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9 dermatologist-approved tips to soothe dry, irritated winter skin

Keep your skin glowy and hydrated year-round with these small tweaks to your routine.
/ Source: TODAY

As the seasons change, you might notice your skin changing too. For many of us, cold winter weather brings dryness and irritation. And that means you may want to temporarily switch up the products in your skin care routine — or how often you're using them.

In the winter, the air tends to be cold and dry, Dr. Shasa Hu, associate professor in the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, tells

"Those who also have a heater in their office or apartment, that further dries out the air," she says. That can cause some common skin conditions to flare up, including eczema and rosacea. Another condition, psoriasis, can also flare in the winter, but that's likely due to a lack of ambient sun exposure, Hu explains.

Even if you don't have one of those skin conditions, it's common for skin to feel dry more frequently in the winter thanks to these environmental factors. And that means pretty much everyone can benefit from making these simple tweaks to their skin care routine as those conditions change.

Meet the experts

  • Dr. Shasa Hu, an associate professor in the department of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
  • Dr. Shari Lipner, an associate professor of clinical dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Go easy on the cleansing.

You should definitely wash your face at least once a day, Dr. Shari Lipner, associate professor of clinical dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical Center, tells

But if you find that your skin feels tight or dry after washing it in the winter, you don't need to wash it any more than that, she says. "Cleansing your skin is OK, but you don't want to be washing your face multiple times a day."

Instead, she recommends cleansing your face fully in the evening and just using a splash of water in the morning.

You can also try using more moisturizing cleansers, like cream cleansers, rather than foaming face washes, Hu says. "Lotion cleansers are typically less stripping of the natural (oil) on the skin," she adds.

Try using a thicker moisturizer.

Winter is not the time to slack on using your moisturizer.

"If you're not regular about moisturizing your skin, it may not matter much in the spring or summer," Lipner says. "But in the winter, your skin is going to feel it." 

You may even want to level up your moisturizer to something thicker during the winter months to help prevent dryness, Hu says. She also recommends playing around with thicker formulations of the other products in your rotation, like swapping your vitamin C serum for a vitamin C-containing cream.

And if you find that you're still getting dry spots on your skin, Lipner suggests carrying a travel-sized container of ointment (like Vaseline or Aquaphor) around with you to apply throughout the day.

Keep using sunscreen every day.

With shorter days, people may get a little "lazy" with their sunscreen application, Lipner says. But you should keep wearing it — at least 30 SPF — every day as part of your usual skin care routine.

We get fewer UV rays in the winter, Lipner says, "but we do get them." And if you'll be outside at high altitudes or skiing, it's especially important to stay protected and remember to reapply every two hours.

Scale back on retinol and exfoliation.

Lipner recommends people don't do too much exfoliating year-round — and especially during the winter. If you're someone who gets a lot of buildup on your face, you may want to exfoliate once a week or even just once a month, she says.

"For winter I would recommend doing it even less," Lipner says, because these products are more likely to be irritating on dry or sensitive skin. 

And when it comes to using retinoids, "if you're used to using them, see how your skin feels," Lipner says.

Some people may be able to keep using them just as frequently despite the change in weather. But others may find that their skin gets too sensitive in the winter and that they need to use retinoids less often or to cut them out temporarily.

Another retinoid tip from Lipner for those with irritable skin: "You can dilute (your retinol or retinoid) with a drop of moisturizer and that makes a big difference," she says.

Combat dry indoor air with a humidifier.

Because a heater can dry out already dry winter air, Hu suggests using a humidifier in your bedroom or at your desk to keep your skin a little happier.

"A humidifier can make a big difference in your skin if the air is very dry," Lipner agrees. 

Limit time in the shower.

Long, hot showers can actually dry your skin out, the experts say. So try to keep the water lukewarm and your time in the water short.

And, when you get out of the shower, put your moisturizer and body lotion on while your skin is still damp (but not dripping wet), Lipner says. That will help seal that hydration into your skin.

"It's something we recommend to people with dry skin all year long, but in the winter, it's even more important," Hu agrees.

Keep an eye out for hidden irritants.

People with sensitive skin likely already know to be on the lookout for common irritants — including fragrance — in any product that may touch their skin. And that becomes even more important during the winter, Hu says.

If you're prone to skin reactions and not already using fragrance-free laundry detergent, dryer sheets and body care products, now is the time to switch, she says.

Don't ignore your nails.

People typically don't notice that their nails are in need of care until the weather gets warm enough for sandals, but many of those issues (including fungal infections) may start building up in the winter, Lipner explains.

If you notice your nails getting brittle, yellowing or lifting, those are signs that you should check in with a dermatologist now rather than waiting until the spring or summer.

Be patient with irritated skin.

People with really severely dry and cracked skin may have a broken skin barrier, which can take weeks or months to properly heal, Hu explains.

"It takes at least three to four weeks for that skin barrier to fully repair, so start early," she says. And if you're not seeing results after a few days, don't give up.

Finally, if you're someone with a skin condition like eczema, psoriasis or rosacea, or you're just not getting what you want out of your skin care, don't hesitate to contact your dermatologist. "If you have any of these conditions, it's a great time to check in to make sure the winter is not causing havoc on your skin," Lipner says, adding that telemedicine is a great option for this.