In winter, the skin is put to test by blowing winds, plummeting temperatures, and low humidity levels, all of which can cause dehydration and impair the moisture barrier. So it’s your duty to protect it from the cold weather and be generous when it comes to adding nourishing, hydrating, and reparative ingredients into your skincare routine. Because the skin is less capable of pulling water from the environment during winter due to the low humidity, you have to give it a helping hand by feeding it with actives that aid in retaining water. Barrier-strengthening ingredients are equally important in winter, as well as antioxidants and moisture sealers. Confused already? Don’t worry. It’ll become crystal clear what are the best skincare ingredients to use in winter and which ones you should steer clear of once you finish reading this post.
What are the best skincare ingredients to use in winter
Ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids
All three are lipids that make up the stratum corneum, which is the skin’s outermost layer that acts as a protective barrier against external damage and also controls the amount of water that evaporates from the skin. Studies have shown that applying a product that contains ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids can considerably replenish skin’s lipids and accelerate barrier recovery, resulting in increased hydration and reduced redness and sensitivities. Since the cold weather often wreaks havoc on the barrier and weakens it, it’s best to have a product like SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 2:4:2 at hand, which packs all three lipids to restore and replenish the protective barrier. We also recommend these ceramide creams in winter.
Vitamin C is another winter skincare essential because it promotes the production of skin’s lipids (aka ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids), supporting barrier recovery and reducing transepidermal water loss. Also, vitamin C is one of the most potent antioxidants that protect cells by scavenging free radicals, which mitigate the degradation of lipids and proteins. Plus, it stimulates collagen production, which is required for healing and maintaining skin moist and firm.
Since the body can’t synthesize it, you need to take your daily dose of vitamin C from supplements and foods or apply topical products, like these cruelty-free vitamin C serums.
Hyaluronic acid is a must all year long, and by no means should it miss from your winter skincare routine. As a humectant, it draws and retains moisture from the environment into the skin to provide both instant and long-lasting hydration. In fact, hyaluronic acid is part of the natural moisturizing factor (NMF), which is a complex of molecules naturally found in the body that works as water-biding agents to help skin retain moisture. Surprisingly, it can hold almost 1000 times its weight in water, which is why it’s one of the best skincare ingredients to use in winter.
Squalane is the hydrogenated version of squalene, which is a lipid naturally found in sebum whose role is to protect and moisturize the skin. Technically squalane is an occlusive with emollient properties, so when applied to the skin, it covers the surface with a protective film to seal in moisture so that it doesn’t evaporate into the atmosphere. That means squalane goes hand in hand with hyaluronic acid and other humectants (that draw moisture from the environment) to hike up hydration levels and reduce water loss at the same time. It also softens and smooths, relieves redness, inflammation, and swelling without clogging the pores or feeling greasy.
Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 known for its protecting, moisturizing, and strengthening benefits. It’s a skin savior in winter for two reasons. Firstly because it builds ceramides, cholesterol, and fatty acids, helping to fortify the moisture barrier, and also supports collagen production and reduces protein degradation caused by glycation. And secondly, niacinamide acts as a potent antioxidant to inhibit oxidation at a cellular level. When used diligently, it can maintain skin hydrated, protected, and nourished even in the cold season.
Glycolic acid or lactic acid
Alpha-hydroxy acids, like glycolic and lactic, are some of the best winter skincare ingredients due to their exfoliating properties that help remove the top layer of the skin and increase cell turnover. As a result of exfoliation, dead cells are sloughed off, skin becomes radiant and smoother, and fine lines are softened. Besides, glycolic and lactic acids are humectants too, which means they bind moisture from the air into the skin and increase hydration. So consider adding one of these lactic acid serums or glycolic acid peels to your winter shopping list to maintain your complexion supple.
Remember that using a repairing moisturizer with occlusives after your exfoliation treatment is essential to speed up cell recovery and seal the moisture pulled by the acids into your skin. Otherwise, the treatment can compromise the barrier and exacerbate dryness.
Coconut oil is chocked full of fatty acids and contains vitamin E, so it’s super softening and hydrating. Its skincare benefits range from increasing moisture retention, strengthening the barrier, reducing water loss, and delivering antioxidant protection. It does wonder in repairing damaged, cracked skin and relieving dehydration that’s often caused by the freezing temperatures of winter. Even if coconut oil is a great moisturizer, it comes with some caveats: it can clog pores, so skip it if you’re prone to breakouts.
You can also rely on shea butter to keep your complexion soft and hydrated in winter. Because it’s chocked full of vitamins (E, A, and F), antioxidants, and fatty acids, shea butter can turn on your skin’s defense against cold weather by strengthening the barrier and delivering a burst of hydration. It’s non-comedogenic, suitable for all skin types, and targets a wide array of concerns, including excessive water loss, inflammation, redness, UV damage, and a broken barrier — a multi-tasking ingredient that you’d definitely want in your winter skincare routine.
Other ingredients to look for in winter
- Snail mucin: it’s an A-class compound when it comes to moisturizing and repairing the skin.
- Centella asiatica: reduces water loss, increases antioxidant protection, boosts collagen, and soothes inflammations.
- Panthenol (Vitamin B5): it’s a humectant that also strengthens the barrier.
- Aloe vera: it’s moisturizing and soothing.
- Petrolatum: it’s the most effective occlusive and can hinder moisture loss by 98%.
Ingredients to avoid in winter
During winter, it’s important to avoid products containing high concentrations of alcohol, fragrance, and other drying ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and astringents. Because the cold weather and low humidity that accompanies winter tend to dry out the skin, it’s not a good idea to use anything that can further dehydrate the skin. For the same reason, you should avoid sulfate-containing face washes, as they can strip the skin of moisture.
Regarding retinol, it’s questionable whether or not it is good in winter. Since it stimulates cell turnover at an accelerated rate, it’s likely to weaken the barrier and leave it vulnerable to cold weather. The same goes for exfoliants. But as long as you use a product with moderate concentration and your skin doesn’t react to it, you are ready to go and use your favorite retinol serum in winter. P.S: Using these moisturizers after retinol can help hinder potential irritation and counteract dryness.
Skincare dos and don’ts in winter
- In winter, it’s a must to use both humectants and occlusives. Humectants, without the concomitant use of occlusives, can actually exacerbate dryness during winter when environmental humidity levels are low. In low-humidity environments (under 70%), humectants won’t draw moisture from the air but from the deeper skin layers, bringing the water to the surface where it is quickly evaporated into the atmosphere. Occlusives help by coating the skin’s surface with a protective film to seal the moisture pulled by the humectants and hinder water loss. Hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea, aloe vera, and alpha-hydroxy acids are all humectants that are a must in winter, while squalane, petrolatum, beeswax, and shea butter are some of the best occlusives to use in the cold season.
- You should consider slugging in winter. It’s a method that involves applying a thick layer of petrolatum (which is occlusive) at night as the final step of your routine. You can read more about it and learn how to slug like a pro here.
- Use two different types of moisturizers for the day and night. During the day, you need a lightweight formula that aids in hydrating and protecting the skin, while for the night, you need a thicker, emollient moisturizer filled with repairing ingredients like ceramides and fatty acids to strengthen and recover the skin.
- Apply SPF. You need sun protection all year long.
Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.
- Kircik LH, Del Rosso JQ, Aversa D. Evaluating Clinical Use of a Ceramide-dominant, Physiologic Lipid-based Topical Emulsion for Atopic Dermatitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2011 Mar.
- Ponec M, Weerheim A, Kempenaar J, Mulder A, Gooris GS, Bouwstra J, Mommaas AM. The formation of competent barrier lipids in reconstructed human epidermis requires the presence of vitamin C. J Invest Dermatol. 1997 Sep.
- Tanno O, Ota Y, Kitamura N, Katsube T, Inoue S. Nicotinamide increases biosynthesis of ceramides as well as other stratum corneum lipids to improve the epidermal permeability barrier. Br J Dermatol. 2000 Sep.