4 tips for protecting your skin during winter

The temperature drop could make anyone susceptible to dryer skin. Time to switch up your skin care routine.

girl's hands in white sweater applying cream on her hands from jar fir branches in frost and snowflakes on isolated pastel beige background
Fall and winter are not the best time to slack off on moisturizing
(Image credit: InspirationGP / Getty Images)

Between the temperature dropping outside and the heat being cranked up indoors, the seasonal battle against dry skin has begun. Keeping your skin moisturized is essential year-round, but the dry fall and winter air make doing so especially difficult this time of year. 

Your skin's job is to "keep the inside world in and the outside world out," Dr. Brittany Craiglow, dermatologist and associate adjunct professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, told The New York Times. The lipid barrier, the outermost layer of skin composed of fatty compounds, helps keep hydration and germs and toxins out. When the air gets drier, moisture is pulled from that layer, impairing skin cell turnover and leading to dry and flaky skin, Dr. Craiglow noted.

While some people, like older adults and people with eczema, are prone to dryer skin, it can happen to anyone. But with these four expert tips on protecting your skin from the colder weather, you up your chances of keeping your skin moisturized and content. 

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Skip the long, hot shower

The winter is not the best time to take long hot showers, even though that might seem counterintuitive. Hot showers strip oil from your skin and so can some fragranced cleansers. Experts recommend switching to shorter, cooler showers with fragrance-free soap. Lukewarm showers might sound like the last thing you want on a cold night, "but it's something to keep in mind if you’re having an eczema flare or your skin is super dry," Dr. Craiglow noted. Your shower temperature "should be what you would imagine a heated pool to feel like in the summertime," Dr. Joshua Zeichner, an associate professor of dermatology and the director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, told Health

The thicker the moisturizer, the better

Once you get out of the shower, using a moisturizer on your face and skin while you are still damp is best. Boring is ideal when choosing a moisturizer. "The more bland, the better," Craiglow said. Again, avoiding fragrances and preservatives such as parabens or methylisothiazolinone is optimal since they can irritate already dry skin. Instead, she recommends brands such as Aquaphor, Cetaphil, CeraVe and Vanicream, per the Times. Thick, "occlusive" products like petroleum jelly help create a physical barrier that acts as a sealant and is the best bet for the season. If, however, you would rather use a cream or lotion in place of a heavier moisturizer, that's better than nothing, Dr. Jeffrey Weinberg, a clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told the Times. "A cream you use is better than an ointment you don't use."

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends products with these ingredients for people with dry skin: jojoba or mineral oil, dimethicone, glycerin, hyaluronic or lactic acid, lanolin, petrolatum and shea butter. 

Add a humidifier 

Decreased air humidity contributes to dry skin, so now is a good time to swap out your dehumidifier for a humidifier in your home or workspace. Humidifiers can help recirculate moisture in indoor environments, such as buildings with dry heat. "Just make sure you clean it out and change the water every day — humidifiers can be a great place for bacteria to grow," Dr. Weinberg told the Times. 

Be patient with your skin

If you're already struggling with really dry or cracked skin, you may have broken your skin barrier, which would take weeks or months to heal, Dr. Shasa Hu, associate professor in the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Today. "It takes at least three to four weeks for that skin barrier to fully repair, so start early," she said. 

If you already have a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis or rosacea or you're just looking for guidance, don't hesitate to contact a dermatologist, Dr. Shari Lipner, associate professor of clinical dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical Center, told TODAY. "If you have any of these conditions, it's a great time to check in to make sure the winter is not causing havoc on your skin," Lipner added, noting that telemedicine would work well for this. 

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