Ask Grace: How Should I Change My Skincare Routine For Winter?

Hi Grace, 

It’s reaching that time of year where my skin plays up with the change in weather and the winter approaching. My skin is fairly normal and balanced for the majority of the year but in winter it feels tight and dry, looks dull, and I also seem to get more breakouts. Basically everything that could go wrong does! I’m happy with my current skincare routine but I also don’t think it’s enough for winter. How should I change my skincare routine for winter? And are there any skincare products I should really be using at this time of year?

Charlotte, 28 

Just as there’s no one-size-fits-all skincare routine for everyone, the same products you use and love in the summer aren’t going to serve you in the same way during the colder months. I’m a huge advocate for switching up your skincare routine based on the seasons or changes in climate since the environment we spent our time in plays a significant role in the way our skin functions and behaves. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to make huge changes every few weeks, but a few tweaks a couple of times a year can make all the difference in helping your skin to adapt. 

So, just as you’d switch up your wardrobe for winter, it’s important to do the same for your skin. Especially as alongside dryness you’ve noticed you’re breaking out and looking dull too. The science behind these symptoms is fairly simple – cold temperatures and low humidity levels result in dry air, which draws the moisture away from skin. In addition, the contrast between icy winds outside and dry indoor heat exacerbates the problem, damaging the skin barrier and making skin look red and angry, and feel tight and itchy. Dry skin can also lead to dead skin cell buildup, which makes skin appear dull and can trap oil and bacteria beneath the surface, leading to an increase in breakouts. 

So, what can you do? I’ve listed below the tweaks I always recommend when I’m (inevitably) asked this question every year when temperatures start to fall. 

1. Reduce acids and retinols to their gentler forms

Skin becomes drier and more sensitive during the winter. You might think that exfoliation would worsen dryness, but it’s important to keep at it – just tone down the strength a little to avoid potential irritation as your skin’s sensitivity changes. Rather than a scrub, a chemical exfoliant will help both to treat tight, flaky skin and to improve moisture retention. Try the gentlest AHA available, mandelic acid (which will also help to hide evidence of summer skin sins by targeting sun spots).    

2. Introduce oils

Switching temperatures constantly (OTT central heating, cold commutes, hot showers) disrupts the skin’s moisture balance, meaning skin can become a lot flakier and drier in the autumn months. Introducing an oil into your routine will not only nourish skin in the short-term but will also help your skin to improve moisture retention in the long haul. Look for multi-oil blends that draw upon the benefits of different ingredients.   

3. Add vitamin C

To maintain your summer glow into the colder months, vitamin C will help to brighten and boost skin, stimulating collagen production so skin can better retain moisture, and helping to protect it from external aggressors. What’s more it will also help skin to repair any potential long-term damage. During the summer months, our skin is exposed to a higher concentration of harmful UV rays which can result in photo damage and premature aging of the skin. The use of vitamin C will help to correct and reverse the damage and assist with maintaining an even skin tone and texture and enhancing the skin’s natural glow. 

4. Switch your cleanser to an oil or balm

If you’ve been using a foaming or abrasive cleanser throughout summer, switch it out for a cream or oil-based formula once temperatures start to drop. Your skin will be producing less oil so It’s important to wash your skin gently to prevent oil from being stripped. Cream, oil, and balm formulas will still do an effective job of removing makeup and deep pore cleansing without disrupting oil balance. 

5. Focus on moisture

As autumn gives way to winter, you’re likely to feel even more dryness (especially around areas where your skin is delicate like the eyes and lips), so now’s a good time to add extra moisture to the skin in preparation for the big freeze. Most hydrating masks, balms, and salves don’t need to be rinsed off so you can even apply and leave them on overnight for an added moisture boost – known as ‘slugging‘.

6. Invest in a richer moisturiser

A lightweight moisturiser will have been enough for most skin types in the summer, but cooling temperatures and central heating kicking in are signs that you need to reach for a slightly more hydrating moisturiser. Even if you prefer oil-free creams or are using an oil elsewhere in your routine, skin can benefit from something with a thicker consistency to seal in hydration – think of it as the skincare equivalent of your winter coat. 

7. Don't forget SPF

There is one part of your summer skincare routine that should remain no matter what. It’s essential that an SPF is part of your skincare regime during the winter as the sun’s UV rays are just as harmful (remember, the radiation from the sun can penetrate through windows). Proof that come rain or shine, it’s vital to apply sunscreen to your face and other exposed areas of skin like your neck, ears, and hands, daily. 

8. Reset skin with an enzyme peel

A gentler alternative to chemical peels (so ideal for sensitive skin), enzymes gently break down the keratin protein that holds dead skin cells to the top layers of the skin. The result? Skin looks brighter and feels smoother. Many people also report clearer pores, reduced breakouts, and even fewer ingrown hairs (when used as a body treatment). 

9. Treat redness with calming ingredients

If you’re prone to redness then chances are you’ll notice it flare up more in the cooler months – especially around the nose and cheeks. Look out for calming, anti-inflammatory ingredients like cica, aloe, and colloidal oatmeal which help to calm redness and soothe irritation. 

10. Discover probiotic skincare

Probiotic skincare works in much the same way that probiotic supplements do on our gut – they help it to maintain balance. If you’d class your skin as ‘combination’ and find that it can swing unpredictably between dry and oily, then using a serum or moisturiser with probiotics can help to keep things in check. 

Okay, I’m all out of tips. You don’t have to follow all of them religiously – but consider what’s in your routine currently and what you know works for you. As with anything skincare related, it’s gonna be a process of trial and error, and I’d recommend making changes slowly, rather than all at once, so if something doesn’t work, you know exactly what it is. Above all, moisturise, moisturise, moisturise – then check back next year for my spring/summer tips. See you on the other side! 

If you have a question for our resident esthetician Grace Day, tweet us at @beautybay using the hashtag #AskGrace for a chance to be featured. 

FYI: This article was previously published at an earlier date and has since been updated.