If you’re one of the approximately 1.5 million people who follows Eva Chen, former fashion editor and current head of fashion at Instagram, or Joanna Czech, aesthetician to the stars (including Chen), you may have noticed something scary in your IG Story feed last week. During an appointment with Chen, Czech answered questions from the icon’s Instagram followers and dropped a piece of knowledge that left skincare enthusiasts confused and, frankly, a little panic-stricken: Apparently, water-based serums for your face can freeze your skin if used in extra-cold temperatures — which then expands your pores and possibly bursts your capillaries. (Is anyone else fiendishly checking the ingredient labels of their go-to serums right about now?)
Considering that the entire country is in the middle of a record-breaking cold wave, I decided to do some digging. After consulting a cosmetic chemist, a dermatologist, and an aesthetician, I got the cold (but not-so-hard) truth. “Water serves as delivery vehicle for the ingredients that are in the serum and once you apply the serum, the water evaporates, leaving the other ingredients on the skin to do their job,” Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist and the founder of BeautyStat.com, tells The Zoe Report. “Since the water evaporates, there is no risk of freezing or expanding.” Phew.
While that answer is comforting, it’s not exactly the whole story. There is a tiny risk of the aforementioned freezing-expanding-bursting effect. “Unless you are applying the water-based serum outside in the cold, the serum is not going to get colder — it is rapidly absorbed by the skin,” Dr. Melanie Palm, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon with The Art of Skin, tells TZR. So basically, don’t apply your skincare outside in sub-zero temps; otherwise, you’re golden.
The cold can do some damage to your skin in other ways, though. “Prolonged extreme temperatures, hot or cold, could certainly lead to detrimental effects on skin capillaries,” Dr. Palm says. “Wind burn over time could alter the vasculature (blood vessels) of the face, and combined with cumulative UV exposure, could lead to broken capillaries.” In an email to The Zoe Report, aesthetician Joanna Czech maintains that water-based products may exacerbate this problem, leading to “dehydrated red and pink patches” on the face — and derms agree that skin is more protected with an oil-based serum.
“Less humidity and colder temperatures can make the skin drier,” Dr. Palm says. “For this reason, dermatologists may recommend switching patients to heavier creams and moisturizers during colder weather, in order to preserve the skin barrier and decrease skin irritation due to the elements.”
“Oil-based products create a protective lipid layer,” Czech explains, referencing the high antioxidant and fatty acid content found in most face oils. But you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy a whole new skincare regimen. “You can also mix a few drops of an oil-based product into your water based-moisturizer, or top your moisturizer with an oil,” the aesthetician (who also works with Busy Phillips and Hannah Bronfman) tells TZR.
Besides a layer of lipids, winter skin will also do well with an extra layer of sunscreen. “When spending time on snow or ice, don’t forget that the sun is very strong as it bounces off of those surfaces and can burn your skin,” Czech says. She also recommends stocking up on lip balm and hand cream for the remainder of the season, saying these areas can get “quite chapped.”
Ahead, shop the oil-based serums, sunscreens, lip balms, and hand creams to protect your winter skin from any unforeseen damage. Stay warm out there, skincare lovers.