When we’re young, acne and breakout prevention is our number-one skincare concern. Our strong and youthful skin tolerates harsh chemical cleansers paired with over-zealous scrubbing. As we leave puberty behind, most of us find a product line that suits our immediate needs with little regard for changes in our skin’s composition or the environment. We passively accept that our skin goes through periods of dryness and rely heavily on thick lotions hoping to prevent painful cracking. Stop and take a closer look.

Is chronic dryness an annual winter struggle?

A change in habits, facial moisturizers, and cleansers may restore your skin’s healthy glow. Our skin works as an environmental barrier that retains necessary moisture. Despite increases in rain and drops in temperature, the winter months are known for creating dry and cracked skin. This is in large part due to a drastic decrease in humidity. During the rest of the year, humidity works to keep surface moisture on your skin.

During winter, without humidity’s help, the skin’s surface moisture evaporates at accelerated rates creating dryness that feels tight and looks flaky. First, our pores shrink in response to cold temperatures making it harder for moisture to penetrate. Then, windiness strips the skin of moisture even more.

It’s believed that our skin’s ability to hold moisture is decreased by 25%during the winter months further contributing to chronic dryness. Without proper moisturization, dry skin leads to itchiness, and unable to help ourselves, we scratch. Scratching is one of the worst things we can do to our skin. Dirty nails roughly rub against the dermatological surface causing rips and tears. Bacteria can get into these openings and enter the bloodstream causing blemishes and/or illness.

Scratching also triggers a neurological cycle wherein scratching triggers more itching which leads to more scratching. The more you scratch, the more damage you do to your skin. While the effects of dry skin are apparent, the causes – which you are more sensitive to in winter months – can be surprising. A steaming hot shower feels delightful on cold winter mornings, but the luxury is known to exacerbate dryness. Hot showers can inflame your skin producing symptoms similar to sunburn. Meanwhile, as your body responds to the excessive heat, natural moisture balances are disrupted.

You’re left with either an abundance or inadequate amount of natural oils tasked with protecting your skin. Beauty experts suggest limiting the frequency of extra-hot baths and showers. Additionally, avoid rough towel rubbing during the drying off process by patting the body instead. This leaves a little moisture on the skin.

Moisturizing lotions are most effective when applied within 3-5 minutes of showering which will also work to trap water left on the skin aiding in ideal moisture balance. Once you have modified your shower temperature, duration, and drying off routine, it’s time to look at your cleansing agents. Stronger cleansers with fun scents are great for the summer months where increased activity and subsequent sweat benefit from aggressive cleaning protocols.

In the winter, however, these properties work to strip your skin of moisture further. Rather than clean, you may find yourself feeling itchy with visibly flaky skin. Without moisturization, the skin becomes dryer making the top layer tough, inflexible, and prone to cracks.

Once the skin begins to crack, what started as simple dryness becomes a painful situation requiring immediate attention as inattention can lead to infection. Skincare experts recommend using gentle cleansers and creams during the winter months. Skip the designer skincare lines and turn to mild, non-soap cleansers for a sensitive skin approach. Unscented and non-abrasive, many options provide extra moisture support. Even when using the ideal products and following the recommended regimen, the environment works against your every effort.

Consider investing in a small, portable humidifier for the office to maintain healthy moisture levels in your immediate surroundings. To keep most users comfortable, office spaces are usually temperature-controlled through a central conditioning system. When set to heat, hot, dry air is distributed through the building. You can’t control the air, but you can treat it by supplying additional moisture.

A humidifier slows down the evaporation of moisture on your skin. Don’t let the winter months lull you into a false sense of security. Cool temperatures and grey days make it easy to forget sunscreen. In reality, the sun is just as powerful in the cold months,and proper protection should be continued throughout the year.

Look for a moisturizing SPF that isn’t greasy. Thick and oily SPF doesn’t absorb into the skin well. Meanwhile, the oiliness sits on top of dry skin without necessarily providing additional moisture. Consider switching exfoliation routines from morning to evening during winter months.

While rejuvenating, the skin is particularly delicate after exfoliation and exposure to sunlight directly after treatment is not recommended. Limit the frequency of exfoliation so that your skin has time to recuperate between treatments. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to hold off on exfoliation until the spring or follow up treatments with a moisturizing mask.

In the winter climate, our skin is susceptible to dryness due to a lack of humidity, windiness, an increase in hot bathing practices, and the use of abrasive cleansers. All these factors work to deplete the skin leaving it feeling tight with a flaky appearance.

During the winter months, take extra care to keep skin moist as dryness leads to itchiness and scratching rips and damages the skin. As the skin on our faces is particularly delicate, switching to a gentle, non-abrasive, face cream is highly recommended. Failure to address dry skin leads to painful cracking.

Our skin is our largest organ and acts as the barrier between our internal systems and the environment. More than the effects of aging, when the skin is cracked and damaged, we’re left vulnerable to bacteria and other environmental toxins that can make us sick. Proper skincare, therefore, is essential to a healthy immune system.