If you live in a cold-weather climate, then you know the drill with dry winter skin. You can baste your face with products, and it can still flake, flush, and disappoint you. It’s not just about appearances, though. “Keeping your skin barrier moisturized and healthy plays a huge role in protecting it from germs and infections,” says Dr. Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City.
So how can you do this and overcome “winter face?” The good news is we’re not going to suggest you take masochistically tepid showers or turn down the thermostat and sleep with mittens while it snows outside. Basically, it all comes down making some simple adjustments to your skin-care routine, like incorporating more hydration to help nourish and strengthen the skin barrier as well as protect it against harsh elements. King recommends everyone keep these six all-star ingredients on hand year-round — but especially in the wintertime.
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If glowing skin is your goal, there are few ingredients as powerful as hyaluronic acid. Though the word “acid” may sound suspicious, it’s totally safe when used properly and works for most skin types. In fact, “hyaluronic acid — a sugar molecule — is naturally found in our skin to keep it hydrated, plump, and dewy-looking,” says King. “It holds a thousand times its weight in water, which makes it a powerful humectant.”
The one caveat? According to King, if you live in especially dry conditions, it could end up pulling water from other parts of your skin rather than the environment, which could potentially irritate or dry out the skin further. For this reason, she says it’s very important to combine hyaluronic acid and other humectants with emollients and occlusives. Classic options for the latter include Vaseline and Aquaphor, and a solid moisturizing cream is all you need on the emollient front.
Similar to hyaluronic acid, ceramides are also produced by the body. “The lipid matrix of your skin barrier is made up of ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids — ceramides being the most important component for maintaining barrier function,” says King. This is because ceramides are emollients that help retain moisture while also protecting skin from environmental irritants. According to King, if you don’t have enough ceramides, your skin will show it and feel it, because it will become prone to dryness and irritation.
Wool probably isn’t the first ingredient that comes to mind when you think of skin care. However, according to King, many products contain lanolin, a waxy occlusive made from sheep’s wool, because it helps to restore moisture. With that said, while lanolin can be used daily, is great for any skin type, and plays well with practically any other ingredient, it’s not for everyone. “It’s super safe, even for pregnant or breastfeeding moms, but some people are allergic to wool, so [that’s] worth keeping in mind,” says King.
If you were to give niacinamide a superlative, it would be “Most Likely to Succeed.” This B vitamin’s list of achievements include “improving your skin's tone and texture, fading hyperpigmentation, and reducing redness,” says King. “While it’s a great ingredient any time of the year, it’s particularly helpful in dry winter conditions to improve moisture retention as well,” she adds.
Niacinamide mixes well with most ingredients, but it’s worth noting that it could possibly reduce the effectiveness of vitamin C, so it’s best to space out the usage of those two (say, one in your evening regimen and the other in the morning).
Acne, dry skin, fine lines? No matter your skin concern, lactic acid (an alpha-hydroxy acid, or AHA) can be of service. “[Lactic acid] exfoliates skin by breaking down the glue that holds dull, dead skin cells to the surface,” says King. AHAs like lactic acid are water soluble, which keeps them working primarily on the surface of the skin to smooth away rough patches caused by dry winter air. Additionally, lactic acid has a larger molecule size than other acids, making it ideal for sensitive skin, as it offers exfoliating benefits sans irritation.
We’ve all heard about the firming benefits of retinol, but “for some of us who tend to have sensitive or dry skin, it becomes even more difficult to tolerate retinoids,” explains King. Used in Ayurvedic medicine, this babchi plant extract checks off all the same boxes as its vitamin A counterpart. In addition to increasing skin’s firmness, it brightens your complexion, treats acne, and improves pigmentation. “[Bakuchiol] doesn’t aggravate or redden the skin the way that retinol sometimes can. [It’s a] more gentle option that’s also safe for pregnant or breastfeeding moms,” says King.