Five ways to keep skin hydrated in the winter

November 19, 2017
Keeping skin hydrated with cleansers, toners, lotions, creams, oils, and balms

I have combination skin that’s very prone to dryness and dehydration, particularly around my eyes and cheeks. About two weeks ago my skin started getting hit hard by the changing weather and colder, drier air and I’ve needed to adjust my skincare in a big way. Dry skin generally requires more care than just a heavy face cream, and I’ve developed a handful of strategies for alleviating tight, irritated, and generally sad winter skin. Here are five main ways I approach dry skin, and a bunch of my favorite products I’ve found in each category.

1. Cleansers

Firstly, I cleanse my skin thoroughly twice a day and double-cleanse at night to remove makeup, so it’s important for me to use really gentle cleansers. Not only do I want to maintain a healthy oil balance and not strip the skin, but I ideally want a cleanser that actually provides some hydration.

In the drugstore, I’ve found that I really enjoy the Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Cream Cleanser ($7.47), which has a mild cooling effect and leaves skin feeling soft and clean.

Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Cream Cleanser

It is a simple cream texture rich in fatty alcohol and glycerin and is completely lather free, but still contains some salicylic acid and willow bark extract.

If you like to pamper your skin a bit more, I also highly recommend the Clarins Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs and Moringa for normal to dry skin ($33), which is available at Clarins and Sephora. The formula has some extra oomph that leaves my skin feeling more hydrated after cleansing than it did prior.

Clarins Cleansing Milk with Alpine Herbs

I initially tried a smaller bottle from a set that I purchased at a Clarins outlet, and then purchased the full size recently during the Sephora VIB sale because I knew it would be really valuable to use through the winter.

Both the Neutrogena and the Clarins cleansers contain some fragrance (the Clarins much more so than the Neutrogena), and so if that’s something that bothers your skin, you could instead try the Acure Sensitive Facial Cleanser ($9.99), which can be found at Whole Foods.

Acure Sensitive Facial Cleanser

The Acure cleanser features peony extract, argan oil, and sunflower amino acids. It’s also cruelty-free.

2. Toners

Toners tend to be products that a lot of Americans don’t get very excited about, but I think that good ones can really impact the overall health and resilience of skin.

Andalou Naturals 1000 Roses Floral Toner

Andalou Naturals is a really nice and affordable line available at natural groceries like Whole Foods, and their 1000 Roses Floral Toner for delicate and dry skin ($12.95) is one of my favorites that I’ve bought several times over. Since it’s release, they’ve also introduced a coconut line for dry and aging skin, and I’ve found that the Coconut Water Firming Toner is quite similar except that it smells like coconut water rather than fresh cut roses. There are a lot of good toners out there in the world but in my mind it’s hard to beat the quality and value of these from Andalou Naturals.

Though much less accessible in the US, my favorite toner out there is probably the Raunsborg Skin Tonic, which I found while vacationing in Copenhagen. It’s a little more substantial in texture and takes time to soak into the skin, which is a really nice quality for dry skin.

Raunsborg Skin Tonic

3. Lots of layers

Beyond making sure I don’t skip toner, I also like to add several other layers of stuff on my skin. I really believe layering different textures is better than just putting one single heavy moisturizer on. It allows me to treat different areas of my skin a little differently, depending on the issues (as certain areas of my face may be more prone to acne, oil buildup, chronic dehydration, rough texture, etc.), and it helps make sure lighter-weight products get absorbed and sealed in under heavier products that protect my skin’s moisture barrier.

In particular, I find it really helpful once I’ve applied toner and some thin serums that I layer at least a couple of moisture-focused products over top. That usually means using a watery gel, lightweight lotion, and hydrating eye treatment underneath a more substantial cream.

Skinfood Lettuce & Cucumber Watery Cream

Korean skincare lines often create lots of different kinds of gels and creams meant to be layered, as those brands tend to really embrace the layering philosophy. Skinfood’s Lettuce & Cucumber Watery Cream ($16), which is available at Ulta, is an example of a light gel with a watery texture. For very dry skin, I highly recommend the Innisfree Olive Serum ($23), which is more of a thin lotion but includes enough oil in it to make a wonderful difference in my skin’s elasticity.

Innisfree Olive Real Serum

A heavier layering product I absolutely love is Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado ($29 for the standard 0.5 oz. or $48 for the big 0.95 oz. jar), which is a spectacularly rich and comforting cream that also wears just fine under makeup on me. The skin around my eyes is the driest part of my face and I’ve bought this one multiple times over. It’s both the cheapest and most hydrating of the eye treatment options from Kiehl’s.

Kiehl’s Creamy Eye Treatment with Avocado

4. Sheet and Sleeping Masks

On the topic of layering, I’ve also become a nighttime sheet mask and sleeping mask loyalist. In general, these are interesting to me because at first glance they don’t seem like they’d be as useful as a heavy cream because the texture tends to be more watery. However, they also sort of sit on top of the skin (rather than just disappearing into the skin), so they can create a barrier layer that keeps all of that hydration locked in over many hours.

Soo Ae Freeset Donkey Milk Skin Gel Masks

I use sheet masks after applying toner and serums, let them sit on my face until they start to feel a little dry-ish but not completely dry (usually around 20 minutes), remove the mask to let the essence soak in and dry down on the skin a little more, and then apply creams and/or oils afterward. For more budget-friendly options I really enjoy the different masks made by Taiwanese brand My Beauty Diary ($12.99 for 10 masks), and for a bit more of a treat I’ve found that I particularly enjoy the Donkey Milk masks from Korean brand SOO’Ae ($30 for 10 masks).

Innisfree Pore Sleeping Pack

Sleeping masks, on the other hand, behave as the very last step in my nighttime routine, applied over serums and in place of a cream. I’ve been using them 2 or 3 times a week, and I have a few kicking around my cabinet. Pictured above is the Innisfree Brightening Pore Sleeping Mask ($25), which I think generally does a lot more for my skin’s hydration than it does for brightness or pores. I also enjoy options from Too Cool For School, including Fresh Gore ($25), which is also a gel, as well as the Pumpkin 24K Gold ($15), which has more of a cream texture.

Too Cool For School Fresh Gore Sleeping Pack

5. Creams, Oils, and Balms

Lastly, I wanted to touch on creams and oil-based products, which I use at the end to cap off my skincare routine. I keep a number of these around so that I have options if my skin starts to have issues. It can be difficult to strike the right balance between too light and too heavy, and I think personal compatibility is important, as well. I’m convinced that everyone reacts to different kinds of  textures or specific types of oils differently, so some exploration may be necessary.

Kiehl’s Creme D’Elegance Repairateur

For versatile day/night oil treatments and creams, I broadly recommend checking out options from Kiehl’s and Clarins in particular if you’ve had trouble finding something good. I’ve also really enjoyed the Too Cool For School Egg Mellow Cream ($36), which is now available at Sephora and has a nice gooey texture while still working well under makeup.

Too Cool For School Egg Mellow Cream

You’ll know by now that I generally like using water-heavy products that provide a solid barrier over skin, and a stellar version of that in a night cream form is the Nature Republic Shea Butter Steam Cream ($20.90). This is a soft, comforting bath of moisture for my skin that’s enormously effective without having an oily feel.

Nature Republic Shea Butter Steam Cream

Oils are good, too. I don’t regularly splurge on fancy ones, and at the moment have bottles of pure squalane ($7.90) and rose hip seed oil ($9.80) from The Ordinary kicking around that I can reach for on an as-needed basis. Squalane seems to be particularly effective and compatible with my skin’s preferences.

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

The last kind of moisturizer I’ll mention are balms, which make a great final step at night if you have very stubbornly dry skin. Alaffia makes an incredible and affordable shea butter balm called Africa’s Secret ($13.99) that’s available at Whole Foods, and Egyptian Magic ($24) is an olive oil-based balm with a slightly higher price but more effortless texture to work with. Right now I have a pot of Egyptian Magic that lives on my bedside table, as it’s great for my face, lips, hands, and elbows.

Alaffia Africa’s Secret

Keeping my skin healthy and bouncy throughout the winter months requires a bit of dedication, but it’s a priority for me. I’d love to know what your favorite products are, and if you have any different approaches that I didn’t mention. Let me know!

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  1. I recently found an Acure product that I’ve really been enjoying – quick fix correcting balm. It’s a 1 oz. squeeze tube which I use for dry patches on my face and I really like it! I also have an Acure cleanser that I’ve been trying out and it’s alright. I don’t think it’s the same one you listed because if I can remember right the tube says something about “mint” and it has a sort-of minty scent to it…except to me it smells like a Bonne Bell mint chocolate chip lip balm or something? It’s weird. My favorite cleanser is the CeraVe creamy cleanser but it’s always hard to find that one in stores around me.
    Anyhoo – I will put your rec’s on my list of stuff to try since I have winter-y sensitive skin that always gets dry and red in the cold months. Thanks!!

    1. Hi Alison! I am curious about the Acure balm, that sounds really great — I’ll have to look out for that. Cerave’s creamy cleanser is also fantastic for dry skin. Thanks for reading, and if you try any new products I’d love to hear how you like them!

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