Deflecting Winter's Dry Skin

by Sue Chung Patient Expert

I moisturize a lot during winter, but I always get super dry skin and chapped hands and lips. Can I do anything else to prevent painfully dry skin?

The Farmer's Almanac predicts that this winter's temperatures will be below normal and numbing. Regardless of whether the prediction turns out to be accurate across the country, winter invariably brings along cold gusts of wind that can strip moisture from our skin whether we live in suburban neighborhoods or city blocks.

You may think it's enough that you put moisturizer on regularly, but the cold snap can get through our normal beauty routines, leaving us with dry skin that feels itchy or even painful. As the mercury drops, keep your skin supple and pain-free through winter's iciest days by following the guidelines below.


When choosing a moisturizer, there are three things to look for. First, you want to pick a lotion that has both humectant and occlusive properties. Humectants include common ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids, glycerin, and urea. These help keep your skin hydrated by attracting water to the outer layer of your skin. Occlusive ingredients will keep the moisture there by depositing a protective layer over the skin to keep it from losing water. Oils and shea butter are common occlusive emollients.

Second, choose a texture that feels right for you. You're more likely to apply moisturizer regularly if you enjoy the feel of the product. If you like your moisturizer to be thicker, choose a cream. If you prefer a lighter texture, go with a lotion formula. Remember that the textures of different lotions and creams can vary wildly between companies and even within the same brand. Make sure you like how it feels both when you put it on your skin and when it's fully absorbed. Apply the lotion when your skin is damp just after you get out of the shower or bath-this helps trap moisture in your skin and keep it hydrated. Make sure you cover the heels of your feet and commonly neglected areas like your neck and ears.

Finally, look to Mother Nature for some extra help. To restore moisture to a parched face, try a homemade fruit mask. Mix the flesh of one ripe avocado with the juice of one lemon and a swipe of olive oil. Apply to the face and wash off after 10 minutes. Avocado is rich in vitamin E and the lemon juice will act as an exfoliant. If you're not thrilled about avocados, go with a banana mask. Mash one banana with lemon juice and a few teaspoons of plain, dry oatmeal. The oatmeal will soothe as the fruit moisturizes and exfoliates.

Things to scale back on

While it may be tempting to jump into a steaming hot shower, spending too much time in hot water during the winter can actually aggravate the problem of dry skin. Any time you spend in the water leaches natural oils from the skin, but hot water pulls out more oils than warm water.

If you blow dry your hair for a long time, this can also be to blame for drying out your skin right before you head out into the cold. Try to keep the water temperature at a level that's warm, not hot. In addition, invest in a super-absorbent towel for your hair to minimize blow-drying.

If you currently use a retinol product at night and experience dry skin during the winter, reduce the frequency of usage. Retinol can thin the outermost layer of skin, leaving you vulnerable to irritation and flaking. If you use it once a day, try alternating days in order to keep the benefits of retinol while reducing the chances of skin sensitivity.

Tips for the office

Your office can be your skin's worst enemy throughout the winter since office buildings tend to use central heating systems that use forced, dry hot air to heat up indoor spaces. If you can't employ a humidifier at your office, try keeping plants that require daily watering around your work area. Another trick is to keep a vase or two of water on top of radiators.

In order to keep warm, plenty of people understand the benefit of wool sweaters. Unfortunately, wool can be irritating and may aggravate already dry skin. Try wearing a thin cotton T-shirt and layer wool clothing on top. 100% cotton fabric will prevent irritation while wool will create warmth.

Lastly, if your face starts to feel tight from dryness, keep a bottle of spray mist handy like Eau Thermale Avene Water Spray. Spritz over your face and apply moisturizer while your face is still damp.

Sue Chung
Meet Our Writer
Sue Chung

Sue wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Healthy Skin.