After finally making it through the hot, sticky summer weather—when it can feel as though you’re permanently sweaty—the crisp, cool fall air feels refreshing. For a few glorious weeks, your skin looks and feels “normal.” Then winter starts, and overnight, your skin dries up.
But rather than spending months dealing with itchy, flaky, cracking, possibly scaly, irritated, dry skin, you can (and should) do something about it. Here’s how to deal with dry winter skin—including why it happens in the first place.
Why does our skin get so dry in the winter?
While some people are genetically predisposed to having dry skin, everyone else can blame it on the weather. “In winter, environmental humidity is low,” says Cleveland Clinic dermatologist Alejandra Estemalik, MD. “But we’re also exposed to forced air or heat, which is also going to decrease humidity indoors and cause dry skin.”
Not only that, but Estemalik says that in addition to being a good source of vitamin D, sunlight is a natural anti-inflammatory. Because we don’t get as much sunlight during the winter, people with inflammatory skin conditions like eczema may experience more flare-ups than usual.
How to treat dry winter skin
Fortunately, Estemalik says that there are a few ways to prevent and treat dry skin during the winter:
Spend less time in the shower
A lot of people are bathing more than they need to, and winter is the perfect time to get out of that habit. “Overwashing will dry your skin,” Estemalik explains. “The heat in the water dries the oils out of your skin. However, the hot water itself will also dry your skin. The warmer water you use, the drier your skin’s going to be.” She recommends showering every other day for five to 10 minutes.
Moisturize straight out of the shower
Don’t wait until your skin is fully dry to apply moisturizer. “The function of most moisturizers is to trap moisture in your skin,” Estemalik explains. “When you apply moisturizer on skin that’s really, really dry, it’s not going to be that helpful because there’s no moisture to trap. Applying moisturizers on damp skin is much more beneficial.”
Opt for creams over lotions
Although lotions are thinner and easier to apply, Estemalik says that they’re also typically full of alcohol (and possibly fragrance), which dries out your skin even more. Instead, she suggests using creams—specifically those containing hyaluronic acid and ceramide.
Skip the fragrance
In addition to fragrance-free creams, Estemalik also suggests using unscented laundry products to limit exposing your skin to potential irritants.
Go easy exfoliating
Exfoliating may seem like the logical way to get rid of flaky skin, but in reality, Estemalik says it does more harm than good. “It strips moisture or oils out of your skin, and will even make your skin even itchier and drier,” she adds. If you’re going to exfoliate, keep it to once or twice a week.
Use a humidifier
Ideally, the humidity inside your home should be between 30 and 50%. If it’s not, you may want to use a humidifier in the room(s) where you spend the most time.
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