Keep your skin soft and hydrated this winter! Here's how to choose the best moisturizer for dry skin

Dry skin in the winter can be uncomfortable, but a good moisturizer packed with all the right ingredients may be just what your skin needs

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Curology Team
Oct 20, 2019 · 9 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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For a lot of us, winter means dry skin. Cold or frigid temperatures zap much needed moisture from the air which means our skin often needs extra protection and hydration in the winter season

Feeling the effects of the cold in your skin is common, so if you have noticed some tightness as the days get colder you might be thinking of upgrading your moisturizing routine. The good news is that there are plenty of ways for you to help your skin stay hydrated while you still enjoy some winter fun.

Winter do’s and don’ts for dry skin

If you’re prone to dry skin in winter, your skincare routine might need a switch-up:

  • Do use cream instead of gel. Gel-based products are lighter, but for those living above a certain latitude (anywhere north of Florida), heavier emollient creams may be better during the fall and winter to combat the dryness from indoor heating and cold, dry winds.

  • Don’t over-exfoliate flakes. Even though exfoliation removes dead skin cells, flaky skin is sensitive to over-exfoliation, which can cause redness as well as a feeling of “tightness,” sensitivity, and soreness. Take a break from any harsh physical or chemical exfoliators while your skin is in a snowflaky state. If you feel you need some exfoliation, try using a gentle konjac sponge instead. 

  • Do simplify your skincare routine. Cleanse, treat, moisturize, protect—stick to those simple steps⁠. Give your skin a break from extra products because the harsh ingredients in some skincare products can make dryness worse. And be sure that your skincare routine still includes daily SPF. Light reflecting snow can increase UV exposure, so don't skip your sunscreen just because winter is settling in.¹

4 key ingredients in moisturizers

Finding a good moisturizer is all about the right ingredients. You want to nourish your skin with ingredients that help lock in moisture and heal your skin. Look for moisturizers formulated with ingredients that are non-pore-clogging and can help with hydration. 

  1. Hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic is deeply hydrating for your skin because it draws in water from the air and from deeper layers of your skin.²

  2. Ceramides. Ceramides are lipids that are part of the outer layer of your skin. They help to improve skin barrier function and keep in moisture.³

  3. Glycerol. Glycerol is an organic compound that has been shown to improve hydration and aid in wound healing.⁴

  4. Natural oils. Natural oils can be nourishing and gentle on your skin to help keep it hydrated. Just remember some natural oils can actually clog your pores! A good oil to look for in your moisturizer is jojoba oil, which may help control sebum production because the lipid is very similar to the natural oil produced by our skin.⁵

How to choose the best moisturizer

You have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to moisturizers. But how do you find the right one for you? Everyone’s skin type is unique, so what works for someone else might not be the best product for you. Here’s what to look for in moisturizers depending on your skin type.

For dry skin

The Curology rich moisturizer deeply hydrates skin that is prone to dryness in winter. With six key ingredients—including hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and aloe—this creamy moisturizer soothes dry skin with humectants that bind moisture to the skin and emollients that can help improve the appearance of fine lines. If you’re looking for an over-the-counter option, our providers often recommend ​​Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream with Hyaluronic Acid for Extra-Dry Skin or Olay Age Defying Advanced Hydrating Moisturizer with Hyaluronic Acid SPF 15

For sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin, you want to look for a thick cream that is fragrance-free.⁶ When it comes to sensitive skin, a simple formula with hydrating and soothing ingredients can help your skin stay hydrated without causing inflammation or irritation. Here are our recommendations: Vanicream Moisturizer or Aveeno Ultra-Calming Nourishing Night Cream.

For rough skin

Winter skin can often feel rough and flaky, and an ultra-thick and luxurious moisturizer may help your skin feel smoother and softer. Give thicker moisturizers plenty of time to soak into your skin for the best effect. For rough skin, you may want to try CeraVe Healing Ointment or Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Cream

For oily acne-prone skin

If you’re prone to breakouts and blemishes, a moisturizer is still an essential part of your skincare routine! Look for a light-weight moisturizer, such as one with a gel-like consistency to hydrate your skin. The Curology moisturizer is a cool, layerable gel-cream formulated without pore-clogging ingredients. Not a Curology member? We recommend Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream or La Roche-Posay Toleriane Fluide Oil-Free Moisturizer as potential over-the-counter options. 

Winter skin woes

Is dry skin not your only concern in the winter? The cold weather can affect your skin in many different ways and, unfortunately, can sometimes cause you discomfort.

Acne

Do you notice more breakouts in the winter? If your skin is prone to blemishes, the cold weather could be drying it out and causing irritation, which may make your acne worse.

You can use a gentle cleanser (like the Curology cleanser) to help keep your pores clear and a good moisturizer to fight off dryness to help your winter acne. If you’re looking for more cleanser options, check out our guide to cleansers for every skin type to find more skincare product recommendations.

Windburn

Windburn can occur when your bare skin is exposed to persistent cold and wind because it can damage your skin barrier,⁷ and it can be painful and cause your skin to feel dry and tender. Some of the best ways to help prevent windburn include covering your skin in layers, wearing gloves for your hands, and covering exposed facial skin with a scarf. If you do happen to get windburn, you can use a rich moisturizer and warm water to help soothe your skin, but take care not to use harsh exfoliants.⁸

Chapped lips

Winter can dry out the skin of your lips, too. One way to keep your lips feeling moisturized is to keep your favorite lip balm with you (like the Curology lip balm!) and apply as often as you need.

Psoriasis

Psoriasis can worsen in the winter because of the dry air. Psoriasis symptoms include dry, flaky patches resulting from your body overproducing skin cells, and it can worsen in the winter because of the dry air. This condition doesn't have a cure, although a dermatologist may prescribe various treatments, including corticosteroids and emollients.⁹

Cold urticaria

Cold urticaria occurs when cold weather causes large, sometimes itchy welts on your skin. A common cause may be that your body releases histamines triggered by the cold that leads to these bumps, but the symptoms vary.¹⁰ One way to help prevent this is to stay out of the cold for long periods and dress warmly during chilly winter weather. Antihistamines are often used as a treatment for cold urticaria.¹¹ Of course, always follow the advice of your medical provider if this condition applies to you.

7 tips for using your moisturizer

Finding the right moisturizer for you can take time, and you want to make sure you see good results! Here are seven tips to get the most from your moisturizer:

  1. Consider doing a patch test. Place a little bit of moisturizer on your skin (ideally somewhere that isn’t very noticeable) to test if you have a bad reaction to the product. This is often a good idea when trying any new skincare, particularly if you have sensitive skin.

  2. Apply lotion on damp skin. Putting moisturizer on your skin right after a shower will help it absorb more efficiently and lock in hydration. 

  3. Use it twice a day (or more!). You should use a moisturizer with the rest of your skincare routine, ideally in the morning and at night. Consistently moisturizing daily will help your skin stay moisturized over time.

  4. Add oil when needed. If you feel like your skin needs an extra boost, you can mix in a skin-friendly oil (like jojoba oil) with your moisturizer. You may not need to do this if your particular moisturizer is already made with an oil.

  5. Limit hot water. Hot water can dry out your skin, so while a super hot shower may feel great, warm water followed by your favorite lotion is often best for your skin.

  6. Reapply when necessary. If your skin is feeling extra dry one day, there’s no harm in reapplying some face lotion midday to keep away any flaking.

FAQs

What is the skin barrier, and why is it important?

You've probably seen products advertising how they help restore your skin barrier, but what does that even mean? It's the outermost layer of your skin, and it helps retain your skin's moisture (in addition to other important functions!). It's also called the stratum corneum, and it’s composed of epidermal barriers with different functions. These functions include water retention, protection from bacteria, and reducing the effect of UV light exposure.¹² Protecting and strengthening this barrier will only help keep your skin looking hydrated. 

What do I do if my skin still feels dry with moisturizer?

Unfortunately, there’s no one magic moisturizer that will work for everyone. While frustrating, there are other strategies to keep your skin hydrated along with using a moisturizer. If you’re concerned about a skin condition or unsure about how to keep your skin hydrated, a medical provider may be able to give you more personalized advice.

Can moisturizers improve the appearance of dark spots?

Dark spots (also called hyperpigmentation) have various causes, including sun damage. Moisturizing is an integral part of your skincare routine that promotes healing, but most daily moisturizers aren't specifically formulated for dark spots. Vitamin C and azelaic acid are two ingredients often used in topical treatments for hyperpigmentation.

What should I look for in a fragrance-free moisturizer?

You might be thinking, “A nice smell is the best part of lotion; why would I want to give that up?” Most added fragrances aren’t formulated to hydrate or soothe your skin. In fact, they’re more likely to cause irritation.⁶

Find a simple and effective winter skincare routine for your skin

We know that dry skin in winter is no fun, especially if you have other stubborn skin issues like acne or hyperpigmentation. With Curology, a licensed dermatology provider will work with you to help you reach your skin goals by prescribing you a Custom Formula designed to suit your unique needs.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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You’ll get your personalized treatment cream along with recommended routine essentials, like a cleanser and your choice of moisturizer.  Sign up for a free trial* and get your new routine for just $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling. 

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P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. Andersen, P. Environmental cues to UV radiation and personal sun protection in outdoor winter recreation. Archives of dermatology. (May 2010).

  2. Eleni Papakonstantinou, et al. Hyaluronic acid: A key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology. (2012, July 1).

  3. Oderch, L., et al. Ceramides and skin function. American journal of clinical dermatology.(2003, n.d.).

  4. Fluhr, J. W., et al. Glycerol and the skin: holistic approach to its origin and functions. The British journal of dermatology. (2008, July 1).

  5. Linder, J. Role of OIls in the Topical Treatment of Acne. Cosmetic Dermatology. (April 2008).

  6.  Margo J. Reader Allergic Contact Dermatitis to Fragrances. Dermatologic clinics vol. 38,3 (2020, May 4).

  7. Engebretsen, K. A ., et al.The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis.Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV vol. 30. ( February 2016).

  8. Tang J. C. and Hanke W. Against the Wind. Skin Cancer Foundation. (2021, March 4).

  9.  Marshal Clinic, Sunburn and windburn: Winter skin damage culprits. (2017 February 16).

  10.  Mayo Clinic Staff. Psoriasis: Diagnosis and Treatment.Mayo Clinic. (2020, May 2)..

  11.  Mayo Clinic Staff. Cold Urticaria: Symptoms and Causes. (2021, December 15).

  12.  Mayo Clinic Staff. Cold Urticaria: Diagnosis and Treatment. (2021, December 15).

  13.  Rosso, J. D., et al. Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner: Proceedings of an Expert Panel Roundtable Meeting. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.( 2016, April 1).

This article was originally published on October 20, 2019 and updated on March 8, 2022.

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Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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