We may get a break from the Florida heat and humidity over the winter months, but odds are your travels will take you somewhere cooler for at least a few days. Whether you’re hitting the slopes or exploring a new city, cold weather can send your skin into a tailspin, even if just for a weekend. But a few minor tweaks to your regular skincare regimen can minimize the side effects of cold temperatures and dry air.
Dry, itchy, winter skin
The primary cause of skin changes associated with a sudden switch to cold, arid air is a reduction in your skin’s natural moisturizing factor (NMF). Produced naturally by the skin, this blend of amino acids helps maintain skin moisture levels. Dry skin has lower levels of NMF, and environmental factors like sun exposure and dry air can reduce NMF even further. The result: increased dryness and flaking.
The skin naturally responds to the external triggers that deplete NMF by producing more, but it can take at least three days for levels to rise—and you may be back home in balmy South Florida by then. There’s no way to speed the skin’s production of NMF, but supplementing your skin with extra moisture, getting an adequate amount of sleep and reducing stress may help usher the process along.
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▪ Tip #1: Use a richer moisturizer more often
If you have oily skin and your daily sunscreen usually provides enough hydration, add extra moisture into your skincare routine with a hydrating serum or lotion. If your skin is dry year-round, switch to a more intense cream or balm for cooler weather.
▪ Tip #2: Prepare your skin for outdoor activities
You wouldn’t hit the beach without taking sun-protection precautions, and the same goes for the slopes (or any outdoor endeavor), especially since snow reflects sunlight and higher altitudes translate to more UV exposure. To shield your skin from the elements, apply a moisturizer with occlusive ingredients before your sunscreen to give your skin hydration and protection. I recommend SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2, but Aquaphor and Vaseline are more affordable options that are effective for preventing windburn (but they are way too greasy for daily use). And don’t forget the lip balm with SPF because this is delicate skin more vulnerable to cold and UV rays. Reapplying regularly is key for keeping lips smooth and soft.
▪ Tip #3: Listen to your skin
A change in climate can lead to a change in skin type. Depending on where you live (or travel) you may be “oily” in the summer and “dry” during the winter (or “oily” in Miami and “dry” in Arizona) due to the state of your skin’s barrier. Some people incorrectly refer to this as combination skin, but it’s actually a change in skin type caused by environmental factors. Any time your skin type changes, it is necessary to adjust your skincare regimen accordingly. When on the oily side, the easiest skincare tweak is letting your sunscreen double as moisturizer. When skin becomes dry, use a barrier-repair moisturizer.
▪ Tip #4: Reconsider your cleanser
To offset the effects that colder climates have on the skin, it’s important to start your skincare routine off with a creamy (not foaming) cleanser. Options such as iS Clinical Cream Cleanser and VMV Hypoallergenics Moisture Rich Creammmy Cleansing Milk provide your skin with extra protective lipids (as does original Dove soap). Just remember to switch back to your lighter cleanser once you return home (or the weather begins to warm up) to prevent clogged pores and breakouts.
▪ Tip #5: Use a humidifier
Cold weather outside means artificial heat inside, and this super-dry air draws moisture out of your skin. Setting up a humidifier in your bedroom (or hotel room), office or anywhere else you spend a significant amount of time can reduce dryness by helping your skin hold on to moisture.
When it’s time to see a dermatologist
If you’re still experiencing dryness despite extra hydration and protection from the elements, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. Winter weather can exacerbate eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions, so a prescription-based medication may be necessary to get your skin back on track.
Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.