The Worst Things You Can Do to Your Skin in Winter

Healthy Living

January 7, 2021

The winter months can be rough on your skin, especially more exposed areas like your hands and face. Dryness and the flaking, itching and painful cracks that accompany it are common wintertime complaints. Other skin issues that sometimes flare up in cold weather include frostnip, heat rash, eczema and even sunburn.

If your approach to winter skincare involves applying lotion and hoping for the best, it’s time to rethink your strategy. 

Learn to identify the top cold-weather skin mistakes so that you can avoid them — and create a skincare regimen that helps protect your healthy glow year round.

Here are seven of the worst things you can do to your skin in winter.

#1) Taking long, hot showers.

When winter chills you to the bone, a long, hot shower might seem like the cure. Unfortunately, your skin will pay the price.

Hot water strips your skin of oils. The higher you crank the temperature dial and the longer you stay in the water, the worse the effects will be.

Tips for kids: Limit bath time to about 10 minutes and use a fragrance-free cleanser. Afterward, gently pat your child dry — both air drying and towel rubbing are harsher on skin — and immediately apply a kid-friendly moisturizer.

Tips for adults: Choose warm water instead of scalding hot for your shower, and keep the bathroom door closed to hold the humidity in the room. Hop out after five to 10 minutes. Pat dry and then moisturize thoroughly.

#2) Cranking the furnace too high.

Cold air holds less moisture than warm air, so outdoor humidity levels are usually lower in the winter. Most furnace systems pull in air from outside. That means the more you run your heating system, the drier your indoor air can become.

When the air lacks moisture, it will draw it from anywhere it can, including your body. As a result, low humidity leads to dry skin.

Tips for kids: Humidifiers can help balance out the drying effect of the furnace, so run a cool-mist humidifier in your child’s bedroom or playroom.

Tips for adults: Set your thermostat between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Consider placing humidifiers in the rooms you occupy most frequently or installing a whole-house humidifier.

#3) Using summer products all year long.

As the weather changes, so should your skincare routine. Water-based lotions may be sufficient during the summer months, but dry winter air calls for something stronger.

Thin lotions may quickly evaporate from your skin. Thick creams and ointments, on the other hand, are useful for sealing moisture into your skin. These products usually have a higher oil content than lotions, which contributes to better healing for your skin as well.

Some beneficial products contain ceramides, a category of lipids that can help improve skin health.

Tips for kids: Develop a routine for moisturizing your child’s skin five or six times a day. Use thick products when possible, but understand that kids don’t always like the way they feel. Try a few different products to find one that your child can tolerate.

Tips for adults: Look for skin creams sold in tubs or jars. Apply heavy moisturizer to hands, feet and legs regularly, but avoid using a thick product on your face.

#4) Forgoing proper bundling.

Exposing your skin to bitterly cold air causes dryness. The more often you skip wearing gloves, the flakier and more cracked your hands may become.

Not only that, but exposure to cold can lead to dangerous conditions like frostnip and frostbite. Signs of frostnip include redness and tenderness. If you notice such symptoms, it’s critical to warm up before frostbite sets in.

Tips for kids: Cover your kids from head to toe as much as possible. That may include wearing a coat, a hat, gloves and warm boots. To avoid heat rash, choose breathable layers. If heat rash does occur, treat it with hydrocortisone cream.

Tips for adults: Even if you’re just running out for a minute, spare your skin by first taking 30 seconds to slather on moisturizer and pull on gloves.

#5) Skipping sunscreen.

The smell of sunscreen may bring back memories of long, sunny days on the shore, but sun protection isn’t just for summer beach trips. UV rays can be just as damaging in the winter.

Snowy days are especially problematic. White snow reflects up to 80% of UV radiation, which means that rays may be coming at you from both above and below if you live in a snowy climate.

Tips for kids: Half an hour before sending children out to play in the snow, apply SPF 15 or higher to all skin that will be exposed. Don’t forget to coat the bottoms of chins, earlobes and noses. If kids stay out for more than two hours, take a break to reapply.

Tips for adults: Make SPF protection part of your year-round daily routine. Apply sunscreen to exposed skin, use SPF lip balm and wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection. Also, visit a dermatologist for regular skin checks.

#6) Ignoring hydration.

Drinking water isn’t the sole solution to dry skin problems. In general, dry skin needs to be fixed from the outside.

That said, going through life dehydrated won’t help the situation. If you’re regularly denying your body the fluid it needs, your skin may start to pay the price.

Tips for kids: Encourage kids to get plenty of fluid from low-calorie drinks as well as foods with high water content, like fruits and veggies. Children between the ages of 4 and 8 need about 7 cups of fluid per day. Older children require 9 cups or more, depending on age and sex.

Tips for adults: On average, women should aim for 11.5 cups of fluid per day. Men may need closer to 15.5 cups. And it doesn’t have to be from water alone, either. Choose hydrating herbal teas or other nutritious options for quenching your thirst if you’re tired of water.

#7) Avoiding your doc.

Dry skin is usually a problem that you can solve at home. Sometimes, though, there’s more going on than simply not using enough moisturizer. 

When regular home care doesn’t make a dent in your skin issues, it’s time to consult a physician.

You may discover that a condition like eczema or psoriasis is to blame. These conditions usually begin in childhood, but some people go undiagnosed for years. Once you have a diagnosis, you can start trying different therapies to see which ones work best for you.

Tips for kids: If your child’s itchy or irritated skin persists, make an appointment to discuss eczema and other skin conditions with his pediatrician. The doctor may prescribe topical steroids or a special bathing routine.

Tips for adults: As with children, make an appointment if home remedies don’t seem to improve your dryness issues. You may benefit from light therapy or a prescription medication.

Although winter skincare can be a challenge, it’s not impossible to keep your hands, feet, face and body in good shape. By avoiding these seven winter mistakes, you’ll help your family’s skin stay as healthy as can be all season long.