The Tiny Skin-Care Tweaks You Should Make When It’s Cold Outside

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.

We’ve heard the warning before: “Winter is coming.” In fact, we heard it for about seven seasons of Game of Thrones. Still, not once during Jon Snow’s defense against the White Walkers did we see him ready his skin for the inevitably harsh winds and icy climate past the Wall. Luckily, we’re planning on being far more prepared this winter than Snow was.

It’s time to face the facts: The moment the seasons change — from a moderately crisp fall to brick-cold winter — your skin suffers first. “As temperatures fall and the air gets drier, your skin pays the price,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. In frigid conditions the skin is less able to protect itself. “This can lead to cracks in the outer layer of skin, loss of hydration, and ultimately, inflammation,” he says.

So, how do you combat the sort of climate that leaves your skin dull, dehydrated, and defeated? You need a major skin-care upgrade. Both Dr. Zeichner and dermatologist Jennifer MacGregor, MD, suggest using thicker moisturizers equipped to protect the skin’s barrier. Another skin saver? Kinder, gentler cleansers that hydrate (rather than harsh exfoliating or foam formulations), since skin irritation can increase along with dryness in colder weather.

Finally, an effort to hyper-hydrate and soothe the skin should never come at the cost of ditching daily sun protection. Sure, you may not be seeing as much of the sun, but UVA rays — the aging and cancer-causing ones that penetrate through windows and clouds, and into the deepest layer of skin — are still kicking, all day, every day.

As you continue to battle the elements, here’s how to keep your skin glowing.

Skin Type: Dry
Most people’s skin gets drier when temperatures drop. So, those with already dry skin should double down on the hydrating to keep skin looking luminous. On cold days, Dr. MacGregor advises those with dry skin to use a cream or oil-based cleanser that is designed to prevent moisture loss.

She also suggests upgrading your moisturizer to one with “nourishing ceramides and ingredients that protect the skin — like petrolatum and dimethicone — by trapping moisture inside.”

In addition to looking for products with these skin-protecting ingredients, Dr. Zeichner also recommends that those with naturally dry skin look for “extra hydrating ingredients, like hyaluronic acid” in moisturizers and serums.

This creamy cleanser has soothing yogurt to coddle dry, pissed-off skin.

Korres Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser, $14, available at Sephora

Like a wheatgrass shot for your smoothie, a couple drops of this oil makes your moisturizer work overtime. Except it’s concentrated hemp oil instead of wheatgrass and absorbs into your skin quickly to smooth dry patches.

High Beauty High Expectations Cannabis Seed Facial Oil, $54, available at Sephora

You’ll forget what time of year it is with this hydrating cream, which gives skin an instant glow.

Renée Rouleau Glow Enhancing Creme, $69.5, available at Renée Rouleau

Skin Type: Oily

According to Dr. MacGregor, even oily types can benefit from more moisture during harsh weather. “Look for a light, oil-free lotion with sunscreen to protect against cold and wind,” she says.

The one thing that should stay the same? Your exfoliating routine. Dr. MacGregor advises that those with oily skin continue to regularly use alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and retinoids to help control oil production. Dr. Zeichner just recommends swapping your exfoliating serum for an AHA cleanser, since topical AHAs can be more irritating to skin in cold, dry months.

Since micellar water acts like a magnet for oil and dirt, this cleanser is your new winter BFF. It simultaneously hydrates (without oil) as it rids your face of any grimy residue.

Bioeffect Micellar Cleansing Water, $70, available at Sephora

This lightweight, non-comedogenic serum makes your face look brighter and more even, thanks to glycolic and lactic acids in the formula.

Dermadoctor Picture Porefect, $42, available at Sephora

Oil-free, moisturizing, and with broad spectrum SPF — this is just what the doctor ordered.

Eve Lom Daily Protection Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen, $90, available at Sephora

Skin Type: Combination

Those with both dry and oily skin know that foam cleansers can do wonders to regulate excess oil in summer months. But, now is the time for those with combination skin to switch to a cream or oil-based cleanser. “Skin is drier this time of year, so you need to be careful about potentially drying cleansers, like foam formulations,” Dr. Zeichner says.

Dr. MacGregor also suggests swapping your moisturizer for a more protective hydrator if your skin is looking dry or feeling tight. “Try using thicker (but oil-free) moisturizers with ceramides,” she suggests. Ceramides improve moisture retention in the skin by helping to prevent evaporation of water and acting as emulsifiers (ingredients that allow oils and water to combine).

While different types of cleansers and moisturizers may benefit this group in cold weather, antioxidant and retinoid use should remain steady, no matter the season; they help counter pollution’s effects on the skin and trigger the skin to produce more collagen, respectively.

This cleanser dissolves any dirt and makeup sitting on your face, making your skin look instantly more radiant.

Boscia MakeUp-BreakUp Cool Cleansing Oil, $10, available at Sephora

Combination skin can benefit from a nourishing night oil. This magic blue bottle contains a gentle retinol that enhances your skin’s elasticity and fights mild acne — sans dry flakes.

Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil, $55, available at Sephora

This oil-free moisturizer is loaded with hyaluronic acid to lock in hydration without sending your face to Grease Town, USA.

Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Hyaluronic Marine Oil-Free Moisture Cushion, $60, available at Sephora

Skin Type: Acneic

Those with blemish-prone skin have long known the virtues of exfoliation — after all, sloughing off dead skin cells can reduce future blackheads and breakouts. However, during this time of year, it’s best to ditch the more intense exfoliators. “Come winter, acneic skin may require gentler exfoliation,” says Dr. MacGregor. Now is also a good time to ease up on the targeted zit treatments. “Limit irritating acne prescriptions to three times weekly unless directed otherwise by your doctor,” she says. “Instead, use more gentle exfoliation on your ‘off days’ by pairing your salicylic acid cleanser with a cleansing brush that has a gentle brush head.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Zeichner points out that many in this group are often reluctant to moisturize because they fear that oil and water will further congest the skin. Au contraire. Grab an oil-free moisturizer and go to town. “Oil and water in the skin are separate issues,” he explains. “You can be oily and acne prone, but still lack hydration.” Zeichner says that acne creams and treatments can cause more irritation in the winter when skin is lacking in hydration, which makes an even stronger case for daily moisturizing. Pick a lotion that’s gentle but also packs major hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid.

If you’ve got acne bacteria multiplying on your face, this cleansing gel will rinse it away with LHA, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid — leaving your complexion brighter than a Becca highlighter.

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel, $40, available at DermStore

This gel cream formulation packs on the hydration — only where necessary — but also calms and soothes any irritated, red, or oily zones.

Caudalie Vinosource Moisturizing Sorbet, $20, available at Sephora

Since you have to cool it on the spot treatments and drying exfoliators, this might be the right time to invest in a gentle mask that uses bentonite clay to draw out oncoming breakouts and hyaluronic acid to replenish your skin so you’re not left with dry patches by morning.

Indie Lee Clearing Mask, $60, available at Sephora

Skin Type: Dull

Sure, wind-chilled cheeks can radiate a rosy flush, but the accompanying cracking and drying elsewhere is enough to override that romantic aesthetic. Thankfully, Dr. MacGregor has a secret weapon for breathing life into dull skin: “My favorite trick for instantly brightening dull skin is to cleanse for one minute with a sensitive cleansing brush and glycolic cleanser,” she says. “Immediately after, slather on moisturizer with hyaluronic acid and ceramides. This smooths, plumps, and protects the skin.”

Dr. MacGregor and Dr. Zeichner both recommend the use of retinoids help brighten up dull skin. “This will stimulate collagen and get rid of dead skin cells on the surface of the skin,” Dr. Zeichner says.

Like a (gentle) car wash scrubber for your face, this buffs and polishes, leaving the outer layer of your skin looking luminous.

Clarisonic Replacement Brush Head Twin-Pack, $44, available at Sephora

This mousse cleanser works as a mild exfoliator to target uneven skin tone and hyperpigmentation, but don’t overdo it: Two to three times a week is recommended.

REN Beauty Micro Polish Cleanser, $32, available at Sephora

All that scrubbing could cause irritation or added dryness, so soothe any areas of inflammation with this cult cica cream.

Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Cream, $48, available at Sephora

Skin Type: Aging
There are a lot of theories when it comes to what works in “anti-aging” skin care. But, the research shows that stimulating collagen growth is a great way to go, since it helps aging skin cells behave more like young, healthy cells.

How can we trick cells into acting young? By using serums and creams pumped with retinoids and antioxidants. Along with peptides, these ingredients “send messages to your skin cells that cause them to rev up collagen production, ultimately helping the skin to maintain its elasticity,” says Dr. MacGregor. Easy, right? But, here’s the wintertime rub: “In order to continue to use retinoids and antioxidants in winter, barrier repair with ceramide moisturizer is essential,” she stresses.

A cocktail of everything mature skin needs — lactic acid for gentle exfoliation, allantoin that promotes cell growth, and bisabolol to soothe — in just one pricy cleanser (that’s totally worth it).

Colbert MD Balance Purifying Cleanser , $60, available at DermStore

This serum, chocked-full of anti-aging peptides, targets wrinkles, fine lines, and dullness.

Vapour Organic Beauty Visionary Advanced Solution Serum, $140, available at Vapour Organic Beauty

If you’re using powerful anti-aging ingredients on your skin, you’re making it more susceptible to sun damage — and encouraging dark spots to stick around. So swap in a strong sunscreen that not only provides protection, but also gives skin an extra hit of hydration.

SkinMedica TNS Ceramide Treatment Cream , $69, available at DermStore

Skin Type: Sensitive
No matter what time of year, those with sensitive skin can benefit by steering clear of foam cleansers (which can dry the skin) and harsh abrasive exfoliators (which can trigger irritation). Also on the ditch list? Skin-care products with alcohols, sulfates or fragrance, since they can not only irritate but dry out skin, too.

Dr. MacGregor says that during the winter months, as skin is more likely to irritate, it may be necessary for those with sensitive skin to reduce the frequency of evening retinol use. Dr. Zeichner suggests reducing retinoid use to every other day, or trying non-irritating alternatives, like peptides. Finally, Dr. MacGregor advises that this group, “use ceramide moisturizers twice per day to restore the skin barrier,” during cold weather season.

When selecting a cleanser for sensitive skin, stay way from two things: fragrances and dyes (both natural or synthetic). This gentle formula has been a long-time favorite among, well, everyone and not just because it’s so soothing — it’s also really cheap.

Cetaphil Cetaphil Skin Cleanser, $9.49, available at Target

Calm inflamed skin quickly with this fast-absorbing cream — a cult classic our editors swear by.

It Cosmetics Confidence in a Cream™ Moisturizing Super Cream, $16, available at Sephora

For an anti-aging serum that won’t send your skin into a rage, try this one that employs gentler peptides to resurface and plump.

First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair® Hydrating Serum, $36, available at Sephora

Skin Type: Hyperpigmented

Like with other skin types, those with hyperpigmentation will likely need to boost hydration in wintertime by choosing a more gentle cleanser and more robust moisturizer. But, when it comes to treating the hyperpigmented patches themselves, the regimen doesn’t change with the season.

“My favorite cocktail for brightening pigmented skin includes using a broad-spectrum sunscreen in the morning, and a combination of brightening topicals with retinoid, antioxidants, and resorcinol in the evening,” Dr. MacGregor offers. For this group, Dr. Zeichner says vitamin C (which is sometimes listed on skin care products as L-ascorbic acid) is king, so look for gentle cleansers, masks, and serums that feature the ingredient. (It has been shown to break down discoloration by interfering with pigmentation pathways that occur in the skin.)

A cleansing milk infused with vitamin C? Sign us up. It targets hyperpigmentation and uneven skin tone at the first step in your daily routine.

Avalon Organics Vitamin C Hydrating Cleansing Milk, $10.99, available at Target

Brightening ingredients like vitamin C are always essential for any sign of scarring or hyperpigmentation. This oil nourishes those frustrating spots while preventative essential fatty acids ward off future damage.

Ole Henriksen Pure Truth™ Youth Activating Oil, $45, available at Sephora

If you’re treating hyperpigmentation, but not using sunscreen to prevent new spots, you’ll be playing a long game of whack-a-mole. Invest in a daily lotion that leaves you soft and protected.

Ursa Major Force Field Daily Defense Lotion with SPF 18, $54, available at Sephora

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