You may have spent the last few months sloshing through winter wetness, but your skin has probably never felt more desertlike. Dryness generally peaks in the cold months and can leave a complexion red and tight. Worse still, winter-dry skin is more prone to inflammation and conditions like eczema. “The epidermis functions as a protective barrier. Its dead skin cells are the bricks, and its lipids are the mortar,” says Arielle Kauvar, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, in New York City. “When this barrier is compromised by moisture loss, for example, it can become vulnerable to irritation.”
Why Skin Gets Dry
The primary culprit this time of year is dry air, which can cause moisture to evaporate from the skin’s surface. Hot showers can strip natural oils, as can overwashing with harsh cleansers. Skin-care products that contain alcohol, acne creams, and retinoids may also contribute. So can drinking alcohol and caffeinated beverages, which may have a dehydrating effect on the body, says Deborah DePiano, an aesthetician and the owner of DePiano Skin, in Los Angeles. And surprisingly some medications can be to blame, including those that treat high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
How to Rehydrate
The most important move you can make is cutting back on drying ingredients. Switch to a creamy cleanser, and “if you apply a retinoid nightly, do it every other night or twice a week instead,” says Meghan O’Brien, a dermatologist in New York City. This will still give you results, she says, and you can top it with a rich moisturizer (such as CeraVe Moisturizing Cream; $15 at drugstores) to further prevent flaking. Look for a cream that contains “humectants and emollients, such as glycerin, olive oil, and hyaluronic acid,” says Kauvar, “as well as anti-inflammatory ingredients, like aloe and oatmeal.” For even deeper hydration, apply a weekly moisturizing mask (one to try is EmerginC Vitality Mask; $49, emerginc.com). And once or twice a week, use a gentle scrub (like Caudalie Gentle Buffing Cream; $35, caudalieusa.com) to slough off scaly patches. Last, don’t forget the eye area. “The skin there is thin and has few oil glands, so it gets extra dry and needs a richer, more hydrating cream,” says Kauvar. (A good one is Peter Thomas Roth Mega Rich Intensive Anti-Aging Cellular Eye Crème; $65, peterthomasroth.com)
Put a humidifier in your bedroom to add moisture to the air, says DePiano. This can help keep your skin’s surface hydrated as you sleep. Also, try incorporating foods rich in essential fatty acids—such as walnuts, salmon, flaxseed, and avocados—into your daily diet. And consider taking a flaxseed-oil supplement. Research suggests that it may improve skin-barrier function, which in turn can help make your skin more resilient to dryness, says O’Brien.