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I know I am not the only one who once the temps drop below 40 degrees becomes an itchy, scaly, sensitive mess. I've had my skin crack and even bleed in winter, and it seems so many different kinds of fabric will just irritate the heck out of me days after I wore them. But over the years I have figured out different products and methods to help. This is how I handle my dry skin in winter.
How I Handle My Dry Skin in Winter
There are three things I've done that have greatly improved my skin on my face and my body when it comes to sensitivity and dryness:
A Humidifier to Improve Indoor Air
Last year I read on Wirecutter and Strategist and all those reputable review places that this certain cool mist humidifier was the absolute best. I bought two, one for the living room area and one for our bedroom. And those humidifiers sucked. They were so hard to clean, they were noisy, so big, we gave them away in our city's Buy Nothing group. However, we saw the benefit of running cool mist humidifiers in our home.
So this year we switched to this one from Crane. It's cheaper, it's super easy to clean, silent, and it comes in some really cool color options. We have one in our room, one in our living area, one in our daughter's room, and it really improves the air indoors and we all notice it in our skin. Not only that, but I also notice it as someone who deals with dry allergy eyes – my eyes are happier!
A Shower Filter to Soften Water
Years ago, I got a shower filter and I saw a noticeable difference in my hair. My color lasted longer, my hair was more manageable and looked healthier. But I dropped the ball replacing the filter and removed it when we got a fancy new shower head.
Then my hairstylist recommended a shower filter for my curly hair and then Aquasana reached out and offered a free filter for a single paid Instagram post last year and I added the filter to my shower with my existing showerhead. Again, my hair color lasts longer, it feels and looks healthier… but my skin has also improved.
My family has also noticed that they don't have as dry or sensitive of skin with the shower filter, and lotions seem to absorb better. So every few months we've been replacing the interior filter (not sponsored, buying them with our own money) and it makes SUCH a difference. Face, hair, and body are all benefitted from this little gadget.
I have this one from Aquasana but they have a range of different ones, some with showerheads, even some with handheld wands. Replacement cartridges are like $60 and you replace it every 6-8 months. Seems like a lot, but you will find you need to buy fewer body products which end up being cheaper in the long run. We also do Amazon subscribe and save so it's cheaper and we always have it arrive when needed!
Supplements to Improve Skin and Hydration
This is one I know not everyone is into, so feel free to keep scrolling. But I have found a lot of improvement in taking certain supplements, and one improvement I've found is happier skin.
I started taking borage oil when looking for solutions for my “Rice Krispie” knees. They didn't hurt, but the crunching sound when I did squats at the gym stressed me out. Within a month of taking borage oil pills each morning, the sound subsided but I also found my skin wasn't as dry or as irritated.
When I went plant-based during the pandemic, I looked for supplements to balance what I wasn't getting from dairy, meat, and seafood and began taking a vegan Omega-3 pill. I didn't see much result. But when I started incorporating a few animal products back into my diet I tried this supplement from Thorne and haven't looked back. Thorne is my company for supplements, I appreciate the research and focus and find the quality stellar.
Collagen, Vitamin D, and Vitamin C also offer benefits for hydration, reducing sensitivity, and dealing with eczema and other skin issues. I also take D and C, but for me, the two oils made the biggest impact on my skin appearance and sensitivity. If you aren't getting the results you desire from topical products, consider researching supplements to see if they may offer relief.
Drinking More Water
I know, I know, everyone preaches this and there have been studies even stating that water consumption doesn't affect the hydration of your skin. But it made an impact for me. I have two of these 32 oz. bottles. I keep one at my desk and one that goes from my bedroom to the Peloton bike (and then the kitchen to clean and then upstairs with me at bedtime). I commit to emptying both and consuming 64 oz. before I go to sleep. This is on top of any coffee, tea, and other drinks… even cans of sparkling water.
Yes, you will have to pee more often. Yes, some days you will be chugging 28 ounces at 8pm because you dropped the ball and then will have to get up and go to the bathroom at 2am. It isn't fun, but it became a habit and I found within two weeks my skin was improved (and I had to pee less often).
I wouldn't say my skin is more hydrated by drinking more water, but I find it's less sensitive. I wasn't feeling as itchy, my skin wasn't as red, and it seemed like when I put products on my skin they worked better. In general, my skin just looked happier. It glowed, it didn't get as many hormonal breakouts, it was more even in tone.
My daughter was dealing with dry and irritated skin and I challenged her to drink at least 32 oz. of water a day and in a couple of weeks, she found her skin also improved.
How I Deal With my Dry and Sensitive Face
My face was the place where winter affected it the most. I can remember many winters slathering oils, creams, and straight up Vaseline on my face in hopes of having happy skin without that great of results. Especially under my nose, my skin would get so dry it would flake, get red, crack, and drive me bonkers. The steps above made a HUGE difference but so did these products and methods:
Using an Oil Face Cleanser
I always used CeraVe, it was recommended by my dermatologist, gets consistently great reviews, and didn't seem to strip my skin. But then a few years ago, I was gifted a jar of Colleen Rothschild Radiant Cleansing Balm and it changed my skin for the better.
I had tried oil-based cleansers before (DHC was one I tried more than once with okay results) and they seemed cool, but I always needed to double-cleanse with CeraVe afterward to feel really clean. But this solid oil-based cleanser from Colleen Rothschild took off everything from waterproof mascara to long-wear foundation without issue and left my skin so soft and happy.
I rub it on dry skin, not a lot of pressure. You'll see your makeup dissolve. I then leave it on my face (it doesn't irritate my eyes) as I floss, brush, all that sort of stuff. Then I remove it with a washcloth. I will use the hot water spigot for tooth brushing and hand washing and such so by the time I need to dampen my washcloth it's not ice cold. I put the washcloth over my face and let it just sit there for a bit and breathe in the smell of the cleanser (a day spa-like smell) and then when I'm ready, wipe off the cleanser.
Sometimes I need to take a clean washcloth and wipe my eyes of any residue, but in general, that's all I need to do to clean my skin at night. I do not wash my face in the morning; a bit of water or toner is all that's needed to remove any leftover moisturizers. But this cleanser has made my skin so happy. Hydrated, soft, less irritated, and I need fewer products to deal with my winter skin.
When we get into the depths of winter, the last thing I want is a long nighttime beauty routine. It's dark, I'm tired, I just want to go to bed. But it's worth it because when I take the time and layer moisture, I wake with happy skin.
After cleansing while my skin is still damp, I apply a hyaluronic acid. Acid sounds like it's an exfoliant, but it's a natural substance found in the body's connective tissue. It's also a humectant, which means it retains moisture. And it has been shown to help speed healing.
Applying hyaluronic acid to damp skin and then under a moisturizer really makes a difference in how hydrated and happy my skin feels. Right now I am using this one from Serovital and like it, but I have also used this one from The Ordinary which is a quality budget-friendly alternative.
Then over my night cream (this one from Colleen Rothschild continues to be a favorite for really hydrating without being greasy), I apply an oil. I love this one from Kiehl's, I also love this one from Equilibria, but I have been known to also just use this almond oil. And when it's really dry and cold, I replace the oil with old-school Vaseline. It sort of seals in all the hydration and then I just use a wet washcloth to remove any residue in the morning.
I also layer during the day with the hyaluronic acid, my moisturizer, and a hydrating tinted moisturizer (currently NARS is my jam). And any day I'm at home and don't have a Zoom or have to shoot content, I do my nighttime skincare during the day. These no-makeup yes-moisture days balance out the days when I have a full face and have to go out in the cold and wind.
Not Washing My Face in the Morning
Let's face it, your face isn't getting dirty while you sleep. So why do we wash it in the morning? I find a damp washcloth will remove any sand from my eyes or residual moisturizer from the night prior and removing this step really helped my skin be more hydrated and happy during the day.
How I Deal with My Dry and Sensitive Body
The humidifier, the supplements, the shower filter, and the water consumption helps my skin, but it still needs some serious assistance to not be scaly, miserable, and even cracking in places in the winter. What works for me:
I have been dry brushing on and off for over 20 years. When I forget about it, my skin lets me know by feeling rough and scaly. Dry brushing sounds painful, but it actually feels pretty awesome. First thing in the morning before you shower or work out or apply any products, use a dry brush (I have this one) to gently brush your skin up towards your heart. I brush from neck to fingertips and toes and try to reach every part of me.
Dry brushing feels great (once you get the hang of it), and it will exfoliate off dry skin meaning your moisturizers will be more effective. It gets the blood flowing and I find it a great pick-me-up in the morning, especially when it's dark and cold. For more information, read my full article about the benefits of dry brushing.
Using a Japanese Skin Cloth
I've used traditional washcloths, I've used “poufs” and loofahs, but when I switched to a Japanese skin cloth (this brand in particular is my jam; one color for each family member) my life was forever changed.
Made from nylon like those body poufs, a skin cloth is instead a woven long cloth that will make lather, but will also gently exfoliate your skin. Even better, the length is long enough that you can get your back! And these can be used for a long while; I wash mine on the gentle cycle of the machine every so often to get them completely clean.
While salt and sugar scrubs can be hydrating with their oils, if you find them messy or complicated, this is a great alternative. Also, you can then exfoliate while using your favorite sensitive hydrating body wash. And speaking of…
Switching to Bioderma Atoderm
I love yummy smelling body washes that are also kind to my skin. I have several I really like that are made with good ingredients and hydrate. Nécessaire is my favorite; it's a B Corp sustainable brand that uses really high quality ingredients. They have natural yet chic scents and their fragrance free doesn't smell like plastic or really anything. My daughter loooooves Glossier's Body Hero Oil Wash and I have to say the scent is delicious (orange blossom and neroli) and I often use it myself. I like how subtle Atoderm by Bioderma is, almost no scent but it works so well with any perfume I wear.
But when it comes to the time in winter when my skin is begging for spring to return, I use only Atoderm. A foaming shower oil, it hydrates while cleaning and is so gentle it can be used on babies. For such hydration and a formula for sensitive skin, you usually have to give up lather or scent. And for something that costs half as much as the fancy brands, it provides a pretty luxe bathing experience while not irritating or drying. This with the SALUX washcloth is my jam for soft, happy winter skin.
Treating Body Moisture As I Do Face Moisture
When it comes to moisturizing my body, I've always expected a single product to achieve everything. And I think there are some amazing products on the market that accomplish a lot. But for really dry and angry skin, I've learned to layer my moisturizers as I do with my face.
Nécessaire makes this fragrance-free body serum that is essentially hyaluronic acid for below your neck. It also has ceramides and niacinamide and I just add some to my body moisturizer and it makes a big impact without feeling greasy or irritating my skin. It may perform better if it's applied to damp skin and then lotion over it, but I've found success mixing it with lotion and applying it to damp skin.
I also will layer an oil over the lotion. Spring through fall, my moisturizer of choice is Neutrogena Body Oil. I love the scent, I love coating myself and putting on my terry robe and letting it soak in as I take care of my face and hair. But by Thanksgiving I'm layering it on top of other products.
Just like with my face, I find the oil sort of seals everything in. And this way I can use a heavy-duty sensitive skin moisturizer (don't have a favorite and use a few different brands, if you have a fave please share in the comments) and still enjoy the scent and the ritual of Neutrogena Body Oil.
I know my skin issues are not the same as everyone and may live in a different climate. But as someone who dealt with very dry and irritated skin every winter since I was young, I just had to share what I've learned and how I handle my dry skin in winter. But I'd also love to hear from you (and I bet fellow Wardrobe Oxygen readers would as well). What do you use to handle your dry or sensitive winter skin? Let us know in the comments! Please note any comments with two or more links will be held in moderation, but I'll be watching and approving periodically.
I bought the Colleen Rothschild Radiant Cleansing Balm from one of your IG stories when it was on sale over the holidays, and it is the best cleanser I’ve ever used. I’m 49, and for the past two winters my face has been more irritated by cold and wind than it used to be. My skin (especially on my cheeks) is often red and dry. The balm removes my makeup completely and calms my skin like a dream. I rely on CeraVe Moisturizing Cream at night.
Would love to hear what kind of sunscreen you use, Alison!
I’ve opened so many links from this post! I guess you can probably tell. 🙂
I like Alba Botanica Very Emmoliant body lotion MAXIMUM. It has an acid that helps (it’s kinda hard to find body lotion with exfoliant that doesn’t cost a fortune). I didn’t like the scent at first but I’m OK with it now. I started by using it on my dyshydrotic eczema, which finds acids comforting. It wasn’t in stock one day and I got one of their other lotions without the acid and I really noticed a difference on my legs.
Rachel Anne Krug says
This winter I’ve switched to the L’Occitane Almond Shower Oil and Almond Supple Skin Oil and have seen such a difference in the hydration of my legs in particular. For face I’m using the Deep Hydration Face Cream by Fresh and it’s my yearly winter moisturizer.
Since High School I’ve resisted washing my face in the morning because it made my face feel so ‘tight’, and I always thought my face shouldn’t be dirty since I washed it the evening before – glad to hear I’m not the only one!
In the winter I use Vanicream Ointment on any dry patches on my face or when I’m going to spend time outdoors in the MN cold/wind. On my body I use Vanicream Moisturizing Cream and Majestic Pure Fractionated Coconut Oil. I use only the coconut oil as a moisturizer in the spring, summer, and fall months. Fractionated coconut oil is in a liquid form. It’s more expensive than solid coconut oil, but it lasts a long time. I prefer the coconut oil because that’s the sole ingredient. I don’t like placing products with dozens of chemical ingredients on my entire body.
I’m with you, Anamarie. The simpler, the better. I find that perfumes and plant extracts that normally irritate my sensitive skin drive me insane in the winter.
I am also very sensitive to artificial scents. That’s another reason why the products I listed are my go-tos!
Word of warning to readers — never use petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on or in your nostrils. It can lead to a form of pneumonia that is difficult to treat. The links below (and there are many others) provide details and alternatives, like a saline nasal spray and a humidifier.
I just tried Bioderm Atoderm body oil for the first time yesterday, based on reading your multiple recs. Boy howdy! I wasn’t expecting the lovely scent that wafted on my first pump. It is divine (to my nose). Thought it would be some bland neutral oil scent. But no! What a nice surprise. It actually made my morning.
I still have my pink Target water bottle too! I laughed when I saw your photo.
What is the consistency of the Neutrogena body oil? I need something for my legs, but am wondering if it would get messy.
The neutrogena oil is light but effective. I have used it for years. Even my husband uses it.. which has to be vote for non-stickiness. I pick up the unscented version, though.
Alison Gary says
It’s very light and liquid. It’s a squeeze bottle, I don’t find it too messy and like that my hands aren’t gloppy after applying. I think it’s light enough that it could work in an oil sprayer.
Ann Marie says
I live in NYC so I have to walk outside in the cold and deal with steam heat. To help with my dry skin, I:
1. Use goat milk soap but only on the necessary parts, like the underarms. A few years ago I had bad eczema and so I stopped using any soap or exfoliates on my body. Soap all over your body is really not necessary and just dries you out. Shaving my legs acts like an exfoliate anyway;
2. Always moisturizer with a heavy body moisturizer whenever I get out of the shower and use a good moisturizer on my face;
3. Wash my face at night with Burts Bees sensitive face wash. It is much less drying becasue it is not soap, but not great at taking off my makeup so I follow up with a makeup remover cloth for sensitive skin. I then slather on a facial oil from The Ordinary;
4. Always put Vaseline on my lips and moisturize my hands and feet with a heavy moisturizer, like Eucerin when I am laying in bed before I got to sleep at night. I will also put Vaseline around my nose or my cuticles if they are very dry; and
5. Keep a hand moisturizer with me at work so I can moisturize my hands after I wash my hands.
I also put Vaseline on my lips before I leave my apartment in the morning. I don’t find that humidifiers make much of a difference for me, although I do keep one in my office at work and use it if I remember.