The Best Skincare Tips for Dry Winter Complexions

Anyone else sick of this whole "living in Canada" thing? Here's my Rx for soft, smooth, flake-free skin.

I like winter in theory. Snow is pretty (and cold air does wonderful things for rosy cheeks). You get to wear cute boots, and lots of layers, and black tights are a girl's best friend. (Just imagine the upkeep—in terms of hair removal, self-tanning and gym sessions—if it were 30°C year-round and you had to go bare-legged.)

However. Every year, at about this point in the process, I am DONE. For reasons that include: salt-stained boots, slush-stained pants and temps so freezing (try -17°C here, today) that I have to abandon even attempting to look stylish. (Out comes the North Face snowman coat and yes, the Ugg boots—sorry Ugg haters, but when it's -17, I want to insert my feet into warm fluffy clouds.)

And oh yes, SKIN. Dry, flaky, cracking, chapped, wrinkly-looking skin.

Perhaps there are some skincare things that you are currently not doing, but should. So here, from one winter-hater to another, are my suggestions. Hint: it's all about the layers...

1. Cleanse

So whatcha using? If it's a foam or gel or bar of soap, that might be too drying and/or irritating, yo. If your skin is suffering, you want to be kinder, gentler.

I've personally made the switch to the puppy above: SpectroDerm Cleanser for Dry Skin... but its dermatological cleanser twin, Cetaphil, would work just as well. (And okay, both are technically gels, but they're the moisturizing—instead of sudsy—kind.) Both can be rinsed off with water or wiped off with a damp cloth.

Another option: a cleansing milk. Tons of brands, including NARS, Shiseido and Lancôme, make them. They tend to be creamier and may lather a bit more, but they work essentially the same way since they're highly moisturizing and you can rinse or wipe off. A lot of the fancy brands say you can "tissue off" with Kleenex, but to me that never feels like it's doing a great job (and you don't want to risk clogging your pores), so I strongly recommend the damp cloth instead.

If you feel like it's not cleansing enough, do the double-cleansing method: cleanse, rinse and repeat. You can follow it up with an alcohol-free toner as well. I like Kiehl's Ultra Facial Toner, which is suitable for all skin types.

2. Exfoliate

Flake-O-Rama. That's what usually happens to patches of my face, and definitely lips, come January. And few things are more unattractive. (It makes makeup application, as reader Pria mentioned in the comments here, a real challenge... but we'll deal with that in a sec.)

Now, you don't want to go too crazy with exfoliation, as overdoing it will only make your skin MORE irritated and sensitive. But some gentle flake-removal can not only a) make your skin look and feel smoother, but also b) make it easier for those hydrating skincare products to penetrate, thus preventing the entire flake production cycle. Yay!

For the face, do one or two exfoliation sessions per week to start, if your skin can handle it. I like chemical exfoliants best, so I recommend something like NeoStrata's trusty Toning Solution Level 1 or Skin Renewal Peel Solution (above), both of which contain glycolic acid. OR you can kill two birds with one stone and use a glycolic acid-based moisturizer, such as NeoStrata Smoothing Cream Level 3.

For the lips, try not to peel off the flakes—ouchie!—and instead buff with a lip scrub. I like The Lip Scrub by Sara Happ, but you could easily make your own with some coarse sugar or salt plus Vaseline.

PS - Olay just came out with the Professional Pro-X Advanced Cleansing System, which is an alternative to the Clarisonic. They say it's gentle enough to use for daily exfoliation, but proceed carefully, especially if you're combining with the chemical exfoliants.

3. Moisturize

Now it's time to get loved up by your serum. Creams and lotions contain active ingredients, yes, but they're diluted with things like glycerin and oils. Serums, on the other hand, are able to carry a higher, more potent and deeply-penetrating percentage of actives—and that's EXACTLY what your skin needs to repair and protect itself from harsh weather. I'm talking about things like vitamins C and E, which can restore hydration and improve skin texture.

Honestly, it's a mystery as to why moisturizers get all the credit, because serums are the REAL workhorses. For dry winter skin, look for one that's specifically "hydrating," and apply it after you finish cleansing and/or exfoliating. Ones to try: AmorePacific Moisture Bound, SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel, Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Booster or La Roche-Posay Biomedic Hydrating Serum.

Let it sink in for a good five or 10 minutes before you layer on your face cream or lotion. The type you use will depend on how dry your skin is. If you're very dry, go crazy with the rich creams... but if your skin is more finicky (like mine), go with something oil-free, like Sephora Instant Moisturizer.

I also really like the non-greasy Linacare Transforming Face Cream Light. You may want to apply a separate eye cream too, but it's not absolutely necessary unless your eye area is sensitive—you can just use your regular moisturizer all over and you'll be fine. For random dry patches, as I mentioned last winter, Weleda Skin Food is simply AMAZE for repair work.

UPDATE: The Weleda Skin Food is getting a LOT of love, as it well should, but I just want to clarify: I use this as a spot treatment only (on dry patches... like when I had a cold last year, it seriously cured my red, flaky nose in 24 hours). BUT it's quite rich, so unless you have very dry skin, I would not use this as your all-over moisturizer. Instead, if you're looking for something equally rich (and natural), but less potentially breakout-inducing, I suggest Martina Gebhardt Black Mud Facial Cream. Available at Pure + Simple, it's specifically for sensitive skin and also helps calm inflammation and breakouts. Thanks to Arianne (a.k.a. Glitter Geek) for the question and reminding me about this oldie but goodie. (Oh, and I also stole your image...)

Optional last moisturizing step if your skin is SOOPER DRY: A facial oil. Pure + Simple's Kristen Ma is a HUGE proponent of this, and I love the way she explains it here: "[...] Our skin cells need water to maintain their healthiness – but oil helps retain this water. It also helps protect our delicate skin against the elements as it acts as a barrier." As I can attest after my Oil Cleansing Method disaster, not all oils are created equal, so check out Pure + Simple's selection to be on the safe (and non-comedogenic) side.

Don't forget to masque up once or twice a week to give your skin a treat. Two excellent ones that I use all the time are: Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Mask and Elemental Herbology Biodynamic Facial Soufflé. (UPDATE: Lesa informs me that Elemental Herbology is no longer sold in Canada—boo! Wonderful line, so definitely worth a look if you ever find yourself at a SpaceNK.

4. Protect

So just because it's freezing outside doesn't mean you can skip the sunscreen. You still need, at minimum, your SPF 15 protection, whether it's in a sunblock or your makeup. (Suggestions for sunscreen slackers right over here.)

But there's one more thing you might want to protect yourself from, and that's wind. I've had great success with Dermalogica's Barrier Repair, which is a handy little silicone-based gel that you can use either on top or instead of your moisturizer to strengthen your skin's lipid barrier.

And for lips, a brand new discovery that is also new to Canada: Nip + Fab Lip + Nip Fix. Hands down the most moisturizing and long-lasting lip balm I've ever used... but unfortch it won't be here until March, when it arrives at Shoppers Drug Mart. Definitely worth the wait though! (In the meantime, some other lip balm options here.)

5. Enhance

And finally, after all of that (I told you living in Canada sux), you can apply your makeup. You want to stick to liquid or cream-based foundations and blushes, because powders will only emphasize any dryness or flakiness. Although hopefully, after applying all of these darn products, you won't have any!

Tell me...

Do you agree that winter sux?

What are your fave prodz for dealing with dry lips and skin?

Is it just me or do you agree that the fight to kill off Uggs is just not going to go anywhere in this country?

Related Articles