Before we can fully register a palpable drop in Celsius, the turn of the season is felt in cracked lips, ashy hands and dry patches on the face. We likely go through our bottles of moisturisers faster than any product on the shelf during the winter. But, if you're relying on your summer skincare routine to get by in these cooler months, think again.
Why is my skin so dehydrated in the winter?
Winter skin needs special attention. The external environment plays a huge role in compromising the skin's protective barrier if the skin is left to hydrate on its own.
Dr Akreti Sobti, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Athena Dermatology Clinic, Dubai, describes the UAE winters as particularly low in humidity. She said: "We have air conditioning everywhere, and it sucks out the moisture from the skin. As soon as we step out, the weather outside is also extremely dry with no bouts of moisture. Humidity may keep the skin naturally hydrated, but it's very low here in the winter."
The skin, then, finds little to no water to absorb from our immediate environment. Not to mention, ceramides (lipids in the skin cells) take a hit in winter, which affects our skin's natural moisture barrier. The result is a "gritty, dry sensation on the skin", says Dr Sobti, and this loss of ceramides is corrected by "replenishing externally with a thick moisturiser".
A lot has to do with our habits in the colder months, too. Dr Zaheer Abbas, an aesthetic dermatologist at Skin111 Medical and Aesthetic Clinic, Dubai, further explains how the season affects the skin: "People tend to drink less water when the weather is cold, which adds to the dehydration. Wearing tighter, warmer clothes also exacerbates dry skin."
A disrupted skin barrier, marked by scales and dryness, can lead to a sort of burning itchiness, adds Dr Abbas. Without apparent care, this ultimately might lead to eczema.
Which ingredients help with dry skin in winter?
According to our experts, you should be looking into two moisturising components: emollients (ceramides) and humectants (hyaluronic acid). Dr Sobti explained: "Ceramides and hyaluronic acid work very well together. They make a capsule of moisture by trapping water and keeping it there on the skin, replenishing it. In other words, ceramide is a vessel that traps a good moisturising component. You can get up to 24 hours of hydration with thicker ingredients like shea butter."
It's important to understand the role of emollients in keeping our winter skin hydrated. Creams, lotions and balms with ceramides or squalane in the formula essentially repair our cell structure. "Lipids [naturally] exist between the brick wall of our skin, and these lipids break down from dryness. Ceramides and squalane help to protect and repair the lipids in the structure," said Dr Abbas.
Equally important is hyaluronic acid for "pulling water from the environment and inside the body" to hydrate the skin. Dr Abbas adds that this humectant is a water-absorbing agent that's excellent for deep hydration.
Other notable moisturising ingredients include panthenol, urea, aloe vera, cocoa butter, almond butter and more.
What are the best ways to hydrate in winter?
We might be tempted to use an all-in-one product for the face, hands, feet and the rest of the body. Dr Sobti advises against substituting a face moisturiser for the body and vice versa. "The skin on our face is thinner than the skin on our body, therefore, the moisture content is different everywhere. A thin product will not work well on the back of the hands and legs because of the smaller molecules. Larger body parts require large moisture molecules," she said.
This calls for targeted hydration with the right formula. Dr Abbas recommends a lotion for the body, given its family-sized volume and quick absorption. For the face, where the skin is more delicate, opt for a soft cream that doesn't clog pores and suits your skin sensitivities, whether eczema- or acne-prone, or oily.
Don't forget the hands and feet, which tend to be the most overlooked parts of the body in a hydrating routine. Dr Abbas also highlights our lips, and how they suffer from toothpaste and food contact along with sun exposure all day long, in addition to winter dryness, resulting in cracked lips.
Finally, take note of the best time to apply your moisturisers. Your body lotion should go on right after showering and a face moisturiser after cleansing. Damp skin helps with prolonging the moisturising effects of your products.
We took down expert recommendations to bring you a foolproof list of hydrating products for the winter season - many of them are discounted right now. Get these from Amazon with a Prime membership to get free, fast delivery.
1. Best Cleanser: QV Face Gentle Cleanser
Hydration begins with a gentle, soap-free wash that doesn't promote moisture loss. "Move from cleansers with drying agents like salicylic acid to hydrating ones that protect the skin barrier," advised Dr Sobti. She recommends QV's Face Gentle Cleanser that's unscented, soap-free and ideal for all skin types. Its pH-balanced formula contains three types of ceramides, glycerin, the antioxidant vitamin E and safflower oil to keep the skin from tightening and drying out after cleansing. It's also worth checking out Vanicream's Gentle Facial Cleanser, if you have eczema.
2. Best Serum: Eucerin Hyaluron Filler Anti-Aging Moisture Booster
The quickest and easiest way to incorporate hyaluronic acid into your routine is through an HA-based serum. Dr Sobti suggests Eucerin's Hyaluron Moisture Booster. It's an ultra-lightweight and refreshing gel that's made up of only 11 ingredients, starring high concentrations of hyaluronic acid and glycerin. The work of HA is two-fold: its medium molecular formulation plumps up fine lines and wrinkles, while the low molecular HA penetrates deeper into the epidermal layers to stimulate the skin's natural hyaluronic acid. Together, they increase the skin's hydration for up to 24 hours.
3. Best Facial Moisturiser: Cetaphil Deep Hydration Healthy Glow Daily Face Cream
Both experts highlight Cetaphil's wide range of moisturisers for the face and body. This particular face cream is unscented, formulated for dry and sensitive skin, and delivers hydration for 48 hours. The cream features a complex of humectants like hyaluronic acid, panthenol and glycerin, with emollients like shea butter and squalane. This formidable formula defends the skin against dryness, tightness, roughness, irritation and a weakened barrier. Other beneficial ingredients also include niacinamide, vitamin E and sunflower seed oil for a soothing effect. According to reviews, it doesn't leave behind a sticky residue and absorbs well.
4. Best Body Wash: Aveeno Daily Moisturising Body Wash (Pack of 2)
For the best body wash and moisturiser combination, Dr Sobti recommends Aveeno. The brand's daily body wash has a creamy, nourishing formula that helps lock in moisture for 24 hours when paired with a lotion. You get softer skin with the benefits of prebiotic oat, which preserves the skin's natural moisture barrier, and it offers such a creamy lather that the wash can even double as a rich shaving gel in the shower. It's free of parabens, drying soap, sulphates and irritating dyes.
5. Best Body Lotion: Bioderma Atoderm Creme Ultra
Lotions are spreadable across larger parts of the body and absorb faster than creams. Dr Abbas picks Bioderma's Atoderm body lotion for its lasting 24-hour hydration, as well as the large 500ml quantity. The Atoderm Creme Ultra combines a skin-protecting complex and a patented complex that shields the skin from external stress. You'll find vitamin PP, or niacin, and sugars in the formula, which recreate a healthy skin barrier by stimulating lipids and increasing water channels. It's a lotion that repairs, soothes and protects the skin.
6. Best Lip Balm: Aquaphor Lip Repair, Moisturising Lip Balm (Multipack)
Lip care must be at the top of your winter shopping list. Besides being prone to quickly drying out in colder weather, our lips are especially sensitive to the sun's ultraviolet A rays, says Dr Abbas. Factor in sunscreen and aim for at least SPF15 in lip balms to avoid cracking. Dr Sobti's pick Aquaphor is an excellent option to tuck away in the purse, at home, in the car and elsewhere. This four-pack lip balm offers two repair sticks and a couple more with broad-spectrum SPF30. Great for use in dry, cold or windy conditions, the lip balm contains vitamins, shea butter, panthenol and castor oil in both formulas.
7. Best Hand and Foot Cream: Eucerin Urea Repair Plus 10% Urea Foot Cream + Urea Repair Plus 5% Urea Hand Cream
For smooth hands and heels, opt for creams with urea. This keratolytic agent gently breaks down callouses and scales under our feet and on the back of our hands to reveal the soft skin underneath. Dr Abbas advises against high urea content in face creams but recommends 5 per cent and up in body formulations. Eucerin offers varying urea percentages in its hand and foot creams, the latter with a stronger 10 per cent concentration. Both are suitable for people with diabetes, who need to be especially wary of developing cracked skin. These creams hydrate for up to 48 hours with ceramides, the exfoliant lactic acid and glycerin.
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