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Tips for dealing with sensitive skin in cold weather

Sensitive Skin: Some Cold Weather Tips to Stay Glowing

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The cold weather is here – and though for many this means hot chocolate, terrible-yet-awesome seasonal movies, and cosy nights in, for those with sensitive skin it can instead mean flaking, redness and general discomfort.

The perfect storm of cold weather outside and central heating inside can cause my skin to go haywire; simultaneously losing hydration yet overproducing oil.

But no one wants to buy a whole new set of products just for one season. So, why not just make some simple changes to your existing routine?

Well, we’ve asked the experts, including  Board-Certified Dermatologist, Dr. Michael I Jacobs, and Professor Augustinus Bader, founder of Augustinus Bader Skin Care, for their advice on all things sensitive skin.


What Makes Skin Sensitive?

Sensitive skin generally happens when the skin’s natural barrier (made up of oils on the surface of the skin) is compromised, allowing moisture and hydration to escape.

According to Healthline, sensitive skin is “usually a symptom of another condition. You may not even know you have sensitive skin until you have a bad reaction to a cosmetic product, like soap, moisturizer, or makeup.

“Conditions that cause sensitive skin are rarely serious. You can usually keep your symptoms under control with a few simple changes to your skin care routine.”

Sensitive skin can present itself in multiple ways; from redness to flaking, irritation, or bumps under the skin (which can easily be confused for a breakout), and even the gentlest products might create a stinging sensation.

Unless this is something you deal with regularly, sudden flare-ups could signal an allergic reaction- possibly to a new skincare product, or even shampoo- so if that’s the case it is important to discount allergies.

Equally, if your skin has changed suddenly, or you believe your sensitivity could be linked to eczema or psoriasis, speak to a doctor or pharmacist.

But if redness and irritation is something you normally deal with at this time of year here are a couple of quick tips which have helped soothe my skin and calm redness this season.


Image – Pexels


Dr Jacobs claims the main signs to look out for are, “Increased redness, skin flakiness, increased dryness, itchy skin, irritation and inflammation.”

Professor Bader agrees, adding, “In cold climates, if your skin is suffering, you may experience flakiness, redness, roughness, or chapping. You may also notice a parched complexion that makes lines and wrinkles more pronounced.”


Exfoliate, but Gently…

And first up is easing off on any particularly gritty exfoliants, harsh chemicals, or products containing drying alcohol; even if your skin copes well with them the rest of the year. There is always a gentler alternative available, often without the need to buy another product.

While clearing away dead skin cells to allow moisture and other nourishing ingredients to penetrate the skin is important, physical exfoliants can pull at the skin, increasing dryness and sensitivity. Instead, try swapping scrub-style exfoliators for a muslin or facial cloth used alongside your regular cleanser and see if this calms sensitivity.

In the case of chemical exfoliants, the NCBI points to the benefits of switching any AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) for a formula containing PHAs (polyhydroxy acids) as well.  Made of larger molecules which cannot penetrate skin as deeply, PHAs still help remove dead cells, without stripping skin quite as much.


Image – Pexels


Dr Jacobs adds that acids are “gentler on the skin as they dissolve dead skin cells and act like gentle cleansers and exfoliants without being abrasive and harsh on the skin barrier. Look for ingredients like glycolic or lactic acid as they work best for sensitive skin types and will be gentle while still exfoliating, rather than abrasive physical exfoliants that are harsh on the skin and can inflame the issues you’re already experiencing.”

Professor Bader agrees that “chemical exfoliants are generally milder for your skin compared to scrubs, which can have a gritty texture and be harsh. Scrubs may cause microscopic tears in the skin barrier, which can lead to damage. Harsher scrubs can also cause redness or irritation. Chemical exfoliants are often more efficient in eliminating dead skin cells, dirt, and excess oil as they can penetrate deeper into the skin compared to physical scrubs.”


A Shot of Hydration…

Skin needs two main things to function well- hydration (a big drink of water) and emollients (to support its natural moisture barrier). So next start with a light hydrating lotion or humectant, for example in the form of a hyaluronic acid.

While it may feel counter-intuitive to use thin formulas right now, these textures will actually help the skin replete its lost water supplies. The resulting hydration can then be locked in using a thicker emollient (oil-based) product to seal the skin. 

Mayo Clinic echoes this, saying, “After washing or bathing, gently pat or blot your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains on your skin.

“If your skin is dry, use a moisturizer that fits your skin type. For daily use, consider a moisturizer that contains SPF.”


Image – Pexels


Professor Bader claims that key ingredients to look out for are, “Hyaluronic acid, which attracts moisture to the skin, niacinamide: a B vitamin that helps calm and reduce redness, shea butter, a rich emollient that moisturizes the face and the body, vitamin C, a tremendous antioxidant that helps protect the skin, and ceramides which support your skin barrier and help your complexion stay hydrated.”

For an overnight treatment to soothe and help rebuild the skin’s barrier, take a look at something extra-rich like Bybi’s Babe Balm.

Containing shea butter, squalane, coconut oil and castor seed oil to moisturise, as well as vitamin E, carrot seed extract, and pequi fruit oil (a type of Brazilian fruit) to soothe and add antioxidant protection, this balm has helped save my skin during the current change in seasons.

A ridiculously versatile product, Babe Balm can also help with everything from split ends to unruly brows.  For some more ideas, check out 10 Ways to Use Bybi’s Babe Balm.


Ahead of the Game…

Finally, protect skin against further moisture loss and irritation by keeping central heating down where possible, or using a humidifier to reintroduce water into the air if central heating can’t be avoided. Similarly try to keep showers, baths, and any water used to wash your face on the cooler side, since hot water can also irritate the skin.

Dr Jacobs confirms you should, “Wear protective clothing to shield the face from cold winds, and avoid hot showers,” to try to keep sensitive skin protected.


The Takeaway

Even skin that can be breakout-prone or oily in the summer can get pretty sensitive in winter, so go gentle on the skin, stay moisturised and skip the face scrubs!


Meet the experts

Dr Michael I Jacobs is a board-certified dermatologist and an Associate Professor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.


Professor Augustinus Bader is the founder of Augustinus Bader Skin Care.


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Sally Underwood is a journalist, *serious* beauty fan, and Editor-in-Chief of Live That Glow. Formerly Editorial Director of one of Europe's largest newspaper groups, Sally has been a beauty obsessive since her teen years spent dragging her long-suffering (but immaculately-groomed) friends around every beauty counter in London. She now leads Live That Glow's editorial operations.

Expertise: Skincare, Body care
Education: University College London

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