Winter Skin Care Routine – Best Ingredients & Products

By Emily M.| Last updated on March 31, 2023
⏱️ 7 min read

The weather affects the skin year-round. So the change in weather should also imply the change in skincare as well. During the cold months, your skin needs some TLC to keep it protected.

But swapping skincare seasonally can be confusing. How come your tried and true product is suddenly the bad guy? And which winter skincare essentials should you get?

Understanding the important ingredients you want to look for in skincare products can help you create a winter skin care routine that is suitable for your skin type.

Here are the key ingredients to look for in creams and moisturizers for cold weather, plus product recommendations.

What Does Winter Do to Your Skin?

Your skin has to face different challenges in each season.

And while you might not see the result of the changes straight away, after a while you can notice your skin acting up. This can be prevented, or at least minimized, by using the right kind of products that cater to your skin’s needs.

In the wintertime, the air is dry and cold which can strip the skin of its natural oils. This makes the skin more susceptible to irritation and damage caused by harsh environmental factors.

Low temperatures can even slow down skin cell turnover which contributes to a dull complexion and flaky skin. And dry air from the heating isn’t helpful either.

So how can you help your skin fight these problems? By now we all know that skin needs to be heavily moisturized during the winter, but did you know that the type of moisturizer you use plays a crucial role? Allow us to elaborate.

how does skin change during winter - winter skin care routine
Image source: Freepik

3 Types of Moisturizers for Your Winter Skincare

First of all, there are 3 different types of skincare ingredients – humectants, emollients, and occlusives. These 3 basic categories of skincare products provide different functions to our skin.

You need to understand them first before you can put together a better winter skin care routine.


When it comes to humectants in the winter you need to be careful how you use them. These ingredients can help hydrate your skin – but only when used correctly. Otherwise, they might have a totally opposite effect.

Humectants are essentially molecules that attract water from the surrounding environment (air) into your skin. So, if the air is too dry and there’s no humidity to draw from it, these ingredients will turn inward and start taking the moisture from within your skin.

Very common humectants in skincare are:

  • Aloe vera gel
  • Honey
  • Urea
  • Vitamin B5
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin

These ingredients make the skin cells swell up slightly, helping it appear moisturized and plump. But you need to make sure you’ve locked those molecules in! Apply an occlusive on top to prevent water loss. Lately, this has been referred to as slugging.

Occlusives and Emollients

Both occlusives and emollients help protect the skin barrier, but the key difference is that emollients moisturize the skin, whereas occlusives prevent water loss. However, in most skincare regimens they’ll be interchangeable.

Occlusives are quite heavy and usually found in thicker creams. This means they have the potential to clog pores and should be avoided by people with oily skin.

Emollients work best for people with oily skin, while occlusives are better for drier skin.

But it’s important to note that this can depend on the formulation. Occlusives can be formulated in a way that caters to sensitive and normal skin types as well.


Occlusives are moisturizing agents that partake in forming a protective barrier, stopping moisture loss on the surface of your skin.

They’re great for cold winter weather because these ingredients help seal in the moisture and shield the skin from external irritants such as cold winter wind.

These ingredients are oil-based so most facial oils fall within this category. But also waxes (mostly beeswax), petroleum, paraffin, silicone derivatives, dimethicone, cetyl alcohol, etc.


Emollients are ingredients responsible for soft and smooth skin. They’re arguably the most important type of skincare products to add into your winter skin care routine.

They fill in the spaces between skin cells with moisturizing oils and lipids, which smooths and softens the skin.

Examples of emollient ingredients are shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, and fatty acids of all kinds.

3 types of moisturizers for your winter skincare

Winter Skincare Essentials

During the winter, creating a breathable protective layer on top of your skin should be the main skincare goal. This keeps it protected from drying, helps prevent damage and irritation.

These are some key ingredients that should be a part of your winter skin care routine.

Hyaluronic Acid

The most famous one is probably hyaluronic acid. It has been the beauty industry’s favorite buzzword for a while now – and with a very good reason!

While continuing to use it on its own might not be the best idea for the harsh weather, you can keep incorporating it into your winter skin care routine – just with some slight adjustments.

We suggest applying it to slightly damp skin (year-round actually) but more importantly, you need to lock it by applying a moisturizer on top.


Urea is a humectant, so it holds onto the water molecules that plump up the skin and make its texture appear smoother.

Urea increases the skin’s capacity to hold moisture. It also helps reduce the buildup of dead skin cells and alleviates rough, dry, patchy skin.


This is one of the most frequently used ingredients in the cosmetics industry as it is considered to be the most effective humectant.

Glycerin is also known as glycerol and, just like hyaluronic acid, it absorbs moisture and keeps the skin hydrated. The best use of this ingredient is when it’s paired with a moisturizing agent like shea butter or ceramides.


Ceramides are lipids that make up up to 50% of skin composition. They’re found in the uppermost skin layer and their role is to help hold skin cells together. This is what forms a protective barrier.

This layer of fats helps keep moisture from escaping and protects skin from dryness and damage caused by environmental stressors.

Ceramides are a vital part of the skin barrier function. A decline of ceramides results in dry, sensitive skin. This makes it more vulnerable to external irritants.


This is another ingredient that helps soothe the skin and keep the moisture locked in. But niacinamide also promotes the renewal of skin cells. It regulates oil production, making pores appear smaller and improving the texture of your skin.

Additionally, it possesses antioxidant properties that can help stop and even undo some of the harm caused by environmental stressors.


This ingredient is an emollient oil that is often overlooked.

But it is a very good moisturizer and an ingredient that helps maintain the skin barrier intact. Actually, it even enhances the protective layer by ensuring it retains moisture, smooths out the skin, and helps tackle rough patches.

It also has soothing properties and can help tackle redness and irritation. It usually comes as an oil, but since it’s non-comedogenic even people with oily skin can get the benefits. Alternatively, it can be found as an ingredient in creams.

Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil is a lightweight, non-greasy oil that helps balance out oil production.

It’s as close to the natural body’s sebum as you can get. It helps seal in moisture without clogging pores or producing acne. Being that it’s non-comedogenic, it’s suitable for all skin types.

Shea Butter

Shea butter is a natural lipid loaded with antioxidants and fatty acids that protect and hydrate the skin. It also contains linoleic acid, which is known to have anti-inflammatory effects that help ease the itchiness that is caused by dry skin.

Chemical Exfoliants

Since chemical exfoliation is a treatment that damages your skin on purpose, doing it in the winter might seem counter-intuitive. However, it’s actually really helpful.

Exfoliating dry skin helps take off the layer of dead skin cells and get rid of dullness. But it’s about more than just the tone of your skin; the real benefits come from helping it absorb other nourishing products.

The best chemical exfoliator in the winter is lactic acid, as it both exfoliates and moisturizes the skin.

Just be careful not to over-exfoliate so as not to exacerbate the dryness. Consider getting this treatment professionally done to ensure the maximum safety of your skin.

You can learn more about chemical peels here.

Also, Don’t Forget SPF!

Although you don’t have the feeling of sunrays protruding your skin, it doesn’t mean it’s not happening. You need to wear SPF year-round since UVA and UVB rays are always present.

Especially when it’s snowing, believe it or not!

The rays are reflecting in the whiteness and bouncing off of it onto your face. Snow reflects up to 80% of the UV rays from the sun. This makes them considerably more dangerous as most people disregard the importance of sunscreen during winter.

Finally, Here’s the Correct Order of Your Winter Skin Care Routine

If you are using multiple products and layering serums, applying them in a certain order is crucial. Combining products that enhance each other’s properties instead of canceling them out (or worse, irritating your skin), is the key.

And that is achieved by following the formula:

  • humectants,
  • emollients,
  • and occlusives on top!

The most active ingredients go first, and the least active last.

However, if your winter skincare is as simple as choosing a good moisturizer, just make sure you get the one appropriate for your skin type. Most products nowadays are formulated with multiple ingredient categories present in the formula.

Cover image source: Freepik



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