You’re breaking out in a glorious combination of spots and dry patches. You’re strangely blotchy. You don’t have even a hint of a glow.
This is winter skin. It is awful. But why does it happen? And what can you do about it, beyond bundling a scarf halfway up your face? Winter ravaged skin is down to a couple of key factors: the drop in temperature, the drop in humidity, and indoor heating. Nurse Alice Jenkins, dermatologist and medical director at Harley Street Injectables, tells us: ‘During the winter months, temperatures and humidity both drop which can have a huge impact on the skin. ‘It can become dry, flaky and can sometimes even crack, which can be painful or itchy. ‘When the weather gets cooler we also tend to turn up the indoor heating which can zap moisture from the air and from your skin – leaving it dehydrated and in need some some serious TLC.’
To get more science-y, the cold air and low humidity increases what’s called trans epidermal water loss (TEWL), causing the skin barrier to degrade. Facialist Andy Millward explains: ‘Some TEWL is normal and needed for maintaining healthy skin, however when it’s accelerated or becomes excessive, the skin lacks the essential water it needs for many enzyme functions with the skin and skin feels dry and tight. ‘In an environment that is low in water, free radicals (or reactive oxygen species) are also more concentrated, and pro-inflammatory cytokines are released by the keratinocyte (the cells that make up the epidermis), again contributing to the breakdown in skin barrier function. So, in short, cold weather means a whole lot of dryness. That can cause the obvious – tight skin, flaking, dullness – but also spots. When your skin becomes too dry, it can react by overproducing natural oils, which then sit on the skin, mix with grime and dirt, and form blemishes. Add in the reduction in daylight – UV light can reduce acne for some – and it makes sense that you’re having a sudden flare-up.
If you have a skin condition such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea, winter is even worse. All of these skin conditions are affected by extremes in temperature (so yes, you’ll suffer in the summer, too. Fun) and can cause serious irritation, cracking, and pain. Andy notes that studies show that during winter, the skin produces lower levels of essential fatty acids, ceramides, and cholesterol, worsening dermatitis and eczema. Some people also develop a type of urticaria (hives) when exposed to the cold, as well as general itching. Oh, and your skin won’t be getting as many of its usual nutrients, as the cold makes the blood vessels in our skin contract in order to preserve heat, limiting the ability of oxygen and any other good bits to reach the skin. That means reduced skin regeneration and longer recovery for any damage. Basically, winter skin isn’t great. What can you do about it?
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
We know you know that you should be drinking more water, but it really is worth repeating. It feels more instinctive to down bottles of water in the summer when you’re trying to cool down, so make a reminder to keep sipping throughout the day. As always, you’re aiming for around eight glasses of water a day. Try to avoid hitting the mulled wine and hot chocolate too hard – alcohol and sugar can increase inflammation, meaning more redness and irritation.
Avoid certain ingredients
Avoid soaps, which will only dry you out further – especially if you have eczema. Instead use a gentle cleanser that won’t draw moisturise away from the skin. Alice Jenkins recommends checking your cleanser’s ingredients list for sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate and avoiding these like the plague – they’re super drying, while Andy specifies that’s best to avoid humectants. A humectant is an ingredient that attracts water to itself, which works brilliantly when it’s humid as the product will draw moisture into the skin. But when humidity is low, a humectant will instead draw moisture from the lower layers of your skin, making it even more dehydrated. Humectants include ingredients such as glycerin, propylene glycol, pentlyene glycol, hyaluronic acid, sorbiol, and the higher these are in the ingredients list, the higher concentration. Keep an eye out for those in the winter and steer clear. The higher up the INCI list, the higher concentration of humectants.
Use a richer moisturiser
Andy emphasises the importance on replenishing the epidermal lipids that our skin produces at a lower volume in winter. How do you do that, exactly? By picking up moisturisers rich in key ingredients. ‘Switching to a cream that contains a combination of blend of humectants and emollients including fatty acids (plant oils), ceramides and cholesterols can help to put back what the skin is lacking and support the skin barrier,’ he explains. That means choosing a heavier, more moisturising cream than your usual. If you aren’t ready to make a full switch to a heavier product, you can go for layering, instead, by applying a balm on top of particularly dry areas. Think of it as buying a big puffa jacket versus putting a jacket on top of a jumper on top of some thermals.
Supercharge your sleep
Sleep is when your skin recuperates, and it’s a smart move to use this time to its full potential. Try using a super hydrating overnight mask or a nourishing night oil to lock in as much moisture as possible. This is when you can go really heavy on the moisturiser, as, well, you’re asleep. You’re not going to be worried about looking shiny or having makeup slide off. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, too. That’s essential for keeping your body and skin running as they should.
Make your diet skin-healthy
Oils are your friend. Try fish oil and flaxseed oil, or dig into some oily fish – all of these will help maintain your skin’s balance and counteract the dryness. It might be handy to add some supplements into your winter routine, too. Anything containing omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids is a good shout, and some extra vitamin D to balance out the lack of sunlight won’t go amiss.
Try a humidifier
Remember: it’s not just the cold that’s drying you out, but the drop in humidity, too. Having the heating on all day can dry out the air, making your skin itch, flake, and react by producing more oil. If you find your skin feels extra dry as the temperature drops, it may be worth using a humidifier in your home or office. You can get some fancy scented ones if you want to add more to the atmosphere than a low hum.
Or just turn down the heating
Save money as well as your skin. Turn down the heating and stick on a jumper. Easy. It’s also best to avoid long soaks in the bath, no matter how good they may feel – a lengthy bath will strip away natural oils from the skin. Go for a quick shower – not too hot – instead, then pat yourself dry with a towel rather than rubbing.