Dehydrated or Dry Skin? Natural products to treat winter skin problems

This has been a mad week.  With temperatures rarely rising above zero, and heavy snow storms with winds that feel like they’re tearing your face off, it’s no wonder that our skin starts to look ‘distressed’.  Tight, flaky, red, sore skin can be deeply unpleasant. With March set to be cold as well this year, it looks like the wintery weather is here to stay for a while yet.  


So how can we protect our faces against this onslaught?  The key is to understand whether you have dehydrated or dry skin, or maybe both.  Once you know what the problem is, you can effectively treat it.

How discovering that I have dehydrated skin, rather than dry has drastically improved my complexion


My face this winter has been the happiest it’s ever been in my whole adult life.  I have combination skin and it would get very dry, tight and flaky every winter despite trying endless face creams and treatments over the years to remedy the situation.  What confused me the most was that it would get the most flaky on the oily t zone area.  I was baffled, and using exfoliating products didn’t help, if anything it would make it worse.


It was then, earlier this year, that I found out that my winter skin was likely dehydrated.  I had been treating it as dry, which is why none of the products were working.  Read on to find out how the two skin conditions differ and how to treat them.


Dry Skin


Dry skin is caused by a lack of oil.  It is a ‘skin type’, so you either have dry skin or normal, combination, oily, sensitive or mature skin (or most likely a combination of these).  It tends to be a permanent condition.  If your skin is dry it tends to be dry all year round, although some things may make it worse.  You can’t cure dry skin as such but by taking omega oil supplements and using rich, nourishing oil-based skincare you can improve its appearance.


Dehydrated Skin


Dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water.  Any skin type can become dehydrated.   It is usually a temporary condition and can be caused by many things such as too much sun, lack of sleep, stress, but most commonly it is caused by changes in temperature and harsh weather so the onset of winter is a common cause for many of us.  Winter, with its cold, harsh weather, central heating, and less humid atmosphere impairs the skin’s barrier function so it cannot maintain moisture levels, leading to dehydration, sensitivity and dullness.


So, with those two skin conditions defined, unless you already have dry skin during the rest of the year, it is likely that dehydrated skin is the main cause of your winter skin woes.  However, most people’s skin may also become slightly drier in winter as well.  Read the following tips to remedy both conditions.


Winter skincare tips for dehydrated skin:


Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, inside and out!  Your skin is made up of 64% water and you must drink plenty of water (at least 2 litres a day) for healthy skin as well as good overall health.  Water plumps up your skin and supports collagen production which ensures healthy elasticity and regeneration.  It also flushes out toxins.  Without adequate water your skin effectively shrinks (a bit like a raisin), making fine lines, wrinkles, pores and scars more prominent. Caffeine can dehydrate your skin so drink tea, coffee etc in moderation


Gentle products are key here.  Products that are too strong can further damage your skin barrier


Avoid foaming cleansers (which strip both oil and water from the skin).  You need a much gentler cleanser to help maintain a healthy skin barrier.  Use a milk, cream, gel, oil or balm instead.  Try Odylique Creamy Coconut Cleanser, £18


Still use SPF – although there is less UVB in winter, there is still enough UVA to age you skin.  It is best to use a high-factor dedicated facial sunscreen (at least SPF30), but an SPF moisturiser or foundation is better than nothing.


Add a hyaluronic acid serum to your skincare.  Hyaluronic acid is a humectant meaning it attracts and holds water.  Check out Evolve Hyaluronic Serum 200, £30


Use a hydrating facial mist.  Adding a water-based facial mist/toner/elixir will deliver water to your skin and can be applied throughout the day, even over makeup to hydrate you on the go as you need it.  Choose an alcohol-free product with hydrating, soothing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, rose, lavender, chamomile.  Try Balm Balm Rose Floral Water Hydrosol, £12.50


Exfoliate (gently).  Winter skin is often dull because dry, dehydrated skin doesn’t shed its dead skin cells so well, so make sure you exfoliate.  As with cleansing, gently does it.  Opt for gentle fruit acid exfoliators rather than scrubs which can be too rough for sensitive winter skin and can further damage the skin barrier. 


Even some fruit acid exfoliators can be too strong if they’re quite concentrated.  Look for products that say they are gentle and unlikely to cause irritation.  (PS, if you use a fruit acid exfoliator it is especially important that you use daily SPF because the acid can make your skin more sensitive to sunlight.  For that reason it is also best to exfoliate at night).  Try the new REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic, £25


Lips need extra care too at this time of year.  Lips have no oil glands of their own which is why they flake and crack so easily in winter.  Plenty of protective lip balm and gentle lip scrubs can really help.


Avoid dry, matte makeup.  Mineral makeup is drying so ditch powder foundations.  Natural liquid foundations often still have some mineral pigments so make sure your skin is well moisturised before application.  Facial mists can be sprayed on top of your makeup and moisturisers dabbed on top too if your skin is still dry.  Try bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream SPF 30, £28


Winter skincare tips for drier skin


If you have tried the steps above and your are still suffering from flaky, tight skin, it may be that your skin could be a bit drier then usual and may benefit from more oil.  Try these tips:


Use a facial oil.  A good facial oil (e.g. Rosehip) is a great way to add more nourishment to the skin in a way that it easily absorbed and without blocking pores.  You may want to try using it at night to start with, as this may be enough.  If you need it you can also a few drops to your usual moisturiser during the day as well to make it richer.  I adore Trilogy Rosehip Oil Antioxidant+, £31.50


Use a moisturising mask treatment several times a week.   I’m using Absolution Certified Organic Youth Activator Mask, £35


Swap up your moisturiser.  If the facial oil doesn’t cut it you could try switching to a richer cream.  For example, if you normally use just a light serum you could swap it for a lotion.  If you normally use a lotion you could swap it for a heavier cream.  A word of caution here – heavy creams can be too much for oilier and younger skin types leading to breakouts (to be honest I would avoid them completely if you are under 40, unless you have super dry skin).  That is why I’ve suggested you try a facial oil first.


Try a balm.  Balms are super rich and can be useful in cold, harsh weather.  They form a protective barrier on your skin, keeping moisture in.


Don’t forget the rest of your body


Hands can really suffer in winter, especially if you have to wash them a lot.  I have small children, one still in nappies so I’m washing my hands all day, and if I’m not careful my hands end up looking decades older than the rest of me.  Skin on your hands is thinner than on most of your body and has fewer oil glands so it is harder to keep the skin hydrated.  Here’s how you can help your hands:


Apply lots of hand cream throughout the day especially after washing and whenever you feel you need it.  Also applying a thick layer of rich hand cream under cotton gloves at night really helps to repair your hand’s skin barrier overnight. I’m using Kind Natured Moisturising Coconut & Monoi Hand Cream, £4.99


Wear gloves when washing up and when outside to protect your hands from the elements


Use a gentle hand wash that is PH balanced, and free from irritating soap, SLS, fragrance and triclosan. I like Green People Neutral Scent Free Hand Wash, £12


Apply your facial skincare products and SPF to your hands, which is easy as its on your hands anyway from application so just rub it in, every little helps.


Have a bath!  This is something I’m guilty of not doing anywhere near enough, not because I don’t like baths, quite the opposite, but I feel they take too long and so I just go for a quick shower instead.  However, it has been scientifically proven that warm baths are good for your health and wellbeing, as well as being a saviour for dry and dehydrated winter skin. 


A warm bath is very relaxing for body and mind and you can add moisturising products to the water.  Moisturise your body after your bath with a simple lotion (fragrance-free and with minimal ingredients) or use a body oil (I use olive oil or coconut oil – super affordable and they last ages.  I apply them to wet skin and then towel my skin dry, that way I don’t get too greasy).


In summary, in winter if your skin feels tight, flaky, dull or even red and sore, chances are the main culprit is dehydration with perhaps a bit of dryness thrown in.  Listen to your skin and adjust your skincare routine accordingly.


FYI for myself I found that treating my skin as dehydrated as well as adding in a facial oil at night has drastically improved my winter skin.  I still have to work hard to remember to drink enough water.  I have also noticed that a lot of these tips are also the same for generic, all year round advice for skincare in your 30s, a topic I researched earlier on in the year (see my post ‘the best skincare in your 30s – the natural way‘). I guess that’s because as you age skin tends to become more dehydrated and dry anyway.  So I’ll probably just keep this skincare routine up all year, it works for me!