15 things dermatologists want you to know about your skin in winter

·8-min read
Photo credit: Benjamin Vnuk for Harper's Bazaar
Photo credit: Benjamin Vnuk for Harper's Bazaar

As the nights start drawing in, chances are it's more than just your body clock that's being thrown off-kilter. Tight skin, rough knuckles, chapped lips? Say hello to winter, about to wreak havoc from head-to-toe.

To show it who’s boss, we asked independent dermatologist Dr Beibei Du-Harpur and Dr Justine Hextall, consultant dermatologist on behalf of The Harley Medical Group, what you need know to keep your complexion happy throughout the cold snap. From your face to your feet, here’s how to winter-proof your skin – starting now.

1) Too much change isn't always a good thing

“I would not recommend a complete overhaul of all products due to a change in seasons – I don't think there's a need for it," says Dr Du-Harpur. "I think that the most important thing is to develop an awareness and understanding of your own skin and how it responds to different environments and products, and make simple changes to help skin adapt for a change in environment. Being aware of potentially irritating ingredients is important too, such as retinoids, exfoliating acids and vitamin C.”

2) You still need SPF

Dr Hextall says that, just because it is winter, it doesn’t mean you should put away your suncream. "While there is less UVB around in winter, levels of UVA (or UV-Ageing as it is known in the dermatology world) are still significant enough to age our skin. I advocate using a sunscreen that specifically has a high UVA rating, like Ladival, all year round to protect your skin. As UVB is the wavelength that stimulates vitamin D production, levels can drop in the winter months and if necessary we can supplement with oral vitamin D3.”

3) Consider professional skin treatments

Winter is a great time of year for skin treatments, says Dr Hextall. "We always worry about peels and laser treatments in the summer months. With sun exposure before or after such procedures there is a higher risk of unwanted post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Autumn and winter therefore represents an opportunity. I would however suggest planning ahead, to make sure your skin has time to settle and be at its peak for the party season. A course of microneedling, like The Harley Medical Group’s DermaFNS treatment, can help to stimulate new collagen and restore skin glow. Likewise, rather than waiting for summer, now is the time to start tackling unwanted hair with a course of laser hair removal.”

4) Keep hydrated

“Your skin will become drier and often more sensitive with the onset of colder weather and central heating. Make sure you keep hydrated during the day; swap your coffee for green tea which has great antioxidant effects," Dr Hextall advises. "Gentle cleansing is a must: you need your skin barrier to be as healthy as possible so that it can retain vital moisture. As a rule of thumb, if your skin feels tight after washing it is likely that the cleanser you are using has disrupted your skin barrier. Skin should feel calm and hydrated after washing, so if you are reaching immediately for your moisturiser you may want to consider a gentler cleanser. I like DermaQuest Essential Daily Cleanser and Cetaphil gentle wash.”

5) Pay extra attention to sensitive skin

Dr Du-Harpur says that those with sensitive skin may experience heightened or more significant cold or wind sensation than those without. "Although everybody’s reason for sensitivity is different, some research suggests that one factor may be that people literally have different degrees of sensitivity in the nerve fibres connecting our skin to our brains. Using a richer or more soothing moisturiser can help balance things out. I recommend seeking out ingredients that can calm skin which experiences irritability, such as the Avène Tolerance Control Collection which includes postbiotic D-Sensinose.”

6) Tweak your daily skincare routine

“If you are having to apply a moisturiser during the day it is likely your skin routine needs tweaking. If you're using a lotion, try swapping it for a cream, massaging it into your skin for 30 seconds to maximise its effects. For treatments at home I like the Hydraphase Intense Masque by La Roche Posay and the Eve Lom Moisture Mask,” says Dr Hextall.

7) Layer up at bedtime

Dr Du-Harpur says: “My number one tip is to embrace using a more occlusive, rich product, especially for the evening routine, which can help maintain the skin barrier and prevent the need for prescribed treatments. Similarly, products marketed as ‘recovery masks’ often contain rich ingredients that are great for moisturising. Although petrolatum and mineral oils have had some bad press over the years, it is really quite undeserved and they are a key part of a dermatologists’ arsenal in managing many skin conditions, particularly dry skin. The occlusive effect of such ingredients essentially shields the skin and gives it time to repair itself or maintain its natural barrier function.”

8) Book in for a facial

“Winter skin is often dull, so I recommend a professional facial about every four weeks," advises Dr Hextall. "That’s how long it takes your skin to move through the full life cycle of skin cell growth, so I often advise people to opt for a superficial peel or exfoliating treatment such as The Harley Medical Group Power Pumpkin Resurfacer (£99, available nationwide) in order to slough off dead skin and allow better absorption of active topical skincare. Regular facials will help to keep your skin clean, clear and hydrated while maximising your everyday skincare regime, too.”

9) Protect lips from ‘lick eczema’

“Licking sore lips will only exacerbate dryness and can cause what is referred to as ‘lick eczema’," explains Dr Hextall. "Make sure your lips are sealed with an effective ointment at all times, particularly before eating and drinking, as some foods, like tomatoes, can irritate chapped lips. I recommend Epaderm Ointment or Cicaplast Balm B5 by La Roche Posay. If you are skiing, remember lips are vulnerable to sun burn. Zinc oxide is a fantastic physical sunscreen and will help to reflect the UV away from the skin of your face and lips.”

10) Prevent dry, chapped hands

Hands are very high risk for becoming chapped and sore in winter, says Dr Hextall. "New mothers constantly washing hands often come and see me in the winter months. My advice is to avoid baby wipes, as they can contain preservatives that trigger hand eczema, and for everyone to wear gloves when washing. Dermol 500 is a fantastic moisturising soap substitute that is mildly antibacterial – it is very useful if frequent hand washing is necessary. At night, apply a rich layer of hand cream under cotton gloves. After a few nights, the skin barrier will start to heal and the difference is often amazing. I love Avene XeraCalm A.D. Lipid and Neutrogena hand cream.”

11) Monitor scaly skin for dermatitis

“If you notice scaling around your nose and eyebrows in the winter months you may be developing a dermatitis thought to be exacerbated by yeast," explains Dr Hextall. "Cold winter weather is also a known trigger. I recommend checking with your GP and applying Canesten cream to the affected areas twice a day for a week and every so often to reduce recurrence. Also, if you use a very gentle skin wash and moisturise twice a day it will help. Sometimes an anti-inflammatory cream may be needed too, for a short time, and your doctor can advise here. As with most skin conditions, early intervention often stops them in their tracks.”

12) Consider a foot peel

Dr Hextall confirms that feet often become dry and cracked when the temperature drops. "Exfoliating frequently and applying an effective moisturiser always helps, but for many there just aren’t enough hours in the day. This is where the Skin Republic Foot Peel comes in. This amazing treatment is in essence a chemical peel for feet. Don’t be fooled if your feet feel no different in the morning – in a few days, you will be essentially shedding your exoskeleton. Expect to lose layers of skin: as unattractive as it is, the results are baby-soft feet.”

13) Use bath time to hydrate

“Baths are a gift to dry winter skin. Not only do they provide the all-important relaxation to switch of those skin-damaging stress hormones, but baths are a marvellous opportunity to hydrate skin. If you suffer with eczema, Balneum Plus Bath Oil can hydrate skin and reduce itching," says Dr Hextall. For a treat, they recommend Jo Malone Orange Blossom Bath Oil and the This Works Deep Sleep Bath Oil.

14) Kick your body care routine up a notch

In winter, "a common site for dryness is the lower legs," says Dr Du-Harpur. "So-called ‘chicken skin’ or keratosis pilaris (KP) may also become more noticeable around this time of year due to dryness and associated inflammation. I recommend washing with the Avène XeraCalm A.D. Cleansing Oil and, for those with KP or who wish to gently exfoliate while moisturising, choose a body lotion that's formulated with lactic acid.”

15) Don't drink yourself dry

“Research has shown that alcohol can increase inflammation in the skin and worsen many skin diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema and rosacea. It has a dehydrating effect on the body in general and also disturbs sleep which is important for skin regeneration and general skin health; this disruption of our body’s natural equilibrium may lead to our skin looking dull and tired," says Dr Du-Harpur, who also recommends limiting the amount of alcohol consumed in one day, and remembering to drink water to maintain general hydration.

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