you are experiencing any skin sensitivity, you might consider using an anti-itch cream such as hydrocortisone or aloe vera, or an allergy medication like antihistamines to help soothe irritation, Dr. Palm said. 

However, if that doesn’t work and the at-home recommendations listed above do not improve your skin condition, especially after about two weeks, it may be time to consult with a board-certified dermatologist for proper diagnosis and treatment. 

“If your skin is not responding, don’t be afraid to take that step and see the dermatologist,” Dr. Friedler said. “Itchy and irritated skin can be a condition that has a profound effect on someone’s quality of life.”

Dr. Palm noted that depending on the severity of your skin condition, your dermatologist may prescribe topical and/or oral steroids in more serious cases to minimize skin inflammation. 

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  2. Engebretsen KA, Johansen JD, Kezic S, Linneberg A, Thyssen JP. The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016;30(2):223-249. doi:10.1111/jdv.13301

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Water and healthier drinks.

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