A 3-Step Guide to Hydrating Your Winter Skin

A 3-Step Guide to Hydrating Your Winter Skin


The cold, dry air of winter can wreak havoc on skin, causing flakiness, tightness, and itchiness. Creating a targeted skin care routine is essential for combating winter skin woes. The key is to focus on hydration and moisturization while avoiding irritants that can exacerbate dryness.

This winter skin care guide will provide tips for cleansing, moisturizing, exfoliating, and more to relieve dry, itchy skin. Following a strategic skin care routine can restore suppleness and comfort to your complexion during the cold winter months. Read on to learn how to pamper your skin and prevent dryness this season.


Dry, itchy skin in winter is often caused by a combination of factors that reduce moisture in the skin:

  • Low humidity - During the winter months, cold outdoor air has lower humidity levels. When this air is heated indoors, it further drops the humidity inside. Low humidity draws moisture from the skin, leaving it dry and itchy.

  • Cold temperatures - Exposure to cold winter weather, especially cold and dry winds, can strip moisture from the skin's surface. This makes the skin more prone to flaking, cracking and itchiness.

  • Heated indoor air - Blasts of hot air from indoor heating systems can also dehydrate and irritate the skin. The dry heat from radiators, fireplaces and forced-air furnaces sucks moisture from the skin.

The lower humidity both indoors and outdoors is the main culprit. Keeping moisture in the skin is key to preventing winter itchiness.

Cleanse Gently

The winter months tend to dry out skin, so it's important to avoid harsh cleansers. Instead, use lukewarm water rather than hot water when cleansing your face. Hot water can strip the skin of natural oils that help maintain moisture.

Avoid soap-based cleansers in favor of a gentle, soap-free facial cleanser. Traditional soaps can contain ingredients like sulfates that can irritate dry skin and make it feel tight. Opt for a creamy, moisturizing cleanser without any harsh detergents.

After cleansing, pat your skin dry with a soft towel. Rubbing can cause additional irritation, so be gentle. Let your face air dry the rest of the way before applying any skin care products. This helps lock in moisture.

By cleansing gently with lukewarm water and patting dry, you can clean your face without stripping it of natural oils during the winter.


Moisturizing is a critical part of any winter skin care routine, but especially important if you have dry, itchy skin. After cleansing, be sure to apply a cream or oil-based moisturizer while your skin is still damp. The dampness will help seal in moisture. Look for moisturizers that contain ceramides, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, dimethicone, petrolatum, or shea butter. These ingredients act as emollients and occlusives to hydrate the skin and prevent moisture loss.

Apply moisturizer all over the body, including the hands, feet, knees, and elbows which tend to get extra dry in winter. Massage the moisturizer gently into the skin until fully absorbed. It may be helpful to apply a thicker, richer moisturizer at night. Some people find putting moisturizer on slightly damp skin after a bath or shower helps boost hydration. The key is to moisturize immediately after cleansing before the skin dries out. This helps strengthen the skin's moisture barrier and prevent itchiness.


Exfoliating 2-3 times per week can help with dry, flaky skin in the winter by gently removing dead skin cells. Look for gentle scrubs with soft microbeads or chemical exfoliators with ingredients like glycolic acid or lactic acid. Be careful not to over-exfoliate, as this can further dry out and irritate skin. Gently massage the exfoliator over damp skin, avoiding sensitive areas, then rinse. Exfoliating prepares skin to better absorb rich moisturizers. For severely dry and sensitive skin, check with a dermatologist before exfoliating.

Sunscreen - Still Critical in Winter

Even during the colder winter months, skin is exposed to UV rays when outdoors, especially on sunny or snowy days. Continuous exposure without protection can contribute to the drying and irritation process year-round. For those already struggling with dryness, using sunscreen is critical to avoiding further damage.

Look for moisturizing sunscreens formulated specifically for face or body. These provide UV protection along with skin-nourishing ingredients like antioxidants, ceramides and hyaluronic acid. Apply it every time you go outside according to package directions. Reapply if directly in the sun for over 2 hours. Making sunscreen part of your winter skin care routine preserves your skin's moisture barrier and prevents the UV rays from worsening problems.


Staying hydrated is key for keeping skin moisturized during winter. Drinking plenty of water helps skin retain moisture and prevents dehydration, which dries out skin and makes itching worse. Water plumps up skin cells from the inside, keeping skin supple even when exposed to cold, dry outside air. Aim for the recommended intake of around 8 glasses of water per day. Infuse your water with lemon, cucumber or mint to encourage drinking more. Herbal teas are another good way to hydrate skin from the inside out. Staying properly hydrated will make a big difference in battling winter itchiness and flakiness.


During the winter months, cold outdoor air combined with indoor heating can really dry out the air in your home. This dry air can worsen dry, itchy skin. Adding moisture back into the air with a humidifier can provide relief.

  • Cool mist and warm mist humidifiers work well to humidify whole rooms. Place humidifiers in rooms where you spend a lot of your time, like bedrooms and living spaces. Simply fill the water reservoir and turn on the unit. Humidity levels between 30-40% are ideal.
  • Smaller personal humidifiers and misters can also provide localized moisture where you need it most, like next to your desk or nightstand.
  • Make sure to monitor indoor humidity levels with a digital hygrometer and adjust your humidifier settings as needed to maintain moisture in the air without getting too high.
  • You can alternate running humidifiers during the day and overnight while you sleep. Just be sure to follow all cleaning instructions to prevent mold growth in your humidifier.
  • The added moisture they provide will help combat dryness and relieve itching. Pair humidifiers with moisturizers and gentle skin care products for optimal relief.

Avoid Irritants

When skin is very dry, it's important to avoid irritating it further with harsh ingredients. Fragrances, alcohol and some soaps can strip moisture from the skin and exacerbate dry, itchy skin. Look for fragrance-free skin care products formulated for sensitive skin. Avoid products containing alcohol, which can be very drying. Also be mindful of harsh soaps - choose a gentle, hydrating cleanser without sulfates or other harsh detergents. The fewer ingredients in your products, the less likely they are to cause irritation. Stick to gentle, simple formulations during times when your skin tends to get very dry.

See a Dermatologist

If dry, itchy skin conditions become very severe and persist despite using over-the-counter moisturizers and following a diligent skin care routine, you may need prescription medication for relief. See your dermatologist to discuss prescription treatment options like topical steroids, immunotherapy creams, oral medications, or phototherapy. These can help reduce inflammation and itch. A dermatologist can also definitively diagnose the underlying cause and rule out other skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, or skin infections. With professional guidance, most wintertime dry skin issues can be managed for comfort.