The way that I approach my skin drastically changed in the last few years. Prior to that, I was wary of any rich or oily textures, and, in turn, experienced a lot of dryness, tightness and flaking during the winter months. I remember I was so oil-phobic that I would even avoid applying moisturizer on my nose because I thought it would make me shiny. My move to Toronto was the biggest wake-up call, where I experienced actual windburn on my cheeks, eczema on my neck and psoriasis on my legs - all for the very first time! I grew up in Alberta and have seen it all when it comes to being parched and destroyed due to the weather, but still managed to have an entirely new run-in with the cold. I do believe many factors contribute to skin health, and it’s likely the stress of moving and internal health issues played a part in what I went through BUT what I was doing topically wasn’t doing much for me either.
With my increasing love and exposure to clean and natural skin care, I developed an entirely new way of treating my skin, and it has resulted in very minimal dryness and dehydration during the winter months, which is kind of miraculous.
Improving my skin’s interaction with cold weather involved a shift in perspective, one that I think is required for most people when switching to a new skin care routine. Here are some protocols and a selection of products that have helped me along the way:
1. View skin care as protection. It is not your enemy. It is not overbearing. It is not the dreaded thing that makes you, “Look greasy.” It is a nourishing and protective layer that, if applied adequately, can lead to comfort, radiance, and no more dry, pulling feeling. Skin care is your friend.
I say this because I witness many people struggling with the viewpoint that moisturizing ingredients, in general, will make them oily and lead to breakouts, which is simply untrue. It can be a process finding the right hydrating products that suit your skin, but moisture and hydration is something that everyone needs, regardless of skin type.
2. Layering is your friend. Multi-step skin care routines can appear to be unnecessary and a marketing ploy to make you buy more. In some cases, it is, especially if one single brand is saying that you can only use their products together to get the best results. When it comes to clean and natural skin care, you can mix and match to your heart’s content. A lot of people find success with this approach.
Different products serve different purposes and layering reinforces hydration, protection and resiliency in the face of harsh weather and daily life. In winter, a sole serum or moisturizer is likely to be inadequate. Here’s why: serums, oil or water based, typically penetrate the skin deeper than a moisturizer, leaving the surface of your skin with not much to work with when facing things like wind, cold, dirt and pollution.
3. Use small amounts of a few products to reinforce protection rather than slathering on a ton of one thing. This is for the same reason as above. If you use a variety of products, with different textures and absorption rates, and use them together to create a “hydration framework” it can make the likelihood of abrasive elements directly affecting your skin less likely.
Here are some of the steps that led to me not experiencing dry skin during the winter months:
1. Use a moisturizing cleanser - An oil or cream cleanser is ideal OR a foaming/gel cleanser that is not drying in the slightest. If you want to test this, cleanse your skin, gently pat dry and don’t apply any products for the next ten minutes. See how your skin feels. If it’s tight and pulling and horribly uncomfortable, it’s likely that your cleanser is stripping or not the best suited for your skin type. (Note: If your skin is already dry and/or dehydrated, your skin won’t feel comfortable regardless of the type of cleanser you use, at least initially. Choose something hydrating right off the bat.)
2. Use a soothing toner. This is another hydrating layer that facilitates the absorption of the products that follow while being lightweight and not adding a heavy film. It can also be a good tool throughout the day. If you experience any dryness, mist some on whenever you like. Ensure that the toner you’re using isn’t geared towards oil control or doesn’t contain an excess of stimulating fruit acids or other exfoliating ingredients. During the winter months, the primary goal is to soothe, calm and protect. If you would prefer to use some chemical exfoliants, incorporate them a certain number of times per week that is comfortable, ideally during the evening and follow with great hydration to allow the skin to recover.
3. Layer a serum on top of damp skin after applying toner. In the case of water-based/gel consistency serums, it might make sense to skip the toner. If the serum has any type of waxes or silicone in it, the moisture from the toner might repel it. With all oil-based serums (which I highly recommend for the winter months), a toner prior or having some moisture on your skin (even patting a bit of water on first) is a must. The water facilitates the absorption of the oil, rather than having it just sit on the surface. This is one of the biggest mistakes people make when first trying an oil-based serum and then claim that it made them super greasy - but it’s because the product didn’t have ideal conditions to be absorbed.
4. Finally, apply a small amount of a moisturizer to seal in the prior layers and to protect on the surface. Think of it as the icing on the cake. You did all of this hard work to ensure that your skin is hydrated and comfortable and this final layer will moisturize, but also sit on the surface to guard your skin against the elements.
5. One more step to consider or explore as an alternative to a traditional moisturizer is using a balm. A balm is typically a concentrated moisturizer that contains oils, waxes, and no water making it extra effective at providing a barrier and sealing things in. Sometimes I’ll go as far as to apply this on top of the moisturizer or in select areas that are getting brutalized, like cheeks and neck. For some, this is overkill and could potentially lead to congestion, so test things out and see how your skin feels.
I’ve witnessed these steps help a lot of my clients and it’s been life changing for me. In my experience, most people are dehydrated on some level and tend to inadequately hydrate their skin, in general.
There are a few cases where the above might not be ideal:
1. Some people have more delicate skin that is easily prone to congestion if they a) use products that are too rich or contain ingredients (ex. oil) with a large molecule size or if b) they layer too much. For them, I would recommend using lighter textures overall, and if the right products are chosen, congestion shouldn’t be an issue. Another approach would be to choose using either a serum or moisturizer, rather than both, and see if that’s adequate protection.
2. Those with oily skin types or who simply hate the feeling of too much on their skin. Once again, they could use lighter textures overall OR incorporate a deeply hydrating product overnight, allow it to do its work and reinforce moisture levels, and during the day keep things lightweight. It’s all about balance!
3. And, of course, any diagnosed skin conditions may require checking in with a practitioner for the best skin care recommendations to avoid further aggravation or complications.
Some products that I’ve personally had a great experience with and have witnessed change my clients’ skin:
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I am not a dermatologist, facialist or scientist. All featured products, suggestions and commentary are the result of years of experience in sales environments, with private clients and on myself. All suggestions are authentic and genuine, largely based on personal experience and feedback, but are not a replacement for professional and/or medical advice.
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