For a long time, my skin was a point of pride: I’d spent an inordinate amount of time every morning and night spritzing, slathering, masking — you name it. I bought into the whole skincare-as-self-care trend, and lauded myself when I’d feel comfortable enough leaving the house without needing to apologize for my bare face. And then the winter came, and so did the dryness, flaking, and fun new cystic breakouts I thought I’d left behind in my 20s. Putting together an effective winter skincare routine, especially one that won’t exacerbate my already-dry skin, was an entirely different beast.
Instead of starting from scratch, I knew making some strategic product swaps could be enough to get my skin back in shape. My foaming cleanser, which I used to be able to use year-round in my 20s, gets relegated to the back of the vanity come October; my trusty retinol — the one that blurs the fine lines on my forehead with ease — is off-duty once the wind chill creeps below 40. Instead, I needed a gentler version. Same goes for my face mask of choice: I can’t slather on enough activated charcoal to de-gunk my pores in the summer, but come winter, I wouldn’t let the stuff near my face for fear it’d force it to shrivel on contact.
Ahead, an all-too-comprehensive list of the cold weather skincare essentials I swear by.
I found out early on that a lathering face wash wouldn’t do my skin any favors in the winter. Instead, I take all my makeup off with micellar water and a cotton round. I’ve tried at least a dozen different iterations, and while I can appreciate a luxury version, Bioderma is my favorite. It’s simple and easy; I practically buy it in bulk.
It look me a while — 10 years, to be exact — to come around to the idea that oil could make my oily skin less greasy, but alas. In colder months, I waver between Dermalogica’s pre-cleanse and Elemis’ Cleansing Balm, the latter of which dissolves makeup and all the city of New York City in seconds, while somehow managing to leave my skin even more hydrated than before I washed it. It smells vaguely like a rose spa, too.
Tata Harper’s Hydrating Floral Essence has a hyaluronic acid foundation, a molecule that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water. (That translates to really, really plump skin.) I also like to spritz it while at my desk as soon as I notice the office heat is wearing on my skin, which is a fun new issue I definitely didn't notice at 25.
Brightening Vitamin C
Because I’ve been plagued with cystic breakouts here and there, I’m always preaching the benefits of vitamin C. This vegan, cruelty-free version from Tatcha has near-perfect reviews on Sephora thanks to its inventive mix of 20 percent vitamin C and 10 percent mild fruit acids, which exfoliate dead skin away. Japanese Angelica Root Extract helps reduce the appearance of dark spots, too.
The specially-formulated vitamin C blend absorbs quickly into your skin for instant moisture. The combination also aids in protection against free radical damage and cell turnover.
m-61's Hydraboost Moisturizer is packed with vitamin B5, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid, all of which work together to keep my now-sensitive skin barrier in tact. It's light enough that it sinks in immediately, and instantly plumps even the driest of winter skin.
Because putting oil on already-dry skin won't do your complexion any favors, I always layer this on after my moisturizer to really lock in hydration. This oil from Snow Fox is formulated with non-comedogenic blueberry seed oil, which not only lends a dewy glow but looks great (not pill-y) under makeup.
There’s literally no reason to put any single product on your face unless you’re going to wear sunscreen. Most terms recommend SPF 30 or higher, but I like to bring out the big guns — even when the sun is far, far away. This SPF 50 sunscreen from Dermalogica is so creamy, it almost doubles as a primer; I recommend it to literally anyone that'll listen.
Exfoliating Lactic Acid
Lactic acid is one of the most gentle AHAs, making it perfect for winter. According to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, lactic acid exfoliates by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells, effectively “peeling” away the layer of dead skin that’s keeping you from looking glowy in mid-January. I use this a couple times per week either as a mask or a nighttime base layer.
In the summer months, when sweltering humidity provides a buffer for its extra-strength cell turnover induction, I swear by Shani Darden’s Resurface retinol. In the winter, though, Drunk Elephant’s newest product, its A-Passioni cream, is gentle enough to use on sensitized skin. It contains one percent vegan retinol to help reverse sun damage, wrinkles, and fine lines, and was formulated without common irritants, like fragrances, colorants, or drying alcohols founder Tiffany Masterson told The Zoe Report when the product launched.
Lip Balm (But Better)
I must have two dozen different lip balms stashed between all my bags, coat pockets, and desk drawers, but nothing compares to Dior’s Lip Glow, a hydrating sheer balm that instantly color-matches your lips. It's perfect for days when lipstick is out, but I need a good flush.
It may not sound like a skincare product, but trust: This velvety concealer sinks into skin, blurring any dark spots or pimples on contact without a single crack or crease. On truly tragic breakouts, I layer this with Glossier's Wowder, a finishing powder that never cakes. Even better: It's so great at concealing any imperfections that my skin-picking compulsion has all but vanished.
The best way to describe this avocado mask is rich and creamy. It’s just a lush as you’d imagine, and thanks to both — yes — avocado and manuka honey, it brings my complexion back from the brink of becoming a red, peely mess.