Winter brings more than seasonal and holiday transitions. In addition to swapping out home decor and breaking out boots and sweaters, adjusting your skincare routine is equally important. Revamping your routine may seem intimidating or confusing, but dialing back to the basics will help you conquer the colder days ahead. While the building blocks of your skincare process should remain the same (think: cleansing, hydrating, and sun-protecting), just a few key product swaps will prep your skin for the winter.
Frigid temperatures make our skin more prone to dehydration and irritation, so reaching for gentle, creamier cleansers and moisturizers (like your favorite cozy sweater) will keep your skin nourished. You may have to tweak the serums and treatments you reach for since your skin is much more sensitive compared to the summer and fall. Still, no matter what time of the year, you should continue to protect your skin with antioxidant serums and sunscreen.
If you need help determining where to begin tailoring your routine to the season, I've broken down my tried-and-true winter routine that can work for many skin types and concerns. Read ahead for more.
Step 1: Opt for a hydrating cleanser
Choosing the right cleanser is arguably one of the most critical aspects of your skincare routine. Cleansing aims to achieve clean and comfortable skin that doesn't feel tight. In the winter, we tend to have drier and more sensitive skin, so you'll want to pay close attention to the ingredients of your cleanser, but also its texture and consistency. I recommend avoiding products with harsh chemicals and alcohol and looking for ingredients with hydrating and soothing properties. Your gel or foaming cleanser might be drying, whereas creamy formulas are much gentler on the skin.
The First Aid Beauty Pure Skin Face Cleanser ($24) checks all my boxes for a winter-friendly face wash. It's a gentle but effective cleanser that removes dirt and oil without stripping my skin of its natural moisture. It contains glycerin, a natural humectant that helps the skin retain its hydration, and aloe vera and allantoin, which have anti-inflammatory properties. With a lightweight and creamy texture, this cleanser always leaves my skin feeling soft and balanced.
Step 2: Use a vitamin C serum
There are many reasons to incorporate a vitamin C serum into your skincare routine. For starters, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect our skin from environmental stressors like pollutants and UV radiation, and it can also improve skin discoloration and brightness. As an effective collagen booster, vitamin C helps smoothen skin texture and reduce the appearance of fine lines.
The Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Acid ($169) is a constant product in my skincare routine. It's formulated with vitamins C, E, and ferulic acid, a powerful blend of antioxidants. This serum has worked wonders for my skin and is a derm favorite for a good reason. After using this serum consistently for the past year, my skin is brighter, smoother, and has a more even tone.
Step 3: Apply nourishing moisturizer
In the winter, it's essential to pay close attention to the formulation of your moisturizer. While water-based gels or lotions may be enough to hydrate your skin in the summer and fall, winter calls for creams. Creams are a mixture of oil and water, so they effectively replenish lost moisture and maintain the skin barrier.
The La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer ($21) is my go-to moisturizer in the winter. It contains glycerin and ceramide-3, which have hydrating properties, while niacinamide and prebiotic thermal water also have soothing properties. This lightweight cream texture adequately hydrates for the winter, doesn't feel heavy, and layers well with my other skincare products.
Step 4: Finish with sunscreen
Sunscreen is non-negotiable year-round. Even on a cloudy day, up to 80% of the sun's rays can penetrate, exposing our skin to harmful UV radiation. Besides preventing skin cancer and aging, wearing sunscreen in the winter can keep your skin hydrated and calm. For those with susceptible skin, mineral sunscreen is less likely to be irritating. If you struggle with hyperpigmentation, choosing a tinted sunscreen formulated with iron oxides can help protect against visible light.
I've found that the EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF ($39) works best for my skin. It contains zinc oxide, a physical sun blocker that provides broad-spectrum sun protection. The standout features of this sunscreen are its lightweight, non-greasy texture and ability to absorb quickly into my medium-brown complexion. It's also hydrating and reduces redness, making it ideal for winter, and it comes in a tinted version containing iron oxides.
Step 5: Use an emollient for your lips
Cold air, indoor heating, and hot beverages can all cause our lips to become dry and chapped. I prefer to use Vaseline Lip Therapy ($4) to soften and protect my lips, and I keep these portable jars in every one of my winter coats.
Step 1: Double cleanse
Cleansing oils, balms, or micellar water can be used as the first step in your nighttime routine to break down buildup from the day. This process helps remove oil-based impurities and allows the rest of your skincare products to absorb more effectively.
I've used the Bioderma Sensibio Micellar Water ($14) for years. I soak a cotton pad with the liquid and gently cleanse my skin with circular motions. Even on the coldest winter days when my skin feels sensitive, this product sweeps away buildup without irritating. It also helps maintain my skin's natural pH balance and is free of alcohol and fragrance, making it safe for all skin types. I always follow up with the First Aid Beauty cleanser I mentioned previously.
Step 2: Apply a retinol or chemical exfoliant
Retinoids are a form of vitamin A that work by increasing our cell turnover rate. This process boosts collagen, evens out skin tone, and improves the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Chemical exfoliants break down the connections between our skin cells. By doing this, they remove dead skin cells and reveal brighter, renewed skin below. For my skin, I prefer chemical exfoliants over physical exfoliants, which physically slough away skin cells and tend to be harsher.
My favorite over-the-counter retinol is the RoC Retinol Correxion Deep Wrinkle Night Cream ($30). It contains a clinically-proven retinol formula shown to improve the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone within eight weeks of use. Though retinol is typically drying, this product also contains moisturizing ingredients like glycerin and shea butter, making it ideal for use in the winter.
The CeraVe Nightly Exfoliating Treatment ($21) is my chemical exfoliant of choice in the winter. It is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) serum with a blend of 5% glycolic and lactic acids, which gently exfoliate the skin. It's formulated with essential ceramides and hyaluronic acid to help reduce irritation and hydrate the skin. With consistent use, this product has helped my skin look smoother and healthier.
Step 3: Moisturize with a nourishing formula
I seal my nighttime skincare routine with a cream to reduce any potential irritation and prevent water loss from my skin overnight. The Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream ($22) has become a staple in my winter skincare routine. It contains a blend of squalene, glycerin, and glycoprotein, which strengthen and restore the skin barrier. What sets this cream apart from others is its formulation. Even though it's rich, it still feels lightweight and non-greasy, making it an ideal product for layering on top of your nighttime products.
Step 4: Apply a lip mask
You'd be surprised how much moisture your lips lose overnight in the winter. Most nights, I apply a generous layer of Vaseline to my lips and the area. A couple of times a week, I enjoy using the Laneige Lip Mask ($24), which contains hyaluronic acid, coconut oil, and shea butter. After one use, my lips feel much softer and smoother. This mask does contain fragrance, so it may not be suitable for all skin types.