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It’s time to sort out that winter skin care routine! Winter brings with it more than just the cold, and it can take a serious toll on the skin. As the air gets colder, humidity goes down, so the skin can become dehydrated very easily. Harsh winds can irritate and chap the skin, so those with sensitive or delicate skin may suffer the most!
At the same time, there are also some benefits to winter weather. The sun goes mostly into hiding, so you can amp up your winter skin care with transformative products that don’t play nicely with UV rays.
We’ve selected the very best winter skin care products that you can add to your routine. We explain what kind of changes you might want to make in your winter skin care routine, along with a step-by-step guide for both morning and night. To finish things off, we have a few extra tips and tricks that will keep your skin strong and supple all winter long!
Winter Skin Care Guide: Contents
- 15 Best Winter Skin Care Products to Get Now
- Important Changes for Winter Skin Care
- Evening Winter Skin Care Routine
- Morning Winter Skin Care Routine
- Extra Winter Skin Care Tips
1. Peter Thomas Roth Water Drench Cloud Cream Cleanser
When winter hits the skin hard, you don’t want to compromise it further with stripping cleansers. The Cloud Cream Cleanser is a great cleanser to have on hand because it helps to moisturize the skin removing makeup and impurities. It is made with water-binding hyaluronic acid and nourishing coconut oil, which combine to give it a light yet creamy texture and ensure that it will leave the skin feeling soft and bouncy. Buy it at Nordstrom or Amazon!
2. The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser
If you’re on a budget, it’s hard to go wrong with the Squalane Cleanser. It’s a balm to oil cleanser that relies on gentle squalane to melt down debris and makeup, but then it emulsifies so that a splash of water will rinse it away. It can be used all alone or as part of a double cleansing routine. We like it all year round for those with dry or sensitive skin, but it’s one of the best winter skin care products for all skin types. Find it at Ulta or Amazon!
3. Youth To The People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser
Our bias towards cream and oil cleansers is pretty strong, but if you’re going to use a foaming cleanser in your winter skin care routine, this one is as good as it gets. This gentle gel removes impurities thoroughly without drying the skin or throwing it off balance. It is rich in antioxidant extracts from kale, spinach, and green tea, and is also very hydrating thanks to a healthy dose of panthenol (a.k.a. vitamin B5). It’s a nice choice for all skin types, but we think it’s an especially nice winter cleanser for those with oily skin. It is available at Sephora and Amazon.
4. CosRx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
We’ve covered this magical yet affordable essence at length, but it is absolutely a favorite winter skin care product for us! The snail mucin in this Korean essence is a great skin-hydrating and restoring ingredient for winter, and it layers beautifully under moisturizers at night. This formula also includes humectants betaine and hyaluronic acid, and anti-aging arginine. It’s a great winter essence for all skin types. Get it from Ulta or Amazon!
5. Philosophy Nature In A Jar Cica Complex Recovery Moisturizer
Since the skin can become quite sensitive in winter, a soothing evening moisturizer can be a great remedy. This natural formula from Philosophy relies on the anti-inflammatory effects of centella asiatica extract to target redness and irritation. It also gives the skin excellent moisturization with a wide range of botanical oils and has antioxidant effects thanks to multiple plant extracts. It is creamy but not greasy, so it’s ideal for dry, normal, and sensitive skin types. You can purchase it at Ulta.
6. Biossance Squalane + 10% Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum
Lactic acid is the best chemical exfoliant for the wintertime. It’s a gentle yet thorough remover of dead skin cells that also acts as a humectant to infuse the skin with moisture. This formula from Biossance, in particular, is a great winter skin care product because, in addition to being resurfacing, it’s also very moisturizing. It contains MCT oil and squalane to restore the skin’s lipid content, and clover extract to give the skin an antioxidant defense. It is sold at Sephora.
7. Laneige Hypoallergenic Cica Sleeping Mask
When the skin becomes a little extra compromised from the wind and cold, a sleeping mask is the best product for restoring its integrity. It includes a variety of healing and anti-inflammatory compounds found in the centella asiatica plant, as well as fermented extracts to restore the microbiome.
Though this sleeping mask is very moisturizing and creamy, it is free of comedogenic ingredients, so it can be a suitable choice even for those with oily skin. Though it is made for treating sensitivity, it contains a few fragrance oils, so it might not be appropriate for everyone. Shop it at Sephora or Amazon!
8. Peach & Lily KBeauty Rescue Balm
This is another one of those winter skin care products that help restore wind and cold-chafed skin. It’s a waterless balm filled with natural oils and extracts that help protect and heal irritation, like soothing centella and turmeric extract and healing sunflower oil.
This balm is fairly thick, so it’s ideal for normal and dry skin types, although its ingredient profile is non-comedogenic. It’s best used as a final layer of product at night, after essences and moisturizers, and can also be applied to the lips, cuticles, elbows, and around the eyes. You can get it at Ulta or Amazon.
9. Dermadoctor Wrinkle Revenge Rescue & Protect Eye Balm
You don’t want to neglect the eyes – especially not in winter! This rich eye cream helps to moisturize and protect the eye area, but it is also loaded with anti-aging ingredients to keep fine lines and wrinkles from appearing. Peptides were included for a skin-firming effect, while caffeine and white tea extract give antioxidant protection and prevent puffiness. It’s a great choice for all skin types, but it will especially help those with dryness around the eyes. Buy it from Ulta or Amazon!
10. PCA Skin Hydrator Plus Broad Spectrum SPF 30
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean the sun is suddenly harmless. Since UV rays can still penetrate through cloud cover, it’s important to continue to use sunscreen even in the wintertime.
We like this sunscreen a lot for winter because it has an incredibly soothing and moisturizing formula, so it can double as your protective daytime moisturizer to keep your skin reinforced against cold weather. It includes soothing oat extract and antioxidant caffeine. It’s all mineral, so it shouldn’t irritate sensitive skin and is lightly tinted to prevent a white cast. Order it from Dermstore!
11. Estée Lauder Micro Essence Skin Activating Treatment Lotion
With this essence, Estee Lauder is giving K-beauty brands a run for their money. This super-hydrating essence is great when winter is at its most drying. It helps to load the skin up with water, thanks to both multiple probiotic ferments and a variety of hydrating glycols. Peptides give an anti-aging effect, while caffeine firms and wards off free-radical damage. You can find it at Nordstrom or Amazon.
12. First Aid Beauty Fab Skin Lab Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate
If you would like to really amp up the anti-aging effects of your winter skin care routine, nothing does a better job than vitamin A, which comes in this serum in the form of retinol. At 0.25%, this formula is very gentle and suitable even for beginners to retinol or those with sensitive skin. The formula also helps to reinforce the skin with ceramides and avocado oil, making it ideal for those with normal, dry, and combination skin. It is available at Sephora and Amazon.
13. L’Occitane Cleansing and Softening Shower Oil
With Almond Oil In the same way that oil cleansing is better for the face in winter, it’s also much better for the body. Switch out your drying body wash for something that will nourish your skin all-over while also keeping it clean, like this wonderful shower oil. It is made with almond oil and shea butter for their emollient effects, as well as a ton of glycerin to saturate the skin with water. Once you massage it into your skin, this shower oil will emulsify, so you’ll be able to rinse it away in the shower without a problem. Order it from Sephora or Amazon!
14. The Inkey List Polyhydroxy Acid (PHA) Gentle Exfoliating Toner
While some sources suggest limiting exfoliation in the winter, we disagree – removing those dead skin cells can help moisturizers penetrate into the skin more easily, so if your skin isn’t too thin or sensitive, it can be very useful. However, it’s good to use gentle and hydrating chemical exfoliants, of which polyhydroxy acid is probably the best – it’s considered even gentler than lactic acid.
15. High Beauty High Expectations Cannabis Seed Facial Oil
Especially perfect for those with dry skin types, this face oil comes packed with cannabis sativa seed oil to calm the skin and act as a potent antioxidant. Simply apply it in the evening before going to bed, and you’ll wake up to smooth and healthy skin with no signs of dryness or redness. This product is also vegan and cruelty-free, so grab a bottle at Sephora!
From your fall to winter skin care, you may want to make a few changes that will allow your skin to better resist the changes in weather. As the temperature goes down, the air gets driers, and the wind gets harsh, so protecting the skin is a must, but at the same time, you can also take the chance to add or increase any resurfacing actives from your fall skin care routine.
Cleanse Very Gently
Cleansing with harsh cleansers is never a great idea, but in the winter, using a gentle cleanser becomes even more important. Because the air gets so dry, the skin is already very prone to dehydration, which most gel and foam-based cleansers will only exacerbate.
Unless your skin is extremely oily, it is best to avoid cleansers that rely on strong detergents, like sodium lauryl sulfate. It is also extremely important to avoid cleansers with a high pH since they can disrupt the skin’s acid mantle, making dehydration more likely.
Instead, oil, balm, and cream cleansers are the better choice, at least for primary cleansing, since they utilize oils to break down impurities gently while also moisturizing the skin, and they can still be rinsed away easily. Double cleansing can be nice in the winter as well, as long as your second cleanser is a gentle one that only foams up a little bit.
If you’ve been curious about the Korean multi-step routine, your winter skin care routine is a great opportunity for adopting some of its elements – especially anything to do with multiple layers of hydration. Because winter can be so dehydrating, multiple layers of moisturizing products applied from the thinnest to the thickest can be particularly helpful for loading the skin up with a ton of water and then locking it in.
Depending on what you already have in your routine, you might want to add an essence or hydrating serum, or you might want to introduce a stronger occlusive balm for the end of your routine. You can also just switch to a richer moisturizer, though often adding more steps with different textures instead can be more effective.
Don’t Fear Actives
If you read our previous advice for fall, then you’ve probably already taken the chance to introduce some strong skin-renewing or resurfacing actives into your routine. These actives, like vitamin C, retinoids, and chemical exfoliants, can all do wonders for keeping the skin youthful, improving its texture, and eliminating scarring or pigmentation.
However, they also make the skin more prone to sun damage, which is why using them in the summer isn’t always a good idea. However, in the winter, they are better tolerated – at least as long as your skin doesn’t become too sensitive from the cold.
If you’ve already been using strong actives in the autumn, you can probably keep them in your winter skin care routine. The only potential exceptions are more drying anti-acne ingredients, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur. You don’t have to stop using them altogether, but you might want to find them in a gentler oil or cream-based formula, or you can buffer them by applying them after a hydrating serum or moisturizer.
Finally, if you are new to actives and would like to introduce something new, it’s better to keep things fairly gentle, which is why the chemical exfoliants we’ve recommended are based on more soothing acids instead of harsh ones.
Sunscreen Is in
Sunscreen is important all year round, so your winter skin care products should also include a bottle of this wonderful stuff. Now, to be fair, some people find themselves not exposed to any sunlight at all in the winter – the days become so short that they might leave for work before the sun rises and then go home after sunset. If that’s your life then a) we’re sorry and b) you don’t need to use a daily sunscreen.
With that said, it’s still good to have sunscreen on hand for days when you might venture outside during the daytime.
It is probably easiest to just have a 2-in-1 sunscreen and moisturizer or sunscreen and facial primer. For most people, 30 SPF is enough in the colder seasons, but it’s still important to use at least a ¼ teaspoon of product to achieve full protection.
In the evening, your winter skin care routine is the chance to really nourish and treat your skin after a full day of dealing with inclement weather. It can include a few actives, but should otherwise consist primarily of skin-restoring products.
Whether you double cleanse or do a single cleanse, it is very important that your winter face washing habits are as gentle as possible. Use enough cleanser so that when you massage it into the skin, there is a lot of slip and glide to avoid tugging on your skin.
Massage the cleanser over the face thoroughly but gently in order to break down all of the impurities. Once it’s time to rinse it away, use lukewarm water since hot water will only serve to irritate and dry out the skin.
You can use a very soft, damp microfiber cloth to help you remove anything that doesn’t rinse away easily (and to prevent the dreaded splashing over water all the way down to your elbows), but avoid any rough towels or fabrics.
• Toner and/ or Essence
We actually don’t think there is much purpose for a plain old toner in the wintertime. Instead, what can be very useful is either a hydrating toner or essence, in order to help load the skin up with moisture.
Alternatively, you can use a toner infused with AHA or BHA to act as a chemical exfoliant to help remove dead skin cells and aid in skin regeneration, either every night or just a few nights a week, depending on how your skin responds to acids.
In the winter, it’s better to keep things gentle by splashing a few drops of toner into your hands and then tapping it into the skin rather than wiping the face with a cotton pad, which can cause too much friction and irritate.
Whether active-based or gentle and nourishing, serums are fantastic in the winter because they can add layers of moisture to the skin without feeling greasy, and they layer nicely under moisturizers.
Once again, pressing the serum into the skin is the best way to avoid causing undue irritation. Simply rub the serum between both hands and then press them against your skin, and since the texture is so thin, the serum will sink in easily.
You don’t have to change up your moisturizer if you don’t want to, and especially not if you’re going to be adding more hydrating steps to your winter skin care routine. When applying your moisturizer, be careful to gently press it into the skin, just as you did for your toners and serums, in order to avoid unnecessary friction. In spring and autumn, a massage can be invigorating, but in winter, especially if you live somewhere with a harsher climate, it can just be irritating.
• Balm or Mask
Finally, seal in those layers of moisture into your skin with an overnight mask or balm. A balm and mask will not penetrate into your skin as readily as regular moisturizers. Instead, they’ll take their time and sink in slowly while you sleep, helping to protect your skin all night long and preventing any moisture from evaporating.
Some balms will also contain skin-repairing ingredients that will go beyond just moisturizing to also renew your skin, so you can wake up feeling fresh and glowy.
In the morning, you can rely on your winter skin care routine to protect you from any harsh elements!
In the morning, especially in winter, cleansing is optional. If your skin is very oily or if you want to remove overnight balm residue, it can be reasonable to use a gentle cleanser, but most people don’t need to go through the effort.
• Toners, Essences, and Serums
Ideally, your evening routine will be so nourishing that you won’t need to go overboard with steps in the morning as well. A hydrating toner, essence, or serum should be enough to give your skin a little bit of moisture so you can face the day, and as always, they should be applied with gentle, pressing motions.
It is better to avoid strong resurfacing actives in the daytime, with the exception of vitamin C, which can help boost the effectiveness of your sunscreen.
Your daytime moisturizer should be a real cream rather than a gel, with occlusive ingredients that can create a protective shield over your skin and protect it from the chafing effects of the wind. If your skin is feeling strong from your hydrating overnight routine, you can even massage the moisturizer in to get the blood circulating and to help it sink in more quickly.
If your moisturizer doesn’t have an SPF, it’s important to also apply sunscreen before heading out the door. While we love mattifying sunscreens in summer, in winter, you will want a slightly heavier and more moisturizing sunscreen. You can also choose a makeup primer with an SPF in order to combine two steps into one.
Use at least a ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen to cover the entire face and to achieve maximum protection. Unless you spend all day outside (and why would you want to in the winter?), this one application of sunscreen in the morning should last you the whole day.
We have a few more tips that will keep your skin great all winter long!
• Hot water can be very dehydrating, so make an effort to shower in lukewarm water instead. If that’s not doable (hey, we get it, a hot shower can feel heavenly when the weather is freezing), at least mitigate the drying effects of the shower by moisturizing immediately after you get out of it!
• Give extra attention to those parts of your body that are most susceptible to dryness! Apply a few more layers of moisturizer or balm to your nose, elbows, and feet before bed every night, and throughout the day as needed.
• Winter can take its toll on more than just our skin, so keep your body nourished to counter that. Make sure to eat a wide array of vegetables so you can get enough vitamins in your diet, and don’t forget vitamin D supplements to counter the sun withdrawal.
• It’s hard to understate the difference a humidifier can make! By having a humidifier on at night, you can get around the aridness of winter, and your skin will look much more hydrated and glowy as a result! It doesn’t need to be big or expensive – you can get something small and elegant like the Crane Air ‘Drop’ Humidifier from Nordstrom.
Photos via @ellenvlora, @moikobeauty, @marianna_hewitt, @glowingwell_, @jamiellanders