Your Winter Skin-Saving Guide

woman washing face

OK, It’s the winter holiday season – and between the frigid and ever-changing weather, dry heating, and running around for gifts and holiday parties, my skin is having a rough time. Yours too? Not to mention, my summer regimen just doesn’t apply when it’s the dead of winter. So, to help get all of us glowing, I’ve enlisted the help of dermatologist Dr. Amy Kim, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at MetroDerm in Atlanta, GA. Here’s her advice.

  • Moisturize. The question is, with an ointment, cream, or lotion? According to, Dr. Kim you should use a cream or an ointment at least once a day during the winter months to moisturize hands and body. Apply these when the skin is still damp so that they’re absorbed more easily and leave your skin hydrated. Ointments are thickest, with a blend of 80% oil and 20% water. They form a protective layer and provide intense moisture. Lotions are the thinnest, absorb quickly, feel light and are good for large areas. Lotions are good for those with acne who need to hydrate without clogging pores. A cream is a hybrid between lotions and ointments and can be good in the winter. Both creams and lotions are good for the face. Companies have to distinguish between these three types, so just check the label.
  • What about oils? While oils sound like they would be great hydrators, they aren’t absorbed by the skin very well. In fact, some essential oils come in such high concentrations that they can irritate the skin rather than soothe. If you do decide to use essential oils, don’t use a concentration higher than a 0.5-2%.
  • Pay attention to your hands. Dr. Kim’s favorite winter hand care solution is slathering on some white petrolatum ointment right before going to bed. If you want a non-greasy option, go for a cream instead. I like to keep a pair of cotton gloves at the bedside and put these on at night after moisturizing. Dr. Kim also recommends taking it easy on nail treatments in the winter, as they can dehydrate your nails and make them more brittle. She also suggests taking a biotin supplement, saying “most of my patients see a difference in their nails by taking this supplement.”
  • Mix up hand sanitizer with hand washing. Unfortunately, the dryness of winter coincides with cold and flu season—high hand sanitizer user time! For many people, the ingredients (benzalkonium chloride) in hand sanitizers can cause irritant and allergic reactions. A good rule of thumb is to alternate hand washing and using a sanitizer as much as possible. Don’t forget to moisturize afterwards, too.
  • Change up your shampoo and conditioner. I wanted to get to the bottom of this, because I’ve heard different viewpoints. Dr. Kim says that you should change it up to avoid buildup from using the same brand. So, there you have it.
  • Get your peel (or microdermabrasion or laser) on. Now is a great time to get your post-summer peels and procedures, since you’re likely spending less time in the sun. Dr. Kim says “I have patients who will knock out two superficial chemical peels during wintertime to get the dyspigmentation out of their skin and get their texture and tone back to baseline. Laser treatments such as fractional CO2 laser are also tolerated well during the winter months.” On the other hand, she recommends that you steer clear of harsh physical scrubbers for exfoliation, opting more for prescription-grade topical tretinoin cream and cleaners with glycolic or salicylic acid, plus the periodic use of a gentle exfoliating device.
  • Keep eczema at bay. Up to 20% of the U.S. population suffers from eczema—and it also tends to worsen or flare in the winter. It’s usually triggered by sensitive skin that just became too irritated or dry. So, a few key changes will keep it at bay, whether you get it on your hands, legs, eyelids or elsewhere on your body. First of all, keeping skin hydrated is essential. “To prevent and soothe eczema, I recommend switching from a lotion to a cream or ointment.” This is because lotions (since they have a higher water than oil content) can evaporate and actually worsen eczema, while creams and ointments won’t. Dr. Kim also advises to “avoid fragranced products as this can further irritate eczema skin and increase allergic reactions. As for a soap, I recommend a pH-balanced bar soap. Non-soap cleansers are good options for washing eczema-prone faces.” While you normally may not want to use an ointment on your face, it’s fine to put it on small areas where you have eczema. One study also suggested that the use of products containing ceramide (in which skin with eczema is deficient) can also improve eczema. Remember, apply immediately after bathing when the skin is already well-hydrated!
  • Add green tea and cucumbers (not to eat this time) to your arsenal. Dr Kim’s favorite two home remedies? Cold cucumbers for eye puffiness and green tea for hydration. “Cold cucumbers do help with eye puffiness. If you feel a need for a winter spa day at home, cold cucumbers are a must. Cucumbers are anti-inflammatory, retain the coldness to help with eyelid edema and are filled with water to help promote hydration back into the skin.” Green tea can be helpful, both as a beverage and as a skin treatment! Dr. Kim says “I like to rehydrate myself by having a tall glass of warm green tea. Also look for products with green tea in them. These products also work well with topical retinoids.”
  • Keep your cocoa hot and your showers lukewarm. While soaking in a hot tub may seem like a good way to hydrate, it actually promotes fluid loss. Stick with shorter showers that are warm instead of hot to prevent dryness.
  • Combat heating dryness with a humidifier. Prone to eczema flares or even just plain old dry skin? Dr. Kim says then that a humidifier in your room is a must! When it’s cold and you’re heating your house, the air tends to get very dry and is often less than 5% humidity. This dryness leaches out the moisture from your skin. During the summer, it can be over 25% humid in our homes.”
  • Don’t forget the SPF! Even though it’s no longer swimsuit season doesn’t mean that those UV rays are any less active. Sun protection is especially crucial if you’re skiing, where the snow will actually reflect the rays and increase your UV exposure. Remember to reapply every two to three hours, and stick with something above an SPF 30. I especially like powders with sunscreen in them—you can reapply without messing up your makeup! I love that you can find them everywhere now from your local drugstore to the beauty shop.