When it comes to dry winter skin, the number one thing we need to talk about is the skin’s barrier function. As temperatures and humidity levels drop, and central heating is turned up, your skin gets less moisture from the environment and begins to lose the ability to retain any existing moisture. The skin's security system (also knows as the skin's barrier function) is malfunctioning.
Annoying skin symptoms like dry, flaky, and irritation during the winter are usually caused by the skin’s inability to protect itself.
Your skin is like a brick wall that’s been coated in a weatherproofing sealant.
Over a season, this sealant might wear off because of environmental factors and might actually start to deteriorate and crumble. The “sealant” is your acid mantle (a protective layer made of sebum, sweat, lactic acid, water, and a few other secretions). The mantle is slightly acidic which helps discourage bacterial growth and the sebum helps protect moisture from evaporating. This “sealant” can be damaged by using harsh products, over washing or exfoliating, and environmental factors such as sun damage and central heating. When this happens, the ‘mortar’ between the bricks also becomes susceptible to deterioration.
When our skin’s barrier function is compromised and knocked out of balance, skin becomes tight, dry and flaky, which allows bacteria and allergens to find a way in, resulting in inflammation, allergies and breakouts.
How to keep your skin’s protective barrier intact in the winter:
1. Avoid foaming cleansers
The drying, foamy cleanser you’ve been using during the sweaty summer months will strip the acid mantle and compromised the lipid barrier. Instead, try using an oil cleanser, or cream cleanser. These will remove makeup and cleanse the skin without compromising its protective oil layer.
2. Hold off on using Alpha Hydroxy Acids
When your skin is compromised in the winter (or anytime!), slow down on using exfoliating ingredients.
Imagine a potted plant that hasn’t been watered in a while and the soil is completely dry. If you add fertilizer to the soil, it would actually burn, rather than nourish it. In the same way, before you use active ingredients like AHAs, you need to make sure your skin is dully hydrated and strengthened. In the meantime, if you need help with flaky skin, use a gentle cloth or exfoliant like Province Apothecary’s that uses oats and herbs to gently renew the skin.
3. Avoid fragrance and essential oils:
If your skin is overly dry, red, and irritated, stick with fragrance free products. Essential oils, especially ones like citrus, rosemary, sage, eucalyptus and even lavender can further aggravate skin. Some products may have a 'scent' to them, but it's often naturally occurring within the ingredient. Be particularly wary of added fragrance (parfum) or essential oils. Have a look at this essential-oil free collection.
3. Use oils and emollient creams
A face oil or face balm can protect your skin’s barrier in the interim while the skin repairs itself through the cell renewal process. Use products with ingredients that are rich in fatty acids and are similar to the skin’s composition like argan oil, rosehip oil, ceramides, and squalane.
4. Layer your products
To hydrate and protect the skin, layer your skincare products. A full routine would be: toner, serum, moisturizer, and oil (or balm). A serum can be especially helpful. Try using a hydrating toner like Fitglow's Sea Toning Mist and concentrated serum, like Consonant’s HydrExtreme underneath your favourite moisturizer to boost its effectiveness.
5. Stop ‘soaping’ your whole body
Most people are in the habit of using soap to wash their entire body. This isn’t necessary and in fact can be contribute to dry and itchy skin. Avoid using soap on your arms and legs, and instead only wash your “pits and bits”. It’s also helpful to use a dry skin brush before your get in the shower to slough off dead, flaky skin and increase circulation. Lastly, always follow up with a lotion or oil after the shower, when your skin is still damp.