How to Prevent Dry Winter Skin

A dermatologist shares five tips for keeping your skin healthy and hydrated this winter.

Smiling woman in the winter snow

While the winter air may challenge your resolve (do I really want to go for a run in 30-degree weather?), imagine what it does to your skin. The brave epidermis bears the brunt of dry, cool air outside as you take out the trash, then it must adjust again to the dry, warm air as you return indoors. And then your skin faces the frigid air again as you walk the dog! "That's a lot of environmental assault on your skin in short order," says David Bank, founder and director of The Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic and Laser Surgery in Mt. Kisco, NY.

This back and forth between dry cold air outside and dry warm air inside can dehydrate your skin, leaving it dull and unhealthy. However, if you take the following advice from Bank, who is also the president of the New York State Society for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, you'll sport summer skin beneath your layers of sweaters and scarves.

Stay hydrated. Drinking eight to 10 glasses of water per day is great for your body overall, but did you know that staying hydrated benefits your skin, too? It all goes back to trapping that moisture. Remember that alcohol and coffee are mild diuretics, and too much of them can foil your hydration efforts. Drink water along with your cup of joe, and down a glass of water for each alcoholic beverage – a habit that will both help your skin and ease your hangover.

Change your facial cleansing routine. Maybe your skin could handle those intense scrubs and soap-based cleaners in July and August, but they're likely too harsh for these colder, dryer months. "You don't wear the same clothing in February that you do in August," Bank says. "So why would you expect to use the exact same skin care regimen?" Opt for a milder, gentler cleanser for the winter. Choose a hydrating formula that will trap and seal in water.

Bank points out that there are many reasonably priced drugstore brands that likely won't dry or irritate your skin, such as Neutrogena, Aveeno, Cetaphil and Olay. He specifies that Neutrogena Ultra Gentle Hydrating Cleanser may be a good choice, since it both cleans and hydrates, which is important given the dry air.

[See: Pharmacists' Top Recommended Cleansers.]

When washing, it's especially important in the winter to use warm water. "Don't use water that's too hot or too cold," Bank says, "because either extreme could injure or damage the outer layer of skin – part of whose function is to retain moisture in the skin."

After washing, blot your skin with a towel to leave a bit of dew, instead of completely drying, Bank says. "In the colder, dryer months, every water molecule becomes precious, and you don't want to waste them," he says. "If they're sitting there anyways, let's catch 'em, trap 'em and seal 'em in." So immediately after cleansing, while you have those freebie water droplets, apply your moisturizer.

Switch up your moisturizing habits. Ditch the thinner, lighter moisturizer you used in the summer and look for thicker, richer moisturizers that trap water. And just how you found a suitable and affordable winter cleanser in the drugstore, Bank stresses that you don't need to spend much to find a good moisturizer, either. "The chemists that work on the pharmacy brands are often the same chemists who work on the department store brands," he says. "And just because one has an extra zero on the price point doesn't mean that it's that much better."

[See: Pharmacists' Top Recommended Moisturizers.]

Bank suggests scanning the drugstore shelves for brands such as Aveeno, Neutrogena, CeraVe and Lubriderm. Be sure to choose moisturizers with SPF – Bank recommends SPF 30 – because even if it's hard to believe as you scrape frost off your windshield, the sun still shines in the winter.

Once you choose a moisturizer, consider applying it more often. While once in the morning and again at night may have been fine in the summer, Bank suggests moisturizing a third or fourth time during winter days.

Buy a humidifier. To counter the dry heat indoors – which does no favors for your skin – consider buying a humidifier for your home or workplace. "This can make a huge difference just by increasing the amount of water molecules in the air around you," Bank says.