If you live somewhere that gets chilly in the winter, it's almost like clockwork: The cool weather arrives, and so does the dry skin. Or maybe you live in a climate that's dry year-round and are all too familiar with dry nasal passages and skin that no moisturizer seems capable of resolving.
But what if we told you there's a helpful tool in the battle against dry air that you may not have tried? We're talking about a humidifier—so simple, yet so magically hydrating for the skin. But that's not all—humidifiers can also make breathing easier. Seriously, using a humidifier is one wellness hack you're going to want to try this winter (and beyond). Keep reading to learn more about humidifiers and their many benefits.
Meet the Expert
- Shawn Nasseri, MD, is a California-based otolaryngologist. His specialties include sinus surgery, voice disorders, and snoring and sleep apnea.
- Dendy Engelman, MD, is a board-certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City.
- Anna Chacon, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist based in Florida.
What Is a Humidifier?
A humidifier is a device that increases humidity (aka moisture) levels in the air by releasing water vapor or steam. You might be thinking: Is this the same as an air purifier? The answer is no— while an air purifier's job is to clean the air, a humidifier is all about adding moisture to the air. A humidifier might help improve your air quality, but it isn't designed to clean or purify your air through humidity alone.
Who Can Benefit From a Humidifier?
Humidifiers can benefit many people. According to our experts, you might benefit from using a humidifier if you experience any of the following:
- Dry sinuses
- Dry throat
- Nose bleeds
- Dry skin
"A lot of people aren’t aware of just how much their environment directly affects their skin and general health—air that has a less-than-optimal humidity level, below 40-60 percent, can pull moisture from the skin and dehydrate it, making it appear older and duller," Engelman says.
Potential Benefits of a Humidifier
Better Hydrated Skin
A humidifier can help keep your skin refreshed and hydrated, which is key when it comes to skin health. "When the skin is properly hydrated, it appears more youthful and even-textured, and is less prone to breakouts," Engelman says. Overall, humidifiers are a great way to give your immune system and skin an extra boost to stay healthy all year round, no matter the weather outside.
Clearer Nasal Passages
In the winter months—or really any time if you live in a dry climate—mucous membranes tend to dry out and get thicker, which can make it harder to filter what enters through your airways. "Running a humidifier in addition to using a saline spray two to three times daily will help to keep your nose moist, clean, and clear," Nasseri says.
Eased Cold and Allergy Symptoms
"Using a high-quality humidifier will improve your environment by keeping the air at an optimal humidity level, which helps ease allergy and cold symptoms and makes it easier to breathe," Engelman says. Studies also show that in environments where humidity is maintained somewhere between 40 and 60 percent, viruses like the flu are less likely to be transmitted, compared to drier environments, she adds.
Best Practices When Using a Humidifier
Keep it Clean
Clean your humidifier regularly to avoid problems with mold, fungi, and bacteria. Nasseri recommends cleaning your humidifier weekly and replacing the filter often—every one to three months is a good idea here. Keeping your humidifier clean allows it to do its job of circulating filtered and hydrated air around your home, Engelman says.
Maintain a Healthy Humidity Level
For best results, set your humidifier to keep humidity levels somewhere between 40 and 60 percent. "If the humidifier’s humidity is too high, it is a breeding ground for dust mites, bacteria, and mold," Chacon says. "However if it is too low, it can dry out furniture, flooring, and artwork, and cause dry skin and even nosebleeds."
Use it Year Round (in Most Environments)
It's a common misconception that humidifiers should only be used throughout the cold and dry winter months. But using a humidifier can benefit many people throughout the year, such as when your skin gets dry from running the air conditioner in the summer, or when your allergies flare with the changing seasons.
"Incorporating a humidifier into your daily life ensures that you are creating a stable environment for your skin and health," Engelman says.
If your humidifier isn't properly maintained and gets dirty, it can emit harmful bacteria and mold into the air, Nasseri tells Byrdie.
"From a clinical perspective, some traditional humidifier models aggravate the respiratory system and compromise your health by spewing bacteria and allergens into the air—completely negating their intended benefits," Engelman says. But clean and well-designed humidifiers are worth using, she says.
Some people find that some humidifiers can be hard to use or maintain, or that they can be expensive. As you shop for a humidifier, remember that some humidifiers are of way higher quality than others. It's important to choose a humidifier that's easy to use and keep clean, our experts say.
The Best Humidifiers on the Market
Small and compact, the Canopy Humidifier ($150) is suited for spaces up to 500 square feet. It can be cleaned in the dishwasher and contains a built-in UV LED light that's designed to prevent mold growth. "These humidifiers are one of the best and easiest ways to help all skin types look and feel better every day, all year," Engelman says.
One of the pricier humidifiers out there ($700), the Dyson Pure Humidify + Cool uses UV technology to kill bacteria before circulating purified and humidified air.
The sleek design and quiet operation of the Honeywell Designer Series Cool Mist Humidifier ($70) make this humidifier a solid choice for many living spaces. It can run for up to 24 hours, offers adjustable mist output settings, and comes with an essential oil tray.
Levoit's filterless Hybrid Ultrasonic Humidifier ($90) is quiet, easy to clean, and can disperse a warm or cool mist. It also has an aromatherapy diffusor, for those who prefer a scented mist.
If you're looking for a quiet humidifier, Crane's Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier ($43) is one of your best options. Because it's ultra-quiet, this is an extremely popular option for parents who are looking for a humidifier for a baby's nursery. In addition to the teardrop shape, this humidifier is available in lots of fun and cute shapes that kids and babies will love (check out this adorable frog).
Mayo Clinic. Humidifiers: Ease skin, breathing symptoms
Humidifiers: Why you might need them. Mayo Clinic.
PLOS One. High Humidity Leads to Loss of Infectious Influenza Virus from Simulated Coughs. 02/27/13