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How to hydrate your skin this winter

How to hydrate your skin this winter
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Keep your skin healthy, smooth, soft and protected as the seasonal chill sets in.

The winter season brings skincare challenges that should be monitored and managed to keep our skin healthy during the colder months.

Despite the wet weather, one of the main concerns during winter is dry and flaky skin, caused by the cold air that tightens the skin’s pores and reduces blood circulation. As the pores tense, the production of sebum, a natural oil created by small glands in our skin, reduces, resulting in decreased lubrication and a lower level of skin hydration. 

Dr Lilliana Gilla Lulli, BSC in Human Physiology and Psychology, MBChB, of Skin Renewal Clinic, says: 

“There is less moisture in the air during the winter months, and as we tend to sit in heated rooms, the skin gets less hydrated. We also drink less water in winter, which affects the hydration levels from within.”

Here are a few steps that should help work towards a hydrated skin all season long.

Up the moisture

Harvard Health Publishing in 2011 reported that using a thicker moisturiser during winter is the first step to combat dry skin. It added that switching to an oil-based moisturiser will prevent water loss without clogging the skin’s pores; clogged pores lead to blackheads, whiteheads or, in severe cases, acne.

It is important to note that not all oils are face-friendly. Studies have shown that we should opt for non-comedogenic oils (oils that won’t clog the pores) such as avocado oil, mineral oil, primrose oil or almond oil. They allow the skin to breathe while increasing suppleness and locking in moisture. Because oil-based moisturisers contain little to no water, it is advised that the application takes place while the skin is still damp to seal in the moisture and add to the hydration levels. An oil-based moisturiser will also add an additional layer of protection to the skin, making it more likely to retain higher levels of moisture throughout the day.

Gentle exfoliation

The skin is the largest organ in the body and we shed about 30,000 to 40,000 dead skin cells every day, which means that the skin you are looking at now will be “gone” in a month. Due to increased levels of skin dehydration during winter, exfoliation plays a crucial role in helping our skin shed these dead cells.

A report published on Research Gate explains that, through exfoliation, the dying skin cells are effectively removed, which allows moisturising and hydrating ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin and help relieve dry skin conditions. Gentle exfoliation during winter also assists the skin’s regeneration as the shedding of dead skin cells makes way for new ones. Exfoliation, especially during the colder months, needs to be followed by the topical application of a moisturiser or serum as the drop in temperatures causes our skin to be more sensitive and can sometimes lead to irritated skin and transepidermal water loss (water from inside the body that is lost through the skin).

Lulli says, “It is essential not to over-exfoliate, as over-exfoliation can cause damage to the skin’s barrier. As much as you want to remove the dry skin in order to allow hydration and absorption, you also don’t want to damage the barrier of the skin, as that leads to further complications. If possible, we recommend that you seek professional advice or even consider in-salon treatments to ensure that it’s not overdone.” 

Avoid too hot showers & baths

Even though hot water often feels good when it’s cold outside, our skin doesn’t love it as much as we do. Showering or bathing in very hot water can cause a breakdown in the lipid barriers (essential components of the skin that play an important part in its barrier function) which can lead to a loss of moisture. In the colder months, it is advised to stick to lukewarm washes followed by the application of an oil-based moisturiser, as mentioned above. Lulli says it is always better to bath in warm water and not piping hot water, as hot water dries the skin out and dilates capillaries, which can lead to sensitivity. 

Cleanse carefully

To combat further dehydration during the winter months, it is important to be selective when choosing a cleanser that will aid in adding moisture to your skin. Experts recommend cream cleansers, which have a formula that is softer on the skin and more hydrating than foam or gel cleansers. They cleanse without stripping the protective barrier, and contain moisturising ingredients that will assist in hydrating the skin. Soaps and facial cleansers are made with the use of surfactants – you might find soaps that use organic and natural surfactants – chemical agents that dissolve dirt and oil, making it easy for water to wash them away (in short, surfactants increase the wetting properties of a liquid, be it shampoo, cleanser or soap); they can also remove natural oils produced by the skin, which leads to the stripping of the skin’s barrier.

“It is always best to avoid products containing alcohol, colouring and fragrances as these tend to cause more sensitivity to the skin,” says Lulli. As the temperatures drop, try switching to a cleansing cream that will replenish the skin with moisture and leave the epidermis, the surface layer of the skin, intact.  


Keeping warm in winter means turning up the heat indoors, from air conditioners blowing out warm, dry air to heaters and thermostats. These devices keep us comfortable and cosy but also dry out the air, adding to skin dehydration. Dr Angela Lamb, director of the Westside Mount Sinai Dermatology Faculty Practice in New York City, explains in an interview with Huff Post, that using a humidifier, as well as drinking an extra glass or two of water daily, can help prevent skin dehydration.

Lulli says, “Lastly, and very important, and perhaps counter-intuitive, is to keep applying an SPF (sun protection factor) every day because we are still exposed to UV rays. In winter, we tend to think that the rays of the sun are less damaging — fact is that the rays are as damaging, but due to the drop in temperature we just think it is not.” ML


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