WINTER SKIN WOES

7 Reasons Your Skin Gets So Dry in the Winter

Your dermatologist-informed guide to what causes skin to get so dry and itchy during cold seasons, and the most effective techniques and treatments so you can get back to glowing.
photo of a young woman out in the snow
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After reading a couple of bajillion winter skin-care stories, it's easy to think we all have a pretty solid grasp on the best ways to combat seasonal dryness, flakiness, scaliness, and general annoyingness. We know to slather on moisturizer straight out of the shower, swap to a gentle cleanser, put a humidifier thisclose to your bed at night, wear lots of lip balm, and never, ever take a hot or long shower (heaven forbid).

So why on Earth is your skin still so freaking dry? We turned to two board-certified dermatologists to find out why your skin might still be parched, despite following the aforementioned winter skin-care rules.

You're using lotion.

Nope. Your regular, run-of-the-mill moisturizer isn't going to cut it anymore. "Make sure you're using a cream, not a lotion," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Doris Day. And while you're at it, up your dosage. "If you've been using a cream at night, make it twice a day and use it both morning and night."

For something richer than your usual lightweight lotion, try the Best of Beauty Award-winning Eucerin Roughness Relief Cream, which has the added benefit of lightly exfoliating urea and lactic acid. We also love the gentle Eau Thermale Avène Moisturizing Melt-In Balm and, for the face, Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream.

Eucerin Roughness Relief Cream

$12
Amazon

Eau Thermale Avène Moisturizing Melt-In Balm

$30
Dermstore

Skinfix Barrier + Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream

$50
Sephora
You're moisturizing at the wrong time.

While moisturizing at any ol' random time is better than never moisturizing, there are definitely advantages to timing your cream-applying session during a specific part of your routine. "Studies have shown that moisturizing immediately after bathing is significantly better than not applying moisturizer at all or applying it long after showering," says fellow New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner.

In the winter months, stash your body moisturizer in (yes, in!) your shower so you can apply it directly to damp skin before you step out of the steam. For body, we like Ouai's Body Crème, Beautycounter's Melting Body Balm, and Skinfix's AHA Renewing Cream.

Ouai Body Crème

$38
Sephora

Beautycounter Melting Body Balm

$42
Beautycounter

Skinfix AHA Renewing Cream

$45
Sephora
Your moisturizer is missing something.

Just as important as (if not more important than) how thick your moisturizer is and when you're applying it is what's in the moisturizer itself. "You could be using moisturizers with the wrong ingredients," says Zeichner. "Look for skin-repairing ceramides, which fill in the cracks between skin cells and help the skin heal itself."

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Drunk Elephant's Lala Whipped Retro Cream is a great option packed with skin-soothing ceramides and hydrating glycerin to help seal in moisture. These Allure-approved picks also check off all the barrier-repairing boxes.

Drunk Elephant Lala Whipped Retro Cream

$60
Sephora
You're using the wrong cleanser.

Moisturizing your skin after your shower is key, but don't overlook what you're using in the shower. "Avoid true soaps, which have an alkaline pH and can irritate the skin, preventing it from being able to retain hydration. Use hydrating skin cleansers instead, which are gentler on the skin barrier," says Zeichner.

Renee Rouleau's Moisture Protecting Cleanser is great as its glycerin helps calm dryness-induced irritation almost immediately, while apricot extract and sweet almond oil leave the skin soft and supple. For the body, Best of Beauty winner Dove Nourishing Body Wash's almond and mango butters give skin intense moisture as you cleanse.

Renee Rouleau Moisture Protecting Cleanse

$38
Renee Rouleau

Dove Nourishing Body Wash

$6
Target
You're not using a sleep mask.

A rich night cream is a must during the coldest months, but you can take it a step further to ensure winter dryness doesn't get the best of your skin: sleep masks. "The purpose [of overnight masks] is to create a permeable seal on top of your skin that makes anything underneath it penetrate better," says Day. You can apply other hydrators (serums, oils) first, then coat all of that with a thick layer of a sleep mask, and it'll help everything soak in more effectively.

If you're not sure where to start with overnight masks, you can't go wrong with the Best of Beauty Award-winning Laneige Water Sleeping Mask, which feels extra thick (in a good way) and cooling on the skin. Another winner, Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask, isn't just moisturizing — its vitamin C offers a brightening bonus.

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask

$25
Sephora

Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask

$48
Sephora
You're forgetting about inflammation.

Addressing dryness alone may not get to the bottom of thirsty winter skin. "Severely dry skin can lead to microscopic cracks in the outer skin layer, leading to loss of hydration, redness, inflammation, and itching. Besides improving hydration with moisturizers, you may need to help reduce inflammation with an over-the-counter cortisone cream. It's like a fire extinguisher that puts out the inflammation so that the skin can return to normal functioning," says Zeichner.

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He also cautions to avoid using cortisone creams for more than two weeks straight, because they can thin the skin. And if the skin is still dry or itchy after that period of time, Zeichner says it's time to visit your dermatologist for a prescription version.

Your skin-care routine doesn't involve Saran wrap.

For dry, flaky legs, Day has a DIY remedy: After taking a (not-too-hot) bath or shower, pat skin dry, slather on a rich moisturizer, and wrap your legs in plastic wrap for a few hours. "It shouldn't be so tight that it is constricting, but tight enough to occlude," she says.

Then cover with long cotton tube socks — you can get a pack of three for just $13 on Amazon — and let the hydrating ingredients really seep into skin without evaporating.


Now read more about winter skin:


Done reading? Now watch a Rockette's entire routine:

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