Keep dry, itchy skin at bay with these pro tips & product picks

There’s no denying that the winter months can wreak havoc on our complexion. The lower the temperature, the higher our thermostat goes, which is great for helping defrost our living room, but could be having a noticeable impact on our skin’s hydration levels. Whether it’s those hot showers or hours spent huddled around the central heating, it comes as no surprise that our tight, dry winter skin is lacking that gorgeous glow. The good news? Changing up your skincare routine to suit the seasons can help.

In our quest to discover the ultimate skincare tips for winter, we enlisted the help of three of our favourite dermatologists to find out about the switch-ups that are really worth weaving into our winter skincare routine.

Here’s what the experts recommend for giving your skin a helping hand in the colder months…

Tip 1: Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise

When it comes to looking after dry, itchy winter skin, Dr Alexis Granite, consultant dermatologist and consultant at CeraVe, says it’s all about moisture. "Moisturising ingredients fall into three broad categories: humectants that bind water, occlusives, which create a barrier to prevent water loss, and emollients, which replace gaps between skin cells, helping to keep the barrier intact [skin’s first line of defence]," explains Dr Granite.

Each plays a role in attracting and locking in moisture. "Hyaluronic acid is a key humectant to look out for during winter – it’s an amazing molecule that’s also present in skin naturally and capable of holding more than 1000 times its weight in water," says Dr Granite. "When used in skincare, such as in CeraVe’s Hyaluronic Acid Serum, it helps bind hydration within the skin."

"Occlusives include squalane and shea butter. Ceramides are a potent emollient lipid and help skin feel hydrated and supple. In winter, just as you do with your clothes, try layering skincare products, such as serums, moisturisers and face oils, which all contain hydrating ingredients."

Moisturising isn’t just limited to dry skin either. Dr Justine Hextall, consultant dermatologist, weighs in: "Oily skin can lose water, too, and may produce more oil to compensate. This oil is called sebum, which can block pores."

It’s important to keep oily skin calm and hydrated. It may sound counter-intuitive but using a gentle hydrating cleanser can be helpful in this scenario, followed by a water-based or light moisturiser. La Roche-Posay Toleriane Sensitive Fluide is a good one to go for.

Tip 2: Don’t shower in hot water

One of the easiest, but mightiest tweaks you can try? "When it comes to dry, itchy skin on the body, one of the quickest changes you can make is lowering the temperature in the shower, as well as limiting the duration," says Dr Granite.

"Hot water showers and baths are tempting during winter, but hotter water can be quite dehydrating, potentially leading to small tears and cracks over the skin’s surface. Over time, this can cause dry, flaky and irritated patches of skin.

"Make sure to apply emollients daily to the body. The best time to apply them is right after bathing when skin is still slightly damp."

Tip 3: Divide & conquer

So, we’ve established that moisturising is key for both oily and dry skin types, but what about combination skin? According to Dr Cristina Psomadakis, aka Dr Soma, dermatologist, it’s all about dividing and conquering.

"People often struggle with combination skin, because they can’t find a single product that seems to address both needs," she says. "This is because, actually, their needs are quite different. I think the key is to divide and conquer, and know your zones! Usually there are certain areas of skin – or zones – that get dry, and others that may stay more oily. You just have to approach them differently in terms of treatment.

"For example, on your face you can use a toner and a more lightweight moisturiser on the oiler parts and then a thicker ointment on drier parts. I call this skincare zoning. Try Aveeno Calm + Restore Soothing Oat Toning Lotion  and Aveeno Calm + Restore Oat Gel Moisturiser for the face, Aveeno Daily Moisturising Body Lotion for normal or oilier parts of your body and Aveeno Dermexa Emollient Cream on very dry areas. You can layer if a super-boost of hydration is needed!"

Tip 4: Indulge in a massage

A facial massage shouldn’t just be saved for a special occasion. Dr Granite has the lowdown on why it’s so important: "When it comes to your moisturiser, take time to massage it into your skin. Try for at least 30 seconds to maximise its effects – it'll help with absorption and circulation. And don’t forget to moisturise and massage your body – CeraVe Moisturising Cream is great for non-greasy, effective hydration."

Interested in dry body brushing? Read our guide here.

Tip 5: Use active ingredients

We’re always harping on about the benefits of using actives in your skincare. And Dr Hextall agrees, saying: "An exfoliant, such as The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Anhydrous Solution, can be helpful for unblocking pores, but remember to balance it with hydrating products. Other ingredients that may help include retinoids, which should be introduced slowly and balanced with soothing cleansers and light moisturisers as retinoids can be drying. A good starter retinoid is La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum. As well as retinol, it contains vitamin B3, which helps soothe and glycerin to help hydrate, reducing that typical skin irritation that can happen when first introducing a retinoid."

"Niacinamide is a great all-rounder in supporting skin barrier function, while azelaic acid is also an excellent ingredient as it helps unblock pores and may prevent post-acne pigmentation. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is great and affordable. But remember to introduce actives slowly to help protect the skin barrier."

If you have sensitive skin, patch test a new product for extra peace of mind and see how your skin tolerates one active before introducing another to reduce the risk of irritation. 

Tip 6: Drink plenty of water

During the colder months, we’re all too often found sipping on pumpkin spice lattes and the occasional mulled wine, but it’s important to remember to get enough H2O, too.

"Staying hydrated is also important in winter. We might manage those two litres of water on steamy summer days, but many of us don’t keep it up when the temperatures plummet," says Dr Granite. "Drink lots of still water and perhaps consider swapping your latte, flat white or English Breakfast tea (as they can have diuretic effects) for green tea."

Tip 7: Don’t forget your hands!

We spend so much time caring for the rest of our skin that we often forget to give our hands some TLC. They’re exposed more than other body parts, so can take a battering in the cold air and become zapped of their natural moisture.

"In the winter, the mixture of cold weather and central heating means that skin often becomes dry and chapped," says Dr Hextall. "Add to this frequent hand washing and application of alcohol-based hand sanitisers and suddenly the skin barrier can be significantly affected.

"What’s more, most soaps have an alkaline pH, yet our natural skin pH is acidic at around 4.5-5.5 – this change in the environment of the skin barrier can make it less effective and disrupts the natural microbiome. A disrupted barrier function makes it harder for skin to hold on to as much moisture or protect us as efficiently from skin irritants, allergens and infections."

What skincare steps can we take to keep our fingers in tip top condition?

"I’d recommend always applying moisturiser immediately after handwashing – try keeping one at your desk during the day and next to your bed at night," says Dr Hextall. "Look for options that help replenish the damaged skin barrier. It’s important to consider the key oils/fats that are integral to the skin barrier – these are fatty acids, cholesterol and ceramides. Ideally, a moisturiser will contain substitutes for one or all of these. There are some fantastic ceramide-rich creams to choose from, such as CeraVe Reparative Hand Cream.

"Shea butter, found in La Roche-Posay Lipikar AP+M Balm, is also an excellent replacement for skin’s naturally occurring oils. Humectants work well too as they absorb easily into skin without leaving behind a sticky residue – look for ones such as hyaluronic acid, urea and glycerin. I love Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream Concentrated as it’s rich in glycerin to give long-lasting hydration. If you have sensitive skin, try Avėne Xeracalm A.D Lipid Replenishing Balm. It’s super-moisturising and, again, gives lasting hydration."

Tip 8: Never scrimp on the SPF

Just because it’s not sunny doesn’t mean you should drop the SPF.

"Despite less daylight hours and deeper cloud cover, ultraviolet rays may still cause damage to the skin,’ says Dr Granite. ‘Make sure you’re wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily, 365 days a year." Check out our edit of daily SPFs worth trying to find your perfect match.

More top winter skincare switch-ups to try

Feeling inspired? From hydrating cleansers and brightening serums to nourishing body creams and the hand cream must-haves, here are some more winter skincare essentials our team swear by for all of your top-to-toe needs.

Shop more top winter skincare products here.

For a caring cleanser

 CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin

• Size: 236ml

• Fragrance-free

• Non-comedogenic

If you’re after a gentle, non-foaming gel cleanser then look no further. This pick is incredibly nourishing, thanks to a blend of hyaluronic acid and three essential ceramides to help hydrate and moisturise winter skin.

For a brightening serum

 No7 Radiance+ 15% Vitamin C Serum

• Size: 25ml

• Contains 15% vitamin C

If skin’s feeling dull or lacklustre at the moment, try a vitamin C serum. This one fits the bill brilliantly as it’s fast absorbing and lightweight so won’t feel heavy, no matter your skin type.

For an affordable retinol serum

 Boots Ingredients Retinol Serum

• Size: 30ml

• Vegan

From helping to even out skin tone to improving elasticity, there are a number of reasons why incorporating a retinol serum into your routine is a worthwhile choice. This pick proves you needn’t break the bank to get your hands on a great one either.

For a nourishing face mask

 Elemis Superfood Vital Veggie Mask

• Size: 75ml

Say bye-bye to dullness and dryness with this smoothie-inspired moisturising mask. Brimming with avocado and broccoli seed oils, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s good enough to eat (though, needless to say, we don’t advise doing this).

For a multitasking moisturiser

 Ole Henriksen Strength Trainer Peptide Boost Moisturiser

• Size: 50ml

• Cruelty-free

If you’re looking for a souped-up moisturiser to take you through the colder months, this is it. It helps hydrate and support skin barrier function thanks to a formula containing ceramides, peptides, amino acids and collagen.

For a sunscreen that doesn’t feel like a sunscreen

 La Roche-Posay Hyalu B5 Aquagel SPF30

• Size: 50ml

• Non-comedogenic

While many sunscreens can feel heavy and leave telltale white marks, this pick bucks the trend thanks to its fresh-feeling gel formula. It’s a great choice to suit all seasons, especially if you’re using products with ingredients like retinol and alpha hydroxy acids, as these can make skin more susceptible to UV rays.

For an exfoliating body cream

 Ameliorate Transforming Body Lotion

• Size: 200ml

• Fragrance-free

This fragrance-free body lotion, containing lactic acid, is the perfect pick-me-up for dull skin. It can be used to improve the appearance of skin texture, as well as dry skin.

For supple hands

 Vaseline Expert Care Dry Hands Rescue Moisturising Hand Cream + Anti-bac

• Size: 75ml

• Alcohol free

Replenish lost moisture with just a pea-sized amount of this alcohol-free lotion. Enriched with hydrating glycerin and vitamin E, it’s a must-have product for those colder months.

Loved these? Find more top product picks for looking after your skin in the winter in our full range.