Everything you need to tackle dry and dehydrated skin this winter, according to dermatologists

Louise Whitbread
·8-min read
As the seasons change, don’t let your skin suffer (iStock/The Independent)
As the seasons change, don’t let your skin suffer (iStock/The Independent)

As temperatures plummet, taking us from autumn gradually into winter, our skin often bears the brunt.

Gone are the balmy days of summer. Instead, we’re faced with blustery winds and an icy chill, and these elements, combined with the return of central heating, can lead to dry, dehydrated skin that need a bit of TLC.

“It is not unusual for many people to notice their skin becomes drier as the season's transition, and those with dry, inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis often find their skin is more problematic in the colder months,” says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Skin55.

But that’s not all, she also explains that along with cold air and windy climates, central heating, and taking warm baths and showers can all act to aggravate the skin further.

Coming in from the cold outdoors to warm indoor environments can draw out moisture from the skin and lead to increased dryness and dehydration as we lack the hydrating oils and water to keep skin in tip-top condition.

However it’s not a case of enduring lacklustre skin, and there are preventative measures you can take to keep it hydrated, supple and as healthy as possible.

We’ve consulted the experts to bring you the details on the winter skincare swaps you should make, whatever your skin type, to keep your complexion looking and feeling good.

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How to treat dry skin during the winter

According to Dr Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, as the cold air, low humidity and central heating during the winter increase the trans-epidermal water loss through our skin, causing it to become dry, our skin barrier during the winter months is compromised and so is our skin’s defence against environmental stressors.

“It is important to replace the natural oils that have become depleted and moisturisers are effective at improving skin hydration. The frequent application of a moisturiser that contains key ingredients that repairs and restores the barrier function is essential,” she told The Independent.

This is even more important if you already have dry skin to begin with, and Dr Laftah recommends applying moisturisers liberally and frequently throughout the day.

Other products that can help range from hydrating serums to the correct cleanser, to keep flaky and tight skin at bay. Here’s our experts top tips for winter skincare.

The expert-approved products to try

Cleansers

The first step of any skincare routine is cleansing, to remove make-up, sweat, dirt and grime build up from the day, or first thing in the morning.

However, Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of skincare clinic Mortar & Milk, advises that the wrong one can also contribute to worsening already dry and inflamed skin.

“Using a wipe, a foaming, or acid based cleanser will strip our acid mantle leading to trans-epidermal water loss.”

Instead she recommends opting for a gentler cream or milk based cleanser, applied onto skin and removed with a flannel.

In our guide to the best cleansers, this Kate Somerville deliKate soothing cleanser (Cult Beauty, £33), came out on top, that has been designed specifically for inflamed, acne or redness-prone skin.

Gentle and soothing, this is perfect for soothing any irritationKate Somerville
Gentle and soothing, this is perfect for soothing any irritationKate Somerville

Our reviewer said: “Rich and creamy, this is every bit as luxurious as the purple tube suggests. Think of it as real saviour for angry skin that needs a bit of TLC.”

After three weeks of use, our tester noted spotty areas on her chin and forehead were less inflamed too. To apply, simply massage into a wet face and rinse off.

We’d also recommend the La Roche-Posay toleriane dermo-cleanser (Look Fantastic, £8.75), a milky formula that will remove make-up, dirt and grime.

This no frills cleanser is perfect if you’re sensitive, acne-prone or drylookfantastic
This no frills cleanser is perfect if you’re sensitive, acne-prone or drylookfantastic

Free from fragrance and alcohol, known irritants, particularly for sensitive skin, it will soothe angry breakouts, redness and dry patches, while still being budget friendly.

Exfoliating acids and serums

There’s no shortage of skincare ingredients that promise to restore moisture to dry and dehydrated skin, but Dr Zainab recommends hyaluronic acid, a humectant made up of molecules that can hold a thousand time its weight and water. It will retain and boost moisture while imparting a healthy glow.

This Drunk Elephant b-hydra intensive hydration serum (Space NK, £40) earned a spot in our review of the best of hyaluronic acid serums.

Brightening and hydrating, this serum is a winter skin saviourSpace NK
Brightening and hydrating, this serum is a winter skin saviourSpace NK

Our tester noted that “while it is marketed as a serum, its velvety texture feels more like a moisturiser on first application, but dries to a tacky, thin layer.”

The formula is a blend of hyaluronic acid, vitamin B5 to hydrate and pineapple ceramides that brighten dull complexions.

Marshall also advises the use of polyhydroxy acids (PHAs) to help rebuild skin barrier function. “They can penetrate and hydrate better than most other ingredients, as well as reduce inflammation and are perfect for all skin types," she says.

We love this Medik8 Press & Glow daily exfoliating PHA tonic with enzyme activator (Medik8, from £23) that can be used morning and evening. Applied best when swept across cleansed skin on a reusable cotton pad, before applying your serums and moisturiser, it will suit even the most sensitive skin.

PHA’s are a fantastic ingredient to revive lacklustre skinMedik8
PHA’s are a fantastic ingredient to revive lacklustre skinMedik8

It contains gluconolactone and prickly pear extract which work together to provide a surface exfoliation that leaves the skin smooth, even and glowing without stripping it.

Within a few days of use, you’ll start to see results. The texture is not sticky or drying on the skin, making it an easy addition to make into your skincare routine.

It’s a refillable bottle too, with 200ml refills costing £23, and the pump can be re-used for five refills.

Moisturisers

Regular application of a moisturiser is key when tackling dryness and dehydration, and while it might be tempting to reach for a thick cream to ward off flaky skin, Dr Mahto advises picking one that’s right for your skin type rather than applying a one-size fits all approach.

“There are three basic categories of ingredients found in moisturisers: humectants, occlusives and emollients,” she explains, adding, “If your skin is acne-prone then go for products higher in humectants and low in occlusives; if your skin is dry then a moisturiser with a higher content of emollients and occlusives will be better.”

According to the consultant dermatologist, humectants are molecules that attract and bind water from the deeper layers of the skin, and can temporarily plump up fine lines.

“Occlusives create a barrier over the skin and prevent water loss from the surface and they are good for dry to very dry skin,” Dr Mahto says, adding, “Emollients are moisturising agents that work by filling in the gaps between skin cells and replacing skin lipids.”

If you have oily skin that often has breakouts, try the Glossier priming moisturiser balance (Glossier, £23) which was highly rated in our guide to the best moisturisers for oily skin.

The formula is a gel-cream texture that we found to be lightweight and fast-absorbing. It’s rich in willow bark and niacinamide which work to reduce the appearance of pores and smoothen uneven skin.

“We noticed immediate results on our T-zone which only improved over the course of the week. Instead of leaving skin totally matte, it had just a hint of dewiness that never devolved into a greasy mess or broke us out,” our reviewer said.

If you have dry skin regardless of the season, this CeraVe facial moisturising lotion SPF25 (Look Fantastic, £13) is a brilliant budget buy that we loved in our guide to the best SPF moisturisers.

Deceivingly small, this tube will last you agesThe Independent
Deceivingly small, this tube will last you agesThe Independent

It includes CeraVe’s signature ceramides (barrier restoring lipids) which provide a boost of hydration to the skin and maintain its strength too.

Most creams that are aimed at dry skin are often thick in consistency, but this formula is surprisingly lightweight and provides SPF protection too, a must for all skin types to prevent sun damage and hyperpigmentation.

Lip balm

As continuous mask-wearing means we’ve had to adjust our make-up routines, we’d recommend adopting a simpler approach, ditching the brightly coloured gloss and lipsticks in favour of a hydrating balm that you can use as the last step of your skincare routine and top-up throughout the day.

We love this Neighbourhood Botanicals dear diary lip balm (Fenwick, £15), that throws us back to the Nineties with its fun heart-shaped tin.

For top ups on the go, keep chapped lips at bay with this fun lip balmNeighbourhood Botanicals
For top ups on the go, keep chapped lips at bay with this fun lip balmNeighbourhood Botanicals

The smooth balm is formulated with jojoba oil, shea butter and caster oil to soothe dry, chapped lips, with a subtle bubblegum scent that isn’t overpowering or sickly. A little goes a long way, so it will last you ages too.

For more skincare advice, read our guide to the best exfoliating toners that tackle ageing and scarring for smoother, glowy skin

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