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Products and Beauty Rituals to Nourish Dry Winter Skin

Yes, you can chase the chafing away.

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collage, womens hands, skincare, graphic
Andrea D'Aquino
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The effects of the winter season can be skin-changing if you live in colder climates. Freezing temperatures, dry air, hot showers and indoor heaters conspire to steal every last iota of moisture from our mature skin. Though regardless of your hometown, as we age our levels of estrogen and collagen — abundant in our 20s — are plummeting, making skin thinner and crepey.

Winter, or any other time of year, need not be our season of discontent. Here are tips on how to nourish and moisturize dry skin from board-certified dermatologists Dr. Robert Anolik of New York City and Dr. Mary Lupo, who is based in New Orleans.

Swap Out Your Facial Products 

“As we get older, we have to use a cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin of natural oils,” said Lupo. “We need fats in our skin to hold in water.” CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser, Neutrogena Fragrance-Free Ultra Gentle Cleanser and La Roche-Posay Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser are all effective and affordable choices.

Next, step up your moisturizer. During the winter you need a richer and more nourishing formula than you’ve been previously using. Ingredients like ceramides, which seal in water; hyaluronic acid and shea butter all help create a protective barrier to lock in moisture and shield skin from the cold. 

After washing your face with lukewarm water, pat the skin dry, don’t rub it, and immediately apply moisturizer while the skin is still a bit damp. At one end of the price-point spectrum is an all-time favorite, the inexpensive Nivea Crème or the one I use, ($66 and worth it), Dr. Brandt’s Do Not Age Time Defying Cream.

Use Your Retinoids Like a Mask

Retinol, derived from Vitamin A, boosts the production of collagen and elastin which brings a welcome plumpness back to the skin. Over-the-counter retinol creams, such as those from L’Oreal, Olay or Eucerin will help brighten skin, reduce wrinkles and normalize pore size.

Prescription retinols are stronger than their over-the counter counterparts and have to be used more carefully. However, since these potions can dry out the skin, Lupo suggests using them differently in winter.

“Wash your face, apply your retinoid and rinse it off after five minutes. Then apply your moisturizer,” she advises, adding that in winter months it is equally effective to apply retinoids after you moisturize. “Either of these methods reduces the amount of time the skin is exposed to retinoids which will cut down on potential dryness,” she says.

Smear on the Sunscreen

Think you can throw away your sunscreen just because you don’t see the sun? Fuhgeddaboudit! Protecting your skin from UV rays is a year-round commitment. Incidental sun exposure, the kind experienced on a daily commute, has a cumulative effect that can lead to fine lines and sagging skin.

Then too, studies such as a 2020 report from the National Institutes of Health have shown that the blue light emitted from our computer screens, TVs, cell phones and even office lighting can stimulate sun-like damage to skin.

“People used to think, ‘What’s the point of wearing sunblock in winter, especially in Manhattan …,” says dermatologist Dr. Robert Anolik. “But now we know that even your office lighting or your phone screen can be harmful.”

Switch Your Hand Soap

Ever since the pandemic, the number of times we wash our hands each day could give Lady Macbeth a run for her money. In winter, be sure to switch to a mild PH soap. The average PH in traditional soap is 9-10, which can lead to dryness because the skin’s normal PH level is only 4-5.

Choose a moisture-restorative soap, such as the Dove Beauty Bar, the Aveeno Moisturizing Bar or any soap with goat’s milk, like the products from Australian Botanicals. And after washing, don’t forget to apply a rich hand cream. I’m a fan of Avène Cicalfate+ Restorative Protective Cream and Vaseline Dry Hands Rescue.

Opt for Shorter Showers

I love a steaming bath so this advice is hard for me to adhere to, though hot water temperatures, including in the shower, can strip the skin of essential oils. So I have to remind myself to opt for a short shower with tepid water, as Lupo suggests.

Use a gentle soap, such as the one you use on your hands, and after the shower, while your skin is still damp, slather on a moisturizer to lock in hydration. L’Occitane’s Ultra Rich Body Cream (which helps smooth crepey skin) or luxuriating potions by Burt’s Bees and Aquaphor.

Superfoods Help Combat Wrinkles

A study from the Netherlands published in 2019 analyzed the photos and dietary records of 2,753 older adults in their 60s and 70s. What they found is that women who ate more fruits, vegetables, fish and fiber-rich foods tended to have fewer wrinkles than those who ate more meat and snack foods. This is year-round advice, but I think we especially need to be reminded of it in the winter when we tend to veer toward thick soups and heavier meals.
Invest in a Humidifier

Indoor heating systems can suck the moisture out of the air. Not only that, something called "transepidermal water loss" occurs overnight, when the skin produces less oil excretion. Without that protective layer of oils, the skin becomes parched.

That’s why it’s so important to apply a rich moisturizer before you go to bed, and adding a humidifier aids in the prevention of dryness and irritation. You can find humidifiers at every price online — ranging from the Canopy Humidifier Starter Set, voted "best overall humidifier" by New York magazine’s “Strategist” and the Levoit LV600S Smart Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier. And your humidifier is not just a winter item — it’s a good boost to complexions in every season.

What moisturizer do you use? Let us know in the comments below.

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