One dermatologist explains why you get acne in the winter and shares the best ways to treat it.
The cold weather takes a huge toll on our complexion. The dry air, harsh temps and sharp winds turn our skin red, splotchy, dry and uneven—and it doesn’t end there for some of us. Winter acne is a thing, and for those who battle blemishes year-round, breakouts can worsen during the frosty months. Sounds weird, right? Shouldn’t we be breaking out more in the heat, when we sweat? To help us understand winter acne and find a way to treat it, we’re turned to Dr. Benjamin Barankin, Toronto dermatologist and spokesperson of the Acne and Rosacea Society of Canada, for help so we can welcome the new year with a fresh
Why am I breaking out in the winter?
The main culprit to blame is the dry air. “There’s less humidity and moisture in the winter air, so your skin can become more irritable, dull and flaky," says Dr. Barankin. "During the cold weather, what happens is your oil glands try to counteract the dry environmental air and start to over-secrete oil, resulting in breakouts and sometimes the appearance of larger looking pores."
The reason your skin is better during the summer months is that a bit of sunlight can soothe blemishes. “The sun itself has some anti-inflammatory properties, so the lack of a strong sun in the winter time can cause acne to flare on the face in particular.” Time to book that winter getaway, right? (But that doesn't mean you should ever skip your daily dose of SPF—it's the best way to prevent premature aging and sun damage, as well as more serious concerns like skin cancer.)
How do I treat it?
Like all types of acne, the problem can sometimes erupt from your own skin-care routine. Dr. Barankin advises treating acne by tweaking your skin-care regimen. Avoid over-exfoliating and drying toners, as they can irritate the skin. A gentle cleanser used with luke-warm water is key, followed by a serum and moisturizer. Already treating acne with over-the-counter products or prescription gels? Those can have drying properties, so hydrating products are particularly essential.
Is there anything else that can help clear up my skin?
Since the air in the winter months is so dry, putting moisture back into it can help prevent acne breakouts. Dr. Barankin recommends using a humidifier in your home and/or at your desk, and not just in the winter, but from November to May. And if you have a history of sensitive skin or eczema, he says it can be beneficial to have a cool mist humidifier in your bedroom as well as the standard warm mist version.
What ingredients should I look for in a moisturizer?
Dr. Barankin advises looking for products that contain hyaluronic acid, colloidal oatmeal, ceramides and dimethicone—hydrating and soothing ingredients that pull moisture to the skin, offer protection and strengthen the all-important lipid barrier.
Need help finding a new moisturizer? Here are a few of our favourites:
First Aid Beauty Ultra Repair Cream is a creamy moisturizer made with colloidal oatmeal and ceramide 3. It helps soothe irritated, dry skin.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat is made with dimethicone and minimizes the look of pores and slows down the production of sebum.
Glossier Priming Moisturizer Rich is a rich face cream made with ceramides 3 and 6, which helps fortify the skin’s moisture barrier.