Winter Skin Care: Ingredients to Avoid and How to Support Your Skin’s Moisture Barrier

13 December 2023

Experts warn against certain skincare ingredients in winter and offer tips for maintaining healthy, moisturized skin.

As the winter season approaches and the temperature drops, our skin requires special attention to combat the effects of cold weather, indoor heating, and low humidity. The combination of these factors can lead to dryness, redness, and irritation, making it essential to adjust our skincare routine accordingly. However, some ingredients that we commonly use may actually damage the skin, particularly during winter when the skin’s barrier is compromised. To gain insights into the ingredients to avoid and how to support the skin’s moisture barrier, HuffPost spoke to three board-certified dermatologists.


Exfoliating the skin too often with acids can strip away healthy skin oils and leave it dry and rough. Dr. Loretta Ciraldo warns against using acids like glycolic and lactic acids, as well as retinoids, which can remove moisture-trapping oils from the skin’s outermost layer. Dr. Margarita Lolis adds that high concentrations or frequent application of chemical exfoliants like glycolic and salicylic acid can irritate and dry the skin, especially in winter. Physical exfoliators, such as scrubs with beads, can also disrupt the skin barrier and increase water loss.


While retinoids have numerous benefits for the skin, they can be particularly irritating in winter. These compounds increase collagen and elastin production, but they can also cause dryness, flakiness, redness, and burning, especially when the humidity drops. Dr. Carmen Castilla advises individuals prone to eczema flares and dry skin in winter to be cautious when using retinoids.

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Ethyl Alcohol or Denatured Alcohol:

Alcohol, commonly found in toners and serums, can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to dryness and irritation. Dr. Lolis recommends switching to a gentler toner if using an alcohol-based one. Dr. Ciraldo warns that alcohol is sometimes used to enhance the penetration of other ingredients, but it can compromise the skin’s barrier function.

Benzoyl Peroxide:

While benzoyl peroxide is known for its acne-fighting properties, it can be highly irritating, especially in colder months. It may cause redness, burning, dryness, and flakiness. Dr. Lolis advises individuals to be cautious when using products containing benzoyl peroxide during winter.

Supporting the Skin’s Moisture Barrier in Winter:

To protect the skin’s barrier and lock in moisture during winter, dermatologists recommend using a thicker, more emollient cream. Look for moisturizers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or glycerin. Adjusting the frequency of retinoid use or switching to a product with retinol can help minimize dryness and irritation. Bakuchiol, a plant-based alternative to retinoids, may offer similar benefits without the side effects. If chemical exfoliants are irritating, consider using polyhydroxy acid (PHA) products or gentler AHAs like lactic acid. Using a humidifier in your home can also help combat the dryness caused by winter air and heating systems. Additionally, protecting your lips and wearing sunscreen, especially in snowy conditions, is crucial to prevent sunburn.

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As winter approaches, it is important to adjust our skincare routine to protect our skin from the harsh effects of cold weather. By avoiding or being cautious with certain ingredients, such as acids, retinoids, ethyl alcohol, and benzoyl peroxide, we can help maintain a healthy and moisturized complexion. Supporting the skin’s moisture barrier with thicker creams, hydrating cleansers, and the use of humidifiers can further enhance skin health during the winter months. Remember to protect your lips and wear sunscreen to shield your skin from the amplified UV rays reflected by snow. Prioritizing these skincare practices will ensure that your skin remains nourished and protected throughout the winter season.

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