How to switch up your skin care for winter, according to dermatologists

Courtney Thompson, CNN Underscored
Updated Thu January 9, 2020

As the days get shorter and the temperatures drop, it's important to make some tweaks to your skin care routine.

"As the change of season occurs, your skin attempts to conserve heat by constricting blood vessels, which in turn dries out the outer layers of your skin," New York City dermatologist Dr. Debra Jaliman says. "It also makes the lines more prominent and makes skin dull and flaky. Homes are especially overheated in the winter, thus making the air dry, which causes your skin to dry out as well."

More bad news: Acne. According to dermatologist Dr. Sapna Palep, founder of Spring Street Dermatology in New York City, troubled skin is the norm this time of year. "While most people instinctively know that colder weather leads to dry, cracked skin, interestingly enough acne tends to flare in the wintertime, too," she says. "In the colder months, most of us are eating an abundance of sugar and comfort foods, which are high in refined carbs. Studies suggest that diets high in refined carbs may trigger or exacerbate acne."

In terms of how we should be switching up our skin care regimen this winter, Jaliman says anyone using anti-aging products with retinol in them should pad that routine with a stronger moisturizer or a hydrating cream cleanser, while also avoiding harsh soaps and certain clay masks that tend to dehydrate the skin. "I recommend my patients moisturize frequently," Palep says. "Moisturizing with a thick cream rich in ceramides and hyaluronic acid helps to attract water to the skin's surface and trap water sitting there. This should be done within five minutes of coming out of the shower after patting dry."

As for your lifestyle, well, it's time for a few tweaks there, too. Jaliman recommends adding a humidifier to your bedroom to help retain skin hydration, avoiding super-hot showers, drinking at least eight glasses of water a day and — of course — getting lots of sleep. "Beauty sleep is very important," she says. "I tell my patients to sleep seven to eight hours per night. Your cells regenerate themselves while you sleep. Your skin is most able to absorb topical treatments and DNA repair is boosted while you sleep."

And according to Palep, sunscreen continues to be a must, even when the skies are gray. "Use SPF daily, even in the winter," she advises. "It's not only outside that you need to think about this; the sun's UV rays can penetrate windows in your home, work and car and cause wrinkling and brown spots."

Below are Jaliman's and Palep's checklists of must-have skin care products for the winter months, starting with makeup remover and ending with body lotion — plus a few of our favorites, too. Subscribe to this routine and your skin will be glowing and fresh, even when it's blizzarding outside.

Makeup remover

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water ($6.59, originally $8.99; amazon.com)

With winter upon us, Jaliman says it's time to ditch any alcohol-based toners or cleansers for the time being, as they're too drying and harsh for your skin. Enter micellar cleansing water.

This one by Garnier has nearly 3,100 reviews on Amazon, raving about it being simultaneously gentle and powerful (it can even tackle waterproof makeup). "Micelles are cleansing molecules that are tiny round balls suspended in water," Jaliman says. "Micelles are attracted to dirt and makeup, they cling to both and dissolve them, removing every last trace of makeup and cleansing the skin without any harsh ingredients."

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Face serum

Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum ($27.19; amazon.com)

Jaliman says a vitamin C serum is essential for the winter months, with this one being her favorite. "The Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum is comprised of vitamin C, vitamin E, hyaluronic acid, which is hydrating, grapefruit, which is rich in antioxidants and citric acid, and chamomile, which both work to calm the skin," she says. "This is a great anti-aging product, and overall brightener."

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Moisturizer

Eucerin Urea Repair Cream ($8.25; amazon.com)

There are hundreds and hundreds of face creams on the market, but Palep says this is what she likes best. "It's designed specifically to give intense moisturization for dry, rough, chapped skin," she says. "It helps restore the skin natural balance by containing two of its own natural moisturizers, urea and lactate." And at under 10 bucks, it's certainly cheaper than many fancier brands.

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La Roche-Posay Double Repair Moisturizer ($19.99; amazon.com)

Looking for a drugstore brand with a luxe feel? La Roche-Posay is about to be your go-to. "This moisturizer is light and moisturizing at the same time," Palep says. "It's great for problematic skin, or sensitive skin, like rosacea or acne. It moisturizes without clogging, it's oil-free, non-comedogenic, but very hydrating."

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EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex ($50; dermstore.com)

For those in need of an anti-aging, moisturizing combo, Palep says EltaMD is the answer. "It's amazing at replenishing moisture and maintaining a healthy skin barrier, and it will reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, tone, texture and pore size," she says. "It's really great for acne/rosacea-prone skin because it minimizes redness and promotes cell turnover."

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Kiehl's Ultra Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30 ($32-$53; nordstrom.com)

Finding an ultra-hydrating daily moisturizer that's also packed with SPF is no easy feat, but this favorite from Kiehl's continues to impress with its quick-absorbing lightweight feel. The secret ingredient? Squalane, which can help maintain the skin's natural moisture balance.

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Sunscreen

EltaMD UV Elements Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 ($34; amazon.com)

Yes, again, you really do still need sunscreen in the winter, and Jaliman's pick is this one by EltaMD, for a multitude of reasons. "This is a mineral sunscreen made with hyaluronic acid, which is super hydrating," she says. "And it's oil-free, so it will not clog your pores, chemical-free and water-resistant for 40 minutes. If you're someone who sweats a lot, it's a great option, because it won't sweat off."

Bonus: It's tinted and will provide that extra coverage you're looking for in the winter months.

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Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting Sunscreen SPF 35 ($65; tatcha.com)

If you're looking for a high-quality daily option to wear under your makeup, this sunscreen from Tatcha is the one. Weightless and silky, it goes on matte and doesn't leave a residue. Plus with SPF 35, it protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and is packed with antioxidants that keep the skin calm. All in all, it feels just as expensive as it is.

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Night cream

CeraVe Skin Renewing Night Cream ($12.14, originally $13.49; amazon.com)

We're all in perpetual search for the perfect face cream to slather on before we go to bed, right? Jaliman says this one is going to get the job done this winter. "This is an excellent moisturizer for when the weather starts getting cold and your skin starts losing more moisture," she told us. "It's a light formulation that is non-comedogenic and contains ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which helps bind water molecules. It also contains niacinamide, which is known to even out skin color."

Jaliman added that the cream could be used during the day, but might be a little heavy, depending on your skin type. (Want a similar, but lighter option for the day? Jaliman recommends CeraVe's Facial Moisturizing Lotion that, as a bonus, has an SPF of 30.)

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EltaMD PM Therapy Facial Moisturizer ($32.50; amazon.com)

Nighttime is the best time to get some restorative moisturizing done, and Palep is a huge fan of this option from EltaMD. "It's oil-free, fragrance-free, non-comedogenic and safe for sensitive skin," she advises. "Ceramides strengthen the skin's natural moisture barrier. Niacinamide and antioxidants work to improve skin color and tone, while also speeding the metabolism to maximize the nightly skin repair process." Done and done.

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Beautycounter Countertime Tetrapeptide Supreme Cream ($89; beautycounter.com)

An integral component of clean beauty brand Beautycounter's anti-aging skin care line, the Supreme Cream is thick and luxurious. (It comes in a rose gold glass container with a brass lid that look amazing on your vanity, too.) But more than that, it targets signs of aging with ingredients like tetrapeptide — a natural take on retinol — which can minimize fine lines, and fermented sugars, which soothe the skin and aim to slow the visible effects of aging.

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Eye cream

Vichy LiftActiv Supreme Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream ($33.50; dermstore.com)

This we know: Eye cream can be just as important as regular ol' face cream. Palep loves this Vichy product because of its thickness and ability to hydrate the eye area gently. "The caffeine in it also helps reduce dark circles and puffiness," she says.

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CeraVe Eye Repair Cream ($14.39, originally $15.99; target.com)

We all want the best for our face, and we're typically prepared to pay a premium price for the good stuff. However, we don't always have to. Jaliman's top choice for a hydrating eye cream — which works wonders on puffiness and under-eye circles, too — is the uber-affordable CeraVe. "It's great for fine lines and wrinkles," she says. "It has antioxidants, ceramides, hyaluronic acid and jojoba. All these ingredients have great moisturizing and restorative properties."

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Body wash

Olay Moisture Ribbons Plus Shea + Lavender Oil Body Wash ($5.99; target.com)

When your skin is at its driest, you're going to want to find a body wash that is super hydrating and gentle, and Jaliman says this one by Olay is a keeper. "It's great because it has shea butter, as well as lavender, which has exceptional anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties," she says.

It's also a great choice for people who have sensitive skin. "Lavender is particularly good for people with redness due to rosacea," she says. "Shea butter is extremely moisturizing due to its natural vitamins and fatty acids."

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Cerave Hydrating Body Wash ($10.99; amazon.com)

Palep says this body wash is great for any skin type. "It's a nonirritating formula that is free of sulfates, which can be tough on skin as they are so stripping," she says. "When you disrupt the skin with these heavy detergents, you end up with cracked, dry skin."

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Body lotion

Eucerin Advanced Repair Dry Skin Lotion ($8.97, originally $11.99; amazon.com)

Is there anything more soothing than slathering on an ultra-moisturizing lotion in the middle of winter? While some are extremely thick and greasy, Palep prefers this one from Eucerin. "It's thinner than a lot of other formulas for extreme dryness, but I've seen it wipe out alligator skin, which is hard to do," she says.

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Dove DermaSeries Dry Skin Relief Body Lotion ($10.99; target.com)

Jaliman says this lotion is especially great for dry skin, and also notes that the Dove DermaSeries has no added fragrances, but does have glycerin, which is a key ingredient in the winter months. "Glycerin is a humectant and it works to moisturize the skin by drawing water from the air into the skin's outer layer," she says. "It serves as a protective layer that helps to prevent moisture loss."

Bonus: This lotion also has niacinamide, which improves the appearance of enlarged pores and dullness; silk amino acids, which help to even skin tone; and biotin, which works to keep skin healthy. Check, check, check!

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.