Winter, with its cold air and drying heat, can be tough on your skin. And no matter where you live, there are certain basic skin-care things you need to do:
- Moisturize often.
- Take shorter, warm (not hot) showers and baths.
- Keep the humidity level up indoors.
But winter in chilly New England is different than winter in California or the Pacific Northwest. Dermatologists from seven U.S. regions share their best skin-care tips so you can baby your skin in whatever state you find yourself settled in for the winter.
Winter Skin Care: East Coast
Dermatologist Robert Greenberg, MD, says wintry temperatures on the East Coast can mean the humidity dips indoors when the heat is turned on and stays on. "The air is very dry and we lose water from our skin to the dry air," he says. Some people use wood stoves for heat, and that dries the indoor air even more.
Greenberg says he’s had to dissuade his patients from shaking off the chill with a hot shower when they scramble from bed. "A long, hot shower in the morning is not a good idea," he says. It's too drying.
Greenberg tells residents to avoid harsh soaps, use gentle moisturizers, and mild laundry soaps to prevent skin irritation, especially when it gets drier as the winter goes on. He also says to humidify the indoor air as much as possible.
Winter sports such as snowmobiling can take an extra toll on the skin, especially if it's windy. Sports-loving people should apply moisturizer and protect their facial skin and other exposed areas when active.
Winter Skin Care: Southeast
"In the Southeast, we can experience extreme shifts in temperature on a daily basis," dermatologist Andrea Cambio, MD, says. ”It is not uncommon for it to go from the 50s to the 90s in the same day. Added to the equation are very strong ultraviolet rays from the sun."
In addition to the typical winter skin care advice -- shorter, warm showers, use of a gentle fragrance-free cleanser, and use of moisturizer -- she stresses sun protection year round. Sunscreen, protective clothing, and hats are a must. Her advice is especially important for visitors who may be so thrilled to be warm that they forget about sun protection.
Winter Skin Care: South
The Southern states may be the kindest on the skin during winter. "Southern winters are kind of benign," University of Alabama dermatologic surgeon Conway C. Huang, MD, says.
The air in the south doesn't get as dry as in other regions, he says, and humidity remains relatively high.
For winter skin care, Huang suggests using a cream moisturizer -- not a watery lotion -- and keeping showers and baths at a warm temperature, not hot. "Use a gentle soap, or no soap," he says.
Winter Skin Care: Midwest
Chicago dermatologist Mary Massa, MD, says Midwest winters can be cold, snowy, and windy, especially in Chicago, which has earned its "Windy City" nickname.
The heat gets turned up inside when temperatures drop, stripping indoor air of humidity. Plus, windy days can present special problems, she says. "It increases the dryness and adds irritation."
Moisturizing every day can help. Massa tells patients to pick a product based on their skin’s dryness. Consider a heavier, cream-based moisturizer for extremely dry skin. If it’s mildly dry, a lotion moisturizer is probably OK.
For patients who don’t like heavy creams, Massa suggests using a lighter lotion in the morning because it absorbs faster and won't stain clothes as much. Reserve the heavier moisturizer for bedtime use.
Winter Skin Care: Southwest
States in the Southwest, including Arizona, have low humidity year round, Scottsdale dermatologist Bill Halmi, MD, says. "It's exacerbated in the winter," he says. "People do turn on the heat once in a while." Halmi says, "In the Southwest desert area, it's a constant battle against dry skin. In the winter, we need to double our efforts."
Besides the low humidity, there are a lot of hard water issues, Halmi says. "If water is hard, and you use bar soap, it won't come off easily," he says. His advice is to either use liquid soap, such as a moisturizing body wash, for face and body or treat the water with a water softener.
He also reminds Southwest residents to continue using sunscreen even when the temperatures decline in the winter months.
Winter Skin Care: West
Winter skin care advice for those on the West Coast depends on the region they live in, Sacramento dermatologist April Armstrong, MD, says.
"San Francisco has milder winters and the air is often less drying than inland weather," she says. On the coast, there tends to be more moisture than inland. San Francisco's well-known fog is also good for the skin, she says, because of its high humidity.
Central California can turn cold and dry in winter, so people there should moisturize their skin more.
Sunscreen is key to keeping skin healthy in states like California and Hawaii since they get more sunshine than other states during the winter.
That's especially true for winter skiers who can get an extra dose of UV radiation when the sun reflects off the snow.
Winter Skin Care: Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest can get a lot of rain and some snow. Never mind that the moisture level outside is 100% thanks to all that weather. "When you heat indoor air, the relative humidity is very low," Seattle dermatologist Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, says.
"You are more likely to need moisturizer in the indoor heated air for sure," he says.
He favors moisturizers that contain glycerin, and he says most people don’t put on enough moisturizer. Nghiem advises applying a layer of moisturizer thick enough that it doesn't absorb for about 30 seconds.