How to Care for Skin During Winter

Three Methods:Protecting Your Skin from Cold WeatherCaring for Damaged SkinKnowing What to Avoid

If you've ever had to suffer through an icy cold winter before, you may have discovered that while keeping warm is a simple matter of bundling up and turning on a heater, keeping your skin healthy can be anything but simple. Cold, dry weather can cause skin to dry and crack, especially on areas that are exposed directly to the air like the hands. Luckily, with an assortment of common-sense precautions and a few easy home remedies, it's easy to keep all but the most sensitive skin as healthy and soft as can be!

Method 1
Protecting Your Skin from Cold Weather

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    Cover up! The cause-and-effect relationship between winter weather and dry, damaged skin is easy to understand — cold, dry outdoor air (or, worse, hot, dry air from your heating system) sucks the natural moisture away from your skin, leaving it arid and cracked like parched desert earth. One of the best ways to keep this from happening is simply to keep the air from touching your skin. If you can, try wearing long sleeves, long pants, and any other skin-covering accessories to keep your skin protected.
    • Gloves are an especially smart choice — since your hands are often exposed throughout the day, covering them when you can goes a long way towards protecting their skin. Try slipping on a pair of mittens or driving gloves early in the day before you head to work or begin your commute, slipping them off only when you need to type, write, or otherwise use your hands.
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    Use a moisturizer. Lotions and other "moisturizers" essentially work by supplying moisture directly to the skin and holding this moisture in with a layer of oil or grease — this is why heavy balms, like vaseline, work excellently as moisturizers, but produce an unpleasant "greasy" feeling. If you're suffering from dried out skin in the winter, try giving yourself a quick rub with your preferred lotion to stay moisturized. This should help ease any skin that's already dried out and protect your skin from future damage for at least an hour or two.
    • If your skin is already irritated, try to use an unscented lotion or balm. Some fragrances are known to cause inflammation or rash when applied to already-irritated skin (especially if you're allergic to the fragrance).[1]
    • There are few lotions that flat-out won't protect your skin's moisture at least somewhat — nearly all will work basically the same way. As a very general rule, however, thicker "creams" and "balms" will give a greater moisturizing effect than thinner, liquid-y lotions.[2]
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    Wear lip balm. Even if the skin on your face and hands goes unscathed during the winter, there's a decent chance that the delicate skin on your lips may become dry, cracked, or flaky. To fight this, try using lip balm (or similar alternatives like chap stick, lip gloss, etc.), which works according to the same basic principle as ordinary lotions and balms for your skin. In a pinch, you can even use most high-quality thicker skin balms (like Vaseline or products containing beeswax or shea butter) on your lips to get the same effect, though the taste may be unpleasant.
    • Don't believe myths that claim that lip balm is addictive or contains ground glass — these have been proven to be false.[3]
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    Stay dry. Ironically, getting wet when you're out in cold weather can cause it to become dry and irritated later on. Wet clothes (especially gloves and socks) can cause irritation when they rub against the skin, leaving it chapped, sore, and vulnerable to further irritation. For this reason, try not to spend much time in wet clothes when it's cold outside. Heading inside for a fresh set of clothes is definitely worth it if it keeps your skin safe in the long run.
    • If you're outdoors for a long time in cold weather (for instance, if you're on a wilderness hike), try to pace any exercise you do so that you don't sweat heavily. Not only can this cause chapped, irritated skin, but, in extreme conditions can also lead to frostbite and hypothermia by making it difficult for the body to keep itself warm.[4]
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    Don't forget sunscreen on clear, cold days. Many people assume that because it's cold outside in the winter, they won't need sunscreen. In fact, the skin is extra-vulnerable to sun damage in the winter. The earth is actually closer to the sun in the winter than it is in summer, and, in addition, the ozone layer (which absorbs some of the sun's harmful UV rays) is typically at its thinnest in the winter.[5] On top of this, snow and ice can actually reflect up to 85% of the sun's rays, allowing the rays to hit your skin both from above and below.[6] For these reasons, it's important to remember to apply sunscreen during the winter when you intend to spend lots of time out in the sun.
    • Note that this need for sunscreen is especially urgent at high altitudes — the higher you go, the greater your exposure to the sun's UV rays.[7] Keep this in mind as you pack for your winter skiing trip!

Method 2
Caring for Damaged Skin

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    Treat dry skin with a mild lotion or cream. If the dry winter air (or the dry air from your heating system) has already caused your skin to become dry or cracked, it's important to take proper care of it until it's able to heal naturally. Moisturizers are your first line of defense against further damage. Apply a moisturizing lotion, balm, or cream to any irritated areas at least daily until the skin shows signs of improvement — at this point, you may gently taper off your moisturizer use and start relying on other methods of protection (though some moisturizer use may be necessary for the entire winter.)
    • Be sure to clean and bandage any major cracks or splits in the skin as you would with normal cuts and scrapes. Though unlikely, cracks in the skin can be infected if exposed to bacteria, leading to further pain and irritation, so basic prevention measures are important.
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    Use a humidifier. As hinted at above, one of the least obvious (but most dangerous) places for skin irritation during the winter is inside your warm, cozy home! The warm air that comes out of most home heating systems is usually quite dry and can have a dehydrating effect on the skin similar to what you might experience in dry conditions outdoors.[8] To avoid this, try running a humidifier in whichever room you spend the most time in at home. These handy devices vaporize water and release it into the air, increasing the humidity level in the surrounding area.
    • Ideally, for this purpose, you'll want to use an evaporative or steam humidifier. So-called "cool mist" humidifiers can sometimes release allergy-causing aerosols.[9]
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    Use gentle cleaning products. The soap, shampoo, and other cleaning products you use on yourself during the winter can all have an effect on your skin's health. Harsh cleaning products, especially those containing alcohol or astringents, can strip away your skin's natural protective oils, making it extra-vulnerable to drying out.[10] To prevent this, use the gentlest cleaning products available. Below is a very brief guide to making smart cleaning product purchases:
    • Soaps: Use mild, unscented varieties, as well as those advertised as "moisturizing" or "for sensitive skin." Moisturizing liquid body washes make a great alternative to ordinary soap. Avoid alcohol-based soaps or sanitizers and standard bar soaps, which can be too harsh for winter use.
    • Shampoos/hair products: Use shampoos labeled "moisturizing" or "for reviving dry hair." Condition after using shampoo.
    • Facial products: Use mild, foaming cleansers. Tend towards oil-based or "moisturizing" face rubs. Avoid alcohol or salicylic acid-based cleansers.
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    Consider using natural oils. You don't necessarily have to use a commercial lotion or balm to treat your dry skin. In some cases, a natural home remedy may do the trick. The problem with home remedies, however, is that they're usually unverified — that is, they're not backed up by serious scientific evidence. If you do plan on trying to treat your dry skin with a home remedy, try tending towards safe, mild natural oils, which should trap moisture near the skin like ordinary lotions. Just a few natural oils that are claimed to work as skin moisturizers are:[11]
    • Olive oil
    • Coconut oil
    • Avocado oil
    • Jojoba oil
    • Sweet almond oil
    • Grapeseed oil
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    For serious skin problems, consult a dermatologist. For most people, skin irritation during the winter is an annoying, but ultimately temporary problem. However, in extreme cases, dry skin can be a serious, lasting source of irritation. If your skin's dryness and irritation doesn't go away within a few weeks or starts to seriously affect your ability to live a happy, productive life, don't hesitate to see a dermatologist — if you don't know one, your general practitioner can refer you to one. In addition to helping with everyday dry and irritated skin, dermatologists can diagnose skin problems like eczema and psoriasis and prescribe treatments for them.
    • Note that, while quite rare, severe itching can sometimes be a sign of liver disease or cancer, so if you're experiencing itching that's interfering with your daily routine, you'll want to see a dermatologist right away to rule these serious conditions out.[12]

Method 3
Knowing What to Avoid

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    Avoid abrasive clothing-on-skin contact. While it's always a good idea to cover up when you're in dry winter air, the way you cover up can affect how well you're able to protect your skin. For instance, you'll want to avoid any clothing that rubs against your skin in a way that leaves it chapped or irritated. Raw skin is vulnerable to further dehydration and irritation, so be sure to wear properly-fitted clothes and comfortable fabrics to prevent this.
    • Rough fabrics like wool are especially harmful — though wool is great for keeping you warm, it's also great for rubbing your skin red. If you're wearing wool, wear something under it to keep it from coming in contact directly with your skin. For instance, wool gloves are perfectly manageable if you wear thin, soft cotton gloves underneath them.
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    Resist itching. Though it's sometimes quite tempting, itching almost always makes irritated skin worse, so try as hard as you can to avoid it. In addition to further irritating your skin, itching is a great way to cause infections by transferring bacteria from your hands to sore spots on the skin. If you do itch your skin (which isn't recommended), clean hands are a must to lessen (but not prevent) the risk of infection.
    • If you're suffering from itching, consider carrying some anti-itch cream (like hydrocortisone) for frequent applications to stave off the urge.
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    Don't take long, hot showers. Steaming hot water can feel great during the cold months of winter, but it can be murder on the skin if you aren't careful. Hot water strips the skin of its protective natural oils, making it much more likely to dry out, especially if the ambient air is dry as well. To avoid this, use warm (not hot) water, and try to limit your showers to about 10 minutes or less. Taking cooler, shorter showers will go a long way towards keeping your skin healthy during the winter (in addition to helping with flaky skin conditions like dandruff).
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    Reduce alcohol-based perfume and aftershave use. Just like harsh soaps and cleaning solutions, some fragrances and perfumes (especially alcohol-based ones) can strip the skin's natural moisturizing oils away. In addition, the chemicals in many common fragrances can cause rashes or allergic reactions if applied to already-irritated skin. The solution is simple: use mild, weaker scents and try to limit use only to the parts of the body where odor is strongest, like the underarms, groin, and feet.


  • For dry feet, try applying a thick lotion just before bed, then covering your feet in socks before you go to sleep. The socks will work with the lotion to keep your feet moisturized through the night, reducing dryness during the day.
  • If you shave regularly and have noticed dry, irritated skin wherever you shave, try switching to a fresh razor. Sharper razors usually cause less irritation than dull razors, which can catch and pull on hairs rather than making clean cuts.


  • If your irritated skin eventually becomes red, swollen, painful, and/or starts to drain pus, see your doctor right away — these are signs of infection. Though an ordinary skin infection isn't likely to be dangerous, you may need antibiotics to treat it.

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Categories: Skin Care