Conquer Breakouts: Winter Skincare for Acne-Prone Skin

Key Points

  • Not all skincare products work for all types of acne, so make sure you learn your acne type. 

  • Winter skincare for acne-prone skin is vital since cold climates cause your skin to lose moisture and become inflamed. 

  • Knowing how often to apply specific products is important in any winter skincare for acne-prone skin routine. 

It's happening again: another breakout. When you look in the mirror, you already know what you're going to see — a huge, angry, red zit glaring back at you. Are you imagining things or has your number of skin breakouts skyrocketed since the temperatures plummeted? Dr. Google has plenty to say about winter skincare for acne-prone skin but there’s a lot of skincare misinformation out there. Go beyond surface-level online skincare claims and learn about science-backed ingredients. Get to know your skin to learn how to best manage acne blemishes during winter. 

Before you start researching winter skincare for acne-prone skin, know that not all acne is the same. Some types of acne are more challenging to treat and require medications prescribed by dermatologists. If your acne is not going away with skincare products, or it’s becoming worse, it’s time to see a dermatologist.  

Why Do You Get Acne in the Winter but Not the Summer?

Contrary to popular belief, acne flare-ups are more common during the winter and fall seasons. 

Skin suffers during cold weather – especially dry or very dry skin types. The low humidity levels, cold air, harsh winds, and indoor heating all cause skin to dry out and lose moisture. Skin loses up to 25% of its water content during winter. The result is rough, dry, cracked, scaly, or tight skin. The skin may also look flaky. You’re also more prone to irritation, pollutants, bacteria, and other toxins. 

Woman with acne

To top it all off, the skin is also prone to acne during winter. Overly dry skin produces more sebum to make up for the loss of moisture in the skin. Excess oil along with the thousands of skin cells you shed everyday mix which creates the perfect recipe for a pimple-ridden face. 

How Do You Hydrate Oily Acne-Prone Skin in the Winter?

People often think that oily skin equals hydrated skin, but that is not always the case. Your skin may be oily and dehydrated at the same time. Excess oil is a sign of dehydrated skin because the skin produces more sebum to compensate for the loss of moisture. 

To hydrate oily acne-prone skin, look for oil-free moisturizers that mattify. You want to hydrate the skin while also keeping excess shine at bay. 

Moisturize at least twice a day. You don’t have to evenly distribute the product on your face, especially if you have areas more oily than others — just apply less moisturizer on the oily areas.

Which Moisturizer Is Best for Acne-Prone Skin in Winter?

Selecting the right moisturizer for acne-prone skin in winter depends on your skin type, acne type, and brand type. Thicker moisturizers are best for dry skin and light moisturizers are best for oily skin types. If you have oily skin, try out water-based, gel-like, or non-greasy moisturizers.

Those with dry skin types should stick to creamy moisturizers that won’t clog pores. Products labeled as non-comedogenic don’t clog pores. The FDA doesn’t regulate this term, so don’t depend too much on it when searching for acne-prone products. 

Moisturize right after your shower or after washing your face. Damp skin boosts the effectiveness of moisturizers. 

Three persons using skincare

Home Remedies for Winter Acne

There are at-home anti-inflammatory ingredients that prevent or minimize the appearance of acne. However, treating your acne with homemade remedies may do more damage to your skin – especially if you apply the wrong ingredients. 

Most dermatologists recommend using over-the-counter acne treatments that have proven blemish-fighting ingredients. The good news is that the skincare market offers many products that effectively treat acne at an affordable price. 

New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Shereen Idriss explains, “Toothpaste is not going to get rid of your acne and neither is putting lemon on your skin.” She does acknowledge that toothpaste may temporarily calm the redness and inflammation of pimples, but it won’t clear your acne. 

Hydrocolloid pimple patches are a great alternative to this toothpaste hack, as they suck out the superficial pimples’ contents and heal them faster. 

Putting lemon juice on the face burns the skin as it’s very acidic. A better alternative to this false lemon skincare hack is buying a vitamin C serum that reduces acne swelling and acne scars. 

How To Treat Cystic Acne in the Winter

Cystic acne is inflammatory acne characterized by big, red, inflamed, and bumpy pimples. It is painful and often leaves scars. Unfortunately, over-the-counter acne products won’t clear cystic acne. Since acne gets worse in the winter, don’t hesitate to visit a board-certified dermatologist ASAP to get prescribed medication. 

Is Hormonal Acne Worse in Winter?

Since acne tends to become worse during winter, your hormonal acne may become more severe. Hormonal acne may be cystic, so it won’t go away with skincare products. Your best option for treating hormonal acne is to visit a dermatologist. 

Additional Winter Acne Solutions and Tips

Acne solutions go way beyond using the right skincare products. You may be using the right acne-fighting products and ingredients for your skin, but hindering their progress by engaging in bad skincare habits.

To prevent your acne from getting worse, follow these tips for managing acne in the winter. 

Don’t Over Cleanse or Over-Exfoliate

Cleansing wards off excess bacteria, oil, and dead skin build-up that clog pores. The time when your skin needs hydration the most is during winter. Over-cleansing strips the vital moisture your skin needs to thrive and achieve a supple, healthy complexion. 

Woman cleansing skin

Over cleansing is a vicious cycle of cause and effect: over-washing→ excess dryness→ excess oil production→ acne breakouts. 

Cleanse less during winter – especially if you have really dry sensitive skin. Cleansing once at night time allows you to wash off the day’s pollution, dirt, sweat, and makeup. This provides a clean slate for your evening or night skincare products. Going to bed with a clean, refreshed complexion is just like going to bed with brushed teeth and clean breath. 

If you wake up and notice that your skin is still too oily, feel free to cleanse, but don’t rub or scrub your face too harshly. You don’t want to accidentally scrub away all the skin’s essential natural oils, healthy bacteria, and other microbes that protect your skin. 

Also, don’t apply too much face wash. It’s perhaps best to dilute it with water by making sure your face is damp first. The product glides on easily and prevents you from applying many coats of face wash.

Always wash your face with clean hands to avoid transferring germs, dirt, and bacteria onto your skin. Washing the skin with dirty fingers makes you more prone to infection, especially if you have open wounds. It also makes the skin more prone to breakouts. 

The same goes for exfoliation. Don’t over-exfoliate as it causes irritation, inflammation, and more breakouts. 

Switch Your Cleanser

If you have oily, acne-prone skin, continue using your personalized face wash in winter. You don’t have to change your skincare products, just cleanse less often to avoid over-stripping your skin. If you feel your current cleanser is not working well, try out a new one. 

If your skin becomes drier during the winter, opt for a more gentle cleanser with hydrating ingredients. If your skin is still oily during the winter, you may continue using foaming face washes or gel-based cleansers. 

If foaming washes are too harsh for your skin during cold weather, use them every other day instead of daily, especially if they have active acne-fighting ingredients, as these may be too drying or irritating. You may also substitute a morning cleanse for a morning rinse, which involves cleaning your face with only water — only if your skin is not too oily. 

In short, everyone’s skin is different, so personalize your cleansing methods. The best way to know what your skin needs during certain days or seasons is to experiment with your skin and see the way it reacts to certain climates and environments.

Use Retinoids

Retinoids are potent prescription-only treatments with strong, acne-fighting results. There are also FDA-approved retinoids available for over-the-counter use.

Applying skincare onto face

Retinoids are irritating and may dry the skin, but they are one of the most effective acne treatments. Give them a chance before seeking other acne-fighting options. 

They're capable of causing dryness and other unpleasant symptoms for the first few weeks, but mitigate these side effects by employing the retinoid sandwich — moisturize, apply retinoid, and moisturize again. 

Moisturizing first buffers the effect of the retinol to lessen absorption, resulting in less irritation and dryness. Moisturizing again after applying retinoids hydrates and retains moisture in the skin. 

Use a Humidifier 

If you’re in a dry or cold environment, use a humidifier to manage dry skin in the winter. Humidifiers restore moisture in the air to combat dryness. 

Woman with humidifier

Don’t Take Hot Showers

Hot water dries out the skin as it strips the skin’s natural oils, causing excess sebum production which leads to acne. 

Clean Everyday Items That Touch Your Skin

Clean or wash any items that come in contact with your face regularly. These include cell phones, headsets, towels, pillowcases, throw pillows, sheets, makeup brushes, glasses, hats, beanies, face masks, hair, hands, and helmets. 

If left unclean, these items may transfer dirt and germs onto your acne-prone skin, which clogs your pores and triggers breakouts. 

Less Is More 

The fewer skincare products in your beauty routine the better. In short, stick to the basics: cleanse, exfoliate, apply acne treatment, moisturize, and apply sunscreen. You don’t have to follow these skincare steps in this order, nor do you have to do every single one. 

Some people moisturize before applying their acne treatments like retinoids to minimize irritation. Others might skip the acne treatment and use cleansers or chemical exfoliators containing active ingredients that combat acne. 

If you decide to use a cleanser with active ingredients, don’t rinse it off right away or you’ll remove the active ingredients from your face. Dr. Idriss advises, “If you’re going to use a cleanser with an active [ingredient …] put the cleanser on your skin, massage it in, [and] let it sit for a few minutes before you decide to wash it off.” This gives your active ingredients more time to treat your acne-prone skin. 

Exfoliating is also a vital skincare step for acne-prone skin, as it removes dead skin cells that build up on the face and contribute to acne breakouts. Stick to chemical exfoliants as mechanical exfoliants may be too abrasive or harsh on the skin. Chemical exfoliants are active ingredients that use acids to slough off dead skin buildup. 

Consider Topical Acne Treatments

Look for active, acne-fighting ingredients when fishing for your acne treatment in the overflowing pool of skincare products. Make salicylic acid, glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, retinoids, and sulfur your best friends. Just don’t use all these treatments at once as they irritate and dry out the skin.

Start by introducing one active ingredient in your skincare routine to give your skin time to adjust to the side effects and time to produce results. Test it out a couple of days a week and slowly increase it to daily use if your skin tolerates it well. Any acne treatment is going to take some time to work, so be consistent and patient before thinking about switching to another treatment. 

Girl with acne on skin

If you want to start using another active ingredient, Houston-based dermatologist Dr. Dray suggests introducing it slowly and not using it at the same time of day as your other active ingredient to avoid extreme irritation. 

Dr. Dray recommends “using one active ingredient at nighttime like retinol and then the other active ingredient in the morning like benzoyl peroxide.” She also recommends using one active ingredient one day and the other the next day. 

Don’t Pick At Your Skin

You’ve probably heard this tip before, and it’s not easy to follow. Many people tend to pop their pimples. Some find it satisfying. The bad news is that popping and picking lead to more inflammation, breakouts, and scarring. Popping a zit leaves the lesions exposed to bacteria. 

Find What Works for You!

Use this guide to manage your winter breakouts before you see them in the mirror. Finding an effective winter skincare routine with products you love is not easy, but it is worth the extra effort.

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