Caring for Your Winter Skin

Helpful tips from top area dermatologists

By Karen Schwartz

It’s wintertime in Chicago, and most likely, your skin looks and feels much drier than it does during the warmer spring and summer months. Two Chicago-area dermatologists give helpful tips for keeping your skin in tip-top shape during the rest of the winter season.

Clean and moisturize your face properly

During the winter months when humidity levels are lower and most of us have the heat on at home and at work, antibacterial and deodorant soaps are too harsh and drying for the face, says Dr. Rebecca Tung, division director of dermatology at Loyola University Health System in Maywood. “I recommend that people use a fragrance-free, nonsoap-based cleanser,” she says. “The reason I recommend fragrance-free is that if you have dry skin, fragrance can make it worse.”

It’s also a good idea to use creams rather than lotions in the wintertime, says Dr. Aisha Sethi, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center. (UCMC) “Creams are thicker in consistency, and they provide a barrier function to the skin and maintain more moisture in the skin.”

“It’s also important during the wintertime to use a moisturizer with a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher, even on days when the sun is not shining,” Tung says. “Ultraviolet light is still present even on cloudy days. Put sunscreen on 30 minutes before you leave the house, and if you’re going to be out during the day, reapply it every two to three hours.”

Moisturize your hands and use a heavier cream at night

During the winter months, it is helpful to carry around a small moisturizer to prevent the inflammation and irritation that’s due to frequent hand washing and hand sanitizer use, Tung says. And at nighttime, a heavier cream can be applied to replenish the skin, she adds. “You could choose a product, if your skin is dry, with ingredients such as petrolatum, shea butter, glycerin or silicone-based agents such as dimethicone, if you feel [that] your skin needs extra moisture,” she says. 

Other helpful wintertime skin tips

Tung and Sethi offer these additional wintertime skin tips:

  • Don’t take hot showers or baths, which can lead to drier skin. Take lukewarm showers and baths.
  • To wash your clothes, use detergents that are really mild and fragrance free; detergents with less fragrance are less likely to cause itching or irritate the skin.
  • It’s beneficial to your skin to have a humidifier in your house during wintertime; it adds moisture to the air.
  • If you participate in any outdoor sports during the winter, you have to be especially careful because the wind can further dry out your skin, making it more vulnerable to skin damage. You should choose a sunscreen that has physical sun blocks in it such as titanium dioxide or xinc oxide; these ingredients give you added protection if you’ll be outside for a long period of time.