Winter Tips for Every Skin Type

Three dermatologists offer advice on how to alter your skin care regimen when the temps dip.

(Altrendo Images/Stockbyte)

If there’s one thing that irritates me, it’s winter. Specifically, it’s the menacing combination of cold, harsh winds, and extreme indoor heat that literally irritates my skin. I asked three dermatologists from our “Top Doctors” list for tips to allay reptilian skin — read on to reap the benefits.

Sensitive Skin

“Human skin did not evolve equipped for dry, cold winters. Since sensitive skin usually represents an inherited or acquired defect in the skin’s ability to assemble an adequate barrier to water loss and allergen access, winter further weakens the skin’s defenses,” says Dr. Victor Neel of Mass. General Hospital.

Use: Thicker moisturizers. Look for the labels “cream” or “ointment” if you want the heavy-duty stuff. If you’re desperately dry, dampen your skin before applying moisturizers and emollients.
Avoid: Any products that over-dry the skin — particularly toners and astringents with high alcohol content. You can continue exfoliating, as long as you follow with a moisturizer.
Words of wisdom: “The fewer the number of ingredients in your skincare regimen, the better. In my opinion, anything super fancy is just plain hype.”
Recommends: Oil of Olay “Complete” products for sensitive skin

Dry Skin

“Being outside in cold wind, or indoors in an environment of low humidity, literally pulls water from the skin, leaving it itchy and flaky. The best treatment of this problem is to prevent it in the first place,” says Dr. Kenneth Arndt of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and New England Baptist Hospital.

Use: Products with ceramides in them, as well as vitamin products with ingredients like ascorbic acid. The most effective moisturizers are the ones that have more oil in them, rather the water-based lotions.
Avoid: Using exfoliants and masks too often. If you can’t resist a good scrub, make sure the product you’re using is gentle.
Words of wisdom: “When indoors, turn down the thermostat and use a humidifier in the rooms in which you spend most time. Take warm, not hot, baths and showers. And when outdoors, use a protective cream on exposed skin.”
Recommends: Aquaphor Healing ointment

Oily Skin

“If the usual summer regimen is starting to sting or result in redness and scaling, it’s time to transition over to a gentler winter regimen. Common first warning trouble spots are at the sides of the chin and the upper or lower eyelids: these areas tend to get most easily irritated,” says Dr. Robin Travers of New England Baptist Hospital.

Use: A gentle cleanser that won’t strip the face of its natural oils, and a slightly richer moisturizer. If you’re not fond of the heavy cold cream-like feel, apply your richer products at nighttime, so that your skin absorbs them while you sleep.
Avoid: Overusing products with glycolic acids, retinoids, salicylic acid, and vitamin C (all of which are common in anti-aging and acne products) — they can cause redness and scaling.
Words of wisdom: “I encourage my patients with oily [skin] to err on the side of gentler treatments and more emollients. You can use powders or blotting papers to rid the mid-day shine, but it is far more difficult to treat an irritant dermatitis [translation: skin rash] once it appears.”
Recommends: Estée Lauder Daywear Anti-Oxidant Beauty Benefit Creme

— Caroline Hatano