How To Build A Winter Skincare Routine with Natural Products
By Bill Levins
In this article:
- Three layers of the skin
- Symptoms of dry skin
- Common causes of dry skin
- Remedies for dry skin
- What to look for in your skincare products
- Exfoliation can help
- Hydrate, nourish, protect
- Keep up your winter moisture routine
Everyone knows that our skin is the largest organ in our body. And during cool dry wintry months, we all become acutely aware of how important it is to keep skin healthy and moisturized. As the temperature drops and becomes drier - and we retreat into our heated homes - few of us escape the tightening, flaky dryness that follows. But before we can determine how to counteract dry skin it's best to understand what's happening.
Our skin is composed of three primary layers. Each has specialized functions and can be affected differently by dry or dehydrated skin.
- Epidermis - the outermost layer of skin, it provides a waterproof barrier and creates our skin tone.
- Dermis - just below the epidermis, it contains our connective tissue, hair follicles, sweat glands, blood vessels, and nerves.
- Hypodermis - The deepest layer, also known as subcutaneous layer or subcutaneous tissue, it's made of fat and connective tissue.
Dry skin typically affects the epidermis. In particular, the outermost layer of the epidermis, the stratum corneum. The stratum corneum is essentially interlocked dead skin cells: A keratin and lipid barrier against the world. It's continually shedding and being replaced, and it's the most frequently disturbed skin layer.
The lipids (fat molecules) are the mortar that "binds" the cells together to form a barrier that keeps moisture in and bad things out. Unfortunately, surfactants (i.e., soaps) wash away the beneficial oils and loosen the bonds between keratin cells. Similarly, hot water - enjoyed so frequently during long hot showers or baths - strips the skin of these binding lipids and disrupts its delicate balance. The result; more moisture is lost through the skin as it "evaporates" from our skin into the drier air surrounding us during winter.
When the skin barrier is disrupted, your skin will slowly dehydrate as water molecules literally move out of your skin and into the less humid atmosphere. And this is a self-reinforcing cycle: As skin dries, it allows moisture to be more easily drawn out. The telltale signs of dry skin are easy to recognize:
- Tight skin, especially after showering, bathing or swimming
- Skin that feels and looks rough
- Itching (pruritus)
- Slight to severe flaking, scaling, or peeling
- Fine lines or cracks
- Gray, ashy skin
- Deep cracks that may bleed
Dry skin looks dull, ashen or red (if inflamed); it can flake, and it makes fine lines and wrinkles more pronounced. Properly hydrated skin avoids unsightly skin aesthetics and helps avoid potentially more serious skin-related issues. Dry skin isn’t only unsightly; excessively dry skin can lead to cracking and enables pathways for pathogens. Underlying skin issues, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema) can also be exacerbated. The best option is to avoid dry skin and to keep your skin’s moisture barrier as healthy as possible, especially during the dry winter weather.
Harsh soaps, shampoos, and detergents – especially when combined with long hot showers and baths – strip away the skin’s moisture barrier. The drying effects of low temperatures and humidity levels during the winter months are intensified by heated indoor air (from forced air heating, fire places, space heaters, etc.) which draws moisture out of your skin. It’s a wonder we’re not all dried up husks, right? Fortunately, our skin is very good at its job, and we have the tools to help it out when it’s under attack.
Counteracting dry skin and skin dehydration should be approached from multiple angles. First, eat healthy and drink plenty of water. Keeping your body hydrated will help keep your skin hydrated. Avoid long hot showers and baths or keep them to a lower temperature overall. But quicker is better as you’ll cut down on the “stripping effect” of the hot water and the soaps and shampoos. And of course; moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Your face, body, and especially your hands.
When selecting skincare products, you’ll want to select clean formulas that offer a few key types of ingredients. Seek out a robust formula that contains water and/or nourishing oils that will help to replenish the skin’s moisture levels. In most skincare, water is the first ingredient, so that shouldn’t be a problem. If the formula is anhydrous (without water) it’s probably an oil-based product, which is also beneficial.
For added benefit, look for a humectant, such as hyaluronic acid (a.k.a. sodium hyaluronate). A humectant attracts moisture from the environment to deliver it to your skin. It also helps to hydrate the lower dermis by pulling that newly attracted moisture through the stratum corneum. Hyaluronic acid is a popular humectant along with others such as glycerin, aloe vera, and even lactic acid. These natural ingredients pull moisture out of the air to help moisturize your skin.
Emollients are ingredients that rehydrate and replenish lost moisture while helping to bind this moisture to your epidermis. Think naturally soothing plant oils such as shea butter, cocoa butter, sunflower oil, and other plant oils. Emollients help soothe dry skin and introduce their moisture load combined with other lipids to deliver deep hydrating nourishment.
After attracting moisture from your surroundings with humectants and delivering nourishing moisture via emollients, the final key ingredient should be an occlusive. An occlusive ingredient acts as a barrier to trap moisture in place and to augment your skin’s natural moisture barrier until it’s restored. Occlusives include waxy substances that form a thin coating on your skin to retain the other moisture-laden ingredients. Some emollients do a little double duty; for example, shea butter is a nourishing emollient and also has occlusive properties. Petrolatum (i.e., Vaseline) is a well known, if mostly synthetic occlusive. Dimethicone, a breathable silicon-based polymer, is a popular occlusive that has many variations (e.g., Cyclopentasiloxane, Dimethicone, Dimethiconol, etc.). Though there are many natural alternatives too, such as candelilla wax, beeswax, or lanolin among others.
The stratum corneum is the tough outer layer of our skin that both protects us from outside contamination and helps keep moisture locked beneath. However, this barrier can hinder the absorption and penetration of topical skincare. When your skin dries out, this tough outer layer can build up (and flake off too). It can be helpful to start a winter skincare routine with a little bit of exfoliation to remove the topmost layer of dead skin. This will help follow-up products absorb better while also forcing newer skin cells to the surface.
There are multiple ways to exfoliate. Loofas, physical exfoliants (think abrasive scrubs), and of course chemical exfoliants. For the most part, Reviva eschews physical exfoliants as irregular shaped particulates can cause micro tears in your epidermis, which can trigger inflammation. While we do use some very gentle physical exfoliants in our Light Skin Peel and Seaweed Soap, these are generally finely ground, powdered, and refined exfoliating ingredients that tend to be rounder in their structure, and therefore much gentler.
Or we utilize BHA exfoliation such as with our Fruit Enzyme Mask and Light Skin Peel products.
We find that chemical exfoliation is gentler on the skin and does a better job of breaking the bonds between the keratin in the stratum corneum. Of course, you can also use stronger peeling ingredients such as Mandelic, Malic, or Salicylic Acids – but these can pose issues when used on severely dry skin.
We’re big believers in taking a multi-pronged approach to combating dry skin. By layering skincare products, you can amplify the effect with each layered application. And you can be more targeted with additional key ingredients, such as choosing moisturizing products that also include anti-aging or firming ingredients.
First, always clean your skin with a gentle non-drying cleanser. Avoid the harsh, surfactant-heavy soaps to curtail aggravating already dry skin. Follow up with a toner - if you prefer - to balance your skin’s pH and to remove any residual cleanser.
Then, perhaps weekly, if your skin is dry and dull we’d suggest preparing it with a mask or exfoliation. Clay masks will help purge detritus from pores and provide a short-lived respite from today’s hectic world. Keep in mind that some masks may be initially drying unless formulated to be simultaneously moisturizing, like our Hydrating Mask. Once your skin is purified or exfoliated, you’ll want to quickly move to adding back moisture.
Reach for your humectant serums or dual-purpose emollient-based creams. These will help to calm and rehydrate your skin. It’s ok to skip the mask or exfoliation step. But this hydrating step should not be skipped. And it can be beneficial to do it after stepping out of your shower or after washing your face before bed. The moisture in the air after showering, or remaining on your skin after washing, can be used by the humectants to rehydrate your skin.
An excellent humectant-based product, such as Reviva Labs’ Hyaluronic Acid Serum, will help attract moisture and infuse your skin with it. Since Hyaluronic Acid wants to draw moisture from the air, it’s helpful for the air to be humid, or for your skin’s surface to be moist.
Next, add a good emollient base, such as Reviva Labs’ Ultra Rich Ultra Light Daytime Moisturizer. This is a step where you have lots of options as emollients are abundant in skincare. So, choose one that works with your skin and select a product that includes other beneficial ingredients too.
Finally, slather on a rich occlusive product, such as Reviva Labs’ Collagen Revitalizing Créme or Collagen Night Cream to lock in the moisture.
Of course, many products include elements of all three key moisture-boosting ingredients. And some, such as our Cream Hydratante, are specifically formulated to be a simple, yet potent, combination of humectant, emollient, and occlusive.
Dry and dehydrated skin can take days or weeks to correct, depending on how damaged your skin’s moisture barrier is when you start. Repeated applications morning and night may be required, especially during the cold, dry winter months. And if you’re like me - applying rich emollients heavily at night - it’s OK to spread it around onto your neck, hands, elbows, etc.
The real trick is consistency. It leads to the best long-term results. And if you’re a tad “zealous” when it comes to moisturizing, then you might be one of the lucky few who avoid dry winter skin. So, keep it up; hydrate, nourish, and protect to ultimately solve your winter skin woes.