Winter Skin | How to change your routine

Winter Skin | How to change your routine

May 15, 2021

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Can you briefly explain how the skin requires a different type of care during the winter months?


Our skin faces different challenges throughout the year depending on where we live.  Summer adds humidity, added UV exposure, and heat that causes us to flush much easier.  Spring and fall can add allergens to the air that can irritate our skin just as much as our airways.  Winter leaves the air dry, cold, and missing the added UV of the summer. With the excess cold in the winter and dry air, our skin will need added moisture since it is simply not getting it from the environment. 

Cold weather can impact the skin directly and indirectly. 

Cold weather itself tends to be drier with lower humidity. This strips away natural oils from your skin. Try not to think of your skin as smooth as a wall- it’s more like a cobblestone street or a brick wall. Cold weather tends to break apart the mortar that holds the bricks (our skin cells) together. This makes them more susceptible to irritation and sensitivities from the environment.



winter acne



Indirectly, heating and hot showers can also serve to dry out the skin even more.


As our skin loses its natural oils and hydration in colder months, we need to replace these with hydrating products. During the summer months, there is more humidity in the air which makes it less necessary to apply products with this added moisture. In fact, some people may find using these in the summer may make their skin feel greasy or oily. 

If you think about the cobblestone street analogy- if the mortar between the bricks is dissolving then we need to fill in those areas with the right products!

What types of skin challenges are worse in the winter?



The cooler months can be a little frustrating when it comes to seasonal acne. It is very common for even some patients with severe acne to say that the summer tends to make their skin look and feel better.  During cooler months there are several changes our skin can experience that can result in breakouts.  

Cooler months can result in decreased ceramides in the skin that help protect the skin.  Acne-prone skin has been shown to be affected by altered ceramide levels.  This is actually where choosing moisturizers that focus on ceramides can help maintain the skin’s barrier function.


Changes in the bio flora of the skin have been considered as a possible trigger for seasonal acne simply because we often use topical antibiotics in the treatment of acne.  The theory is that UV light may contribute to improving the skin in the summer and the reduced UV in the winter could potentially impact the tendency towards breakouts.  The challenge here from a management perspective is that the risk of UV exposure outweighs the benefits when we have multiple methods of treating acne.  


climate skincare


The other interesting note to comment on is that as often as we hear about the worsening of acne in the winter, we do routinely have patients that experience exacerbations in the summer.  This is why I try to keep my patients focused on the true underlying trigger to most acne which is hormonal.  As much as we try to leave the environment, diet, and other factors, ultimately many of those factors are not entirely within our control.



Stress from back to school, back to routines, holidays, and more can trigger flushing and inflammation in the skin.  This can result in another type of breakout called Rosacea.  Seasonal acne often shares some features with rosacea and can overlap at times.  For many pimples from acne can “pop" and be satisfying in that they resolve.  Pimples from rosacea do not really “pop”- they just get angrier and the most we can get out of them if we try is a clear fluid.  



The term “eczema” is somewhat of a basket term that just means sensitive skin. There are a variety of causes of eczema. In the winter, eczema is most likely a byproduct of excess dry air that reduces or draws moisture out of your skin. This makes our skin dry out and break down making it more susceptible to irritants and allergens in the environment.

It's important to switch up your skincare routine in the winter, right? Can you explain why/how?


If you already use a daily moisturizer and are still feeling dry, adding a hydrating serum to your routine before your moisturizer can help seal in added hydration.  It also is important to look at the products you use and consider eliminating some that can add to the dryness.  Chemical and mechanical exfoliants, alpha and beta hydroxy acids, and other anti-aging products can work by drying the skin out further and making it even harder to regain needed moisture!


Which practices should we re-evaluate during cooler months?

A good skincare routine is important year-round. However, we are increasingly finding that this routine may need to change with the season. The challenges our skin is faced with as the temperatures and levels of humidity change likely require a little tweaking of our daily skincare rituals. 

There are some “summer skincare habits” that we may need to drop as it gets cooler:

During the summer many people either actively wash their faces more than twice a day to combat oil and debris. Others may passively do so through swimming and sweating.  Excessive face-washing can be really bad for our skin as it depletes our skin of its natural oils, lipids, and ceramides.  Decreased lipids in the skin have been linked to acne flares. This may be from an overproduction of sebum by the skin as it tries to compensate for the loss of hydration. As it gets cooler out, try to avoid over washing. 

Exfoliation is not always a bad thing and there are times when our skin can really benefit from it.  However, excess exfoliation achieved with physical or chemical exfoliants should be followed up with moisturizers to avoid excess dryness. The excess dryness can lead to inflammation.  Inflammation is often a trigger for acne as well as another type of breakout called rosacea. 

Are there any tips that can be recommended to help prevent and treat seasonal acne in the cooler months?


Maintain a good skincare routine comprised of a cleanser, protecting and repairing the skin.  Re-evaluate your cleanser to make sure it is not too harsh in the winter.   Protect your skin with a good moisturizer.  Do not be afraid to do so worried that you may trigger more acne.  Choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer to reduce the chances of this.  If you have a history of seasonal acne, be prepared to start integrating acne-combatting ingredients into your fall routine before the flares start.  





  1. Please share some things you do to keep your skin healthy and supple all winter long that you would recommend to your patients.


    To keep my skin healthy and supple during the winter months I gradually make several changes as the fall moves toward the colder days of winter…


    1. Cleanser change.  During the warmer and more humid months, I find my skin is a bit on the oily side.  I often use a cleanser with some salicylic acid or other alpha hydroxy or beta hydroxy acid to combat this. In the winter, I change to a simple cleanser- one without these added ingredients to avoid excess dryness. A simple cleanser such as Cerave or Purpose Cleanser works well to cleanse without added drying.
    2. Reduce how often an exfoliant is used.  I love sugar or apricot scrubs.  In the winter I try to reduce how often I use these to once a week to avoid irritation.
    3. Adding a hyaluronic acid serum into my routine before my moisturizer can help seal in hydration.  Cerave Hyaluronic acid serum or Neutrogena’s Hydroboost serum are great options for this.   
    4. Use a hydrating mask once a week.  Overnight masks are like a moisturizer with extra effects.  Kiehls ultra facial overnight hydrating masque is one of my favorite products on days that my skin is so dry it feels irritated. 
    5. Switch to Azelaic acid for anti-acne and anti-discoloration ingredients.  Many products focused on preventing acne or discoloration can be really drying as they work by chemically exfoliating the skin.  Azelaic acid is milder but very effective to prevent acne and even out skin tone.  The Ordinary’s Azelaic Acid has become one of my most recommended products.
    6. During winter months with a little added congestion, many people become mouth breathers at night.  Along with this comes painful cracked and dry lips in the daytime.  Applying Vaseline or Aquaphor to your lips before bedtime can prevent this.





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