Beauty | 02.08.2024

Why does skin suffer in winter? 

Woman holds her hands to her cheeks in the cold. She's protecting her skin from dry winter air.

By Franki Hanke

Winter brings cold air outside and dry air inside that we often blame for our dry skin, but really why dry skin in winter? What is happening that triggers this change and how do you combat it? It’s not complex, and some extra skincare in your routine will relieve that winter skin. 

Why do we get dry skin in winter

Our skin uses the moisture in the air year-round. When temperatures drop outside (and heaters crank inside), that humidity we rely on drops. 

This cold weather decreases the protection from our skin barrier leading to more stress on the skin. This additional stress, in turn, leads to more reactions to irritants and allergens. 

The combination means winter skin is extra finicky. Our faces, where the skin is exposed to winter’s low humidity and cold air are especially reactive to those changes. 

How to avoid dry skin in winter

Update your diet. 

Your diet affects your skin. Hydrate from the inside out by drinking enough water daily. 

If you don’t already drink water frequently, try making water more convenient. Polish researchers found that keeping bottles of water easily available improved water consumption significantly (22-89%). 

To do this, fill water bottles with water and keep them on hand in the fridge so they are as easy to grab as other drink options. If you already own a plethora of bottles, re-use those! If not, this six-piece set is dishwasher-safe glass. 

In addition to water, don’t skimp on fats. The lipids within olive oil, for example, go towards skin health too. 

Cool down showers.

I know you don’t want to hear it, but that hot water isn’t helping your skin. All the experts, including associate professor of dermatology Joshua Zeichner MD, recommend shorter, cooler showers. “The water temperature should be what you would imagine a heated pool to feel like in the summertime,” he said, as quoted by Alyssa Hui for Health

If a cooler shower sounds miserable, try other methods to warm up your bathroom. 

  • Open vents to your bathroom, but leave the door closed when not in use to trap some extra heated air ahead of showering. 
  • Invest in a towel warmer for some post-shower warmth. 
  • Stay inside the shower itself for your dry-off routine. The shower itself has the most residual heat and moisture allowing you to avoid the chill of drying. 

While you’re in the shower, exfoliate to remove dead skin cells that may contribute to flaking when they fall off naturally. 

Create a winter skincare routine. 

Since your skin’s type and needs change throughout the year, update your routine to match. 


Showers can strip off our skin’s natural oils, so rehydrate after by patting near-dry and then applying a moisturizer. Medical aesthetician Annie Christenson recommends using a sprayable body oil to fully (and quickly) cover the skin post-shower, as quoted by Katie McCallum

Picking the right product for you

If you experience itchy skin, try Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Oil Mist

Combining jojoba and soybean oil with oat-derived oil, this sprayable body oil is moisturizing and soothing. That oat component has been linked with ameliorative effects on eczema specifically. 

Buy Now at Walmart or Target

If you hate that oily feeling, try Cetaphil’s Sheer Hydration Body Spray.

Rather than a sprayable body oil, this sprayable lotion has a thin, but creamy texture with moisturizing glycerin and Vitamins E and B5. 

Buy Now

Psst… Cetaphil is currently offering a $4 Off coupon for new subscribers to their email list. 

If you have sensitive skin, try Aquaphor Healing Ointment Spray.

Aquaphor is fragrance-free and doesn’t include any extraneous ingredients, providing moisture from glycerin and soothing with Vitamin B5 and bisabolol which is found in Chamomile. 

Buy Now on Amazon or Target

If you don’t want anything on your skin, try Curel’s Wet Skin Moisturizer

Unlike the alternatives, this product is applied in the shower onto your wet skin (before you towel dry). It features ceramides to heal the skin after hot showers and soak in that humidity to the skin. 

Buy Now

Try building this post-shower hydration into your routine with some time before you get dressed to let the product soak into the skin and avoid transfer. Apply before facial skincare, flossing, or another brief bathroom task. 

Pair this extra step with a regular body lotion used post-shower and/or before bed. 

  • Upgrade to a heavier daily moisturizer or layer in an additional hydration step. 
  • Use moisturizing sheet masks. 
  • Stay consistent with SPF. 
Apply more moisture. 

Opt for a thicker, heavier facial moisturizer during the winter or layer in more focused, hydrating products alongside your go-to favorite base moisturizer. 

For a lightweight routine addition, add in The Inkey List’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum. It combines a few formats of hyaluronic acid with amino acid peptides to bring water into the skin and encourage collagen production. 

Buy now from Inkey List or Amazon

Treat for moisture. 

On top of your usual daily routine, dedicate your on-off treatments to hydrating dry skin. My all-time favorite facial mask is Neutrogena’s hydrogel hyaluronic acid mask. Compared to a traditional sheet mask, the gel holds more moisture against the skin. 

Buy now from Ulta or Target

A sheet mask can fit into your daily routine without requiring much extra work.

If you’d like a cheaper alternative, buy the bulk Dewytree sheet mask which comes in a convenient 30-sheet box with many overlapping ingredients. 

Sheet masks can be used on either end of your day (when skin is clean), so if your nighttime routine already feels long, use a sheet mask during your morning coffee before you apply sunscreen and any makeup for the day. 

Protect from sun. 

Don’t skip your sunscreen. Winter doesn’t turn down the sun! You need that SPF. There’s a reason it’s The #1 Way to Look Younger (That You’re Overlooking).

Keep moisturizers close at hand. 

If something’s not convenient, we don’t use it. Throughout the day, with handwashing frequently, hands get drier and drier. Plant moisturizing products throughout your spaces to keep adding moisture back to your skin all day long. 

  • Put pump-top lotion bottles alongside bathroom and kitchen soap dispensers. 
  • Keep travel-sized lotions in your handbags, car, and desk drawer. 
  • Use lotion sticks to avoid greasy hands. 
Which is best post-hand washing

If you’re wondering what over-the-counter lotion is best for combatting cleansers, healthcare workers who do the most handwashing agree on a few heavy hitters. 

Every formulation features a lot of overlap between top-performing ingredients, so I recommend buying a few travel sizes and finding your personal favorite. Different scents and emollients (which aid in the cream aspect of products) will sit differently on your skin on skin care products with the same star ingredients. 

Apply your hand lotion with a bit of the water’s moisture on your skin still to trap that water in the skin. 

A lotion stick can add hydration to dry winter skin without getting greasy fingertips.
Avoid a greasy keyboard. 

If you find your knuckles, elbows, or other dry spots get dry during the day, but can’t afford lotion to get onto your keyboard or paperwork, using lotion sticks is perfect for controlling precise application to places that need it. Choose from a variety of scents from New York-based McKeone & Co. in their lotion stick. Other than the included fragrances, their formulation uses Vitamin E, olive oil, coconut oil, and mango butter for an emollient-forward product for soft, soothed skin. 

Still searching for a lotion? Find an all-purpose hand and body lotion in 12 Best Lotions to Smooth, Hydrate & Nourish Dry Skin

If you struggle with more than typical dry winter skin and experience any severe skin conditions or skin problems, consult a dermatologist. Some products may exacerbate any xerosis (severely dry skin) like dermatitis, psoriasis, and skin cancer conditions. Your dermatologist can recommend products specifically for your condition and monitor for any greater health concerns beyond general skin care tips

The winter months don’t have to see your worst skin. With some extra love and care, February’s face can be as glowy and lush as a mid-vacation beach glow. 

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