How to Remedy Dry, Flaky Skin This Winter

Don’t let winter weather wreak havoc on your skin. (Photo: Jon Paterson)

If you’ve noticed an influx of irritating blemishes and flaky skin with the colder temperatures, you’ve been experiencing one of winter’s most unwelcome gifts. With the perfect storm of conditions, the coolest months are primetime for ultra-dry skin, explains Alisha Plotner, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Low humidity from the cold, dry air, as well as central heat can cause skin to lose its moisture,” she explains. “The wind and cold can also directly irritate the skin.” Eek. If you’re having trouble appropriately hydrating your skin or controlling a flaky complexion, here’s a full 360 on how to strengthen your moisturizing routine.

Exfoliate for your skin type
To buff away dead cells for a fresh glow, exfoliate regularly — just be careful if you have sensitive skin. “Oily skin types without dryness may be able to tolerate daily exfoliation with a motorized brush or chemical exfoliating wash or lotion, while drier sensitive skin types may not be able to tolerate regular or even occasional exfoliation,” says Plotner. If exfoliating irritates or exacerbates skin problems, cut back. Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, tells her patients with normal skin that once a week will usually suffice, suggesting a Clarisonic device for “deep cleansing” and a “noticeably smoother and more radiant” complexion over time.

Apply oil in the shower
Moisturizing oils are hot right now, and with good reason. “They penetrate deeply in the skin and hydrate beautifully without leaving a greasy feel,” says Engelman, insisting you smooth on at just the right moment for the best effect. “Apply it in the shower before drying in order to lock in moisture.” She suggests Bio Oil and Wild Rose Body Oil by Weleda.

Use a humectant to lock hydration
While oil is wonderful, it’s not a full pass for flawless moisture. “There is a common misconception that when you have dry skin, you should pile on oils — but the truth is that your skin is actually lacking water,” says Engelman. “Humectants help lock in moisture.” Cetaphil Moisturizing Cream contains extra-strength emollients and humectants that Engelman says are clinically proven to bind water to the skin and prevent moisture loss. “The result is long-lasting relief for even severely dry skin,” she says. “The non-greasy formula is excellent for hands, feet, elbows, knees, and any other areas that require intensive moisture.”

Layer your moisture
Engelman suggests building out your winter skincare regimen with multiple products to get full hydration and overall healthier skin. “Applying different layers of products provides multiple barriers,” she says. Her go-to routine? Prep with Elizabeth Arden SuperStart Serum, which serves as a complexion-boosting base with nutrients like Glasswort Extract to help skin maintain its moisture. “When the surface layer of skin is acting healthier, it not only does a better job of protecting skin from external aggressors, but allows your other products to focus on their job and work better,” Engelman explains. She says to follow up the serum with five drops of antioxidant-rich Skinceuticals CE Ferulic for sun protection — which is still necessary in winter. Universal Serum by NuGene is the last layer she recommends, a product Engelman calls a “light, moisturizing product improves discoloration, fine lines and wrinkles.”

Choose richer creams
If you’re a one-stop shop kind of girl, and know a multi-product routine isn’t for you, Plotner says to simply trade in your regular moisture for a richer, thicker cream during the colder, drier months in the fall and winter. “If you have acne-prone skin and dryness necessitating the switch to a richer product, ensure that it is ‘non-comedogenic,’” she says, meaning that it won’t clog pores. If you need suggestions, NARS Luminous Moisture is non-comedogenic formula with rich substance; Fresh’s new Creme Ancienne Soft Cream is a lush, whipped anti-aging moisturizer that melts into skin for smooth wear; and La Mer’s The Moisturizing Lotion packs a punch of hydration while gliding on nicely under makeup.

Get hydration from your fridge

You have to consume hydration, not just apply it to your skin’s outermost layer. “A diet rich in healthy fats can actually help to improve moisture-holding capacity of the skin,” Engelman says. “Omega-3 and Omega-6 oils helps to supplements the hydrating ability of your skin by keeping the membrane around each skin cell healthy.” So try adding omegas to your diet, like flaxseed, wheat cream and and olive oil, as well as sources rich in vitamin E  that will “help capture moisture and repair damaged skin tissues” like almonds and spinach. And of course, good old-fashioned H20 goes a long way. Keep a bottle by your desk at work and sip.

Fix flaking makeup
Prepping dry skin for foundation is super-important during cold-weather months, because adding makeup to can make your complexion appear flaky. Once you’ve exfoliated and hydrated, Engelman says to choose a smooth formula like Armani Luminous Silk Foundation for “the perfect amount of coverage, while still leaving a beautiful glow to the skin.” If your skin dries during the day, Engelman’s first suggestion is to remove with a cleansing oil (try the one from SK-II) and start from scratch for evening events. If you need a quick fix, though, try First Aid Vitamin Hydrating Mist to add some moisture over makeup and refresh your face.

Talk to Your Derm
If you use topicals for acne, your normally-gentle routine can begin to turn on you in the wintertime. “Many prescription acne products are irritating and drying,” says Plotner. “Often, I will adjust my patients’ anti-acne regimens during the fall and winter to milder ones.” If you haven’t seen your derm this winter, and your skin seems to be drying out, dial her up for a visit and ask if a milder prescription might be in order.

Related:

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An All-Natural Skincare Solution for Every Skin Type

Winter Skin Tips from Facialist Kristina Holey