As temperatures start to drop, our skin can sometimes throw a bit of a wobbly and when it does, it’s important adjust your routine accordingly. The skin is the largest organ of the body and it’s our first line of defence from external aggressors. The outermost layer, the stratum corneum (SC) is often described as a brick wall where the skin cells (corneocytes) – think of them as “the bricks” are tightly packed together and surrounded by a lipid-rich “mortar” (ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids). This provides an effective waterproof barrier which offers protection from ultraviolet (UV) light, dirt, pollution, germs, allergens / irritants and when functioning properly it prevents our skin from losing too much moisture: trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). Water content in the skin is vital to skin health as all cellular and enzymatic processes that happen in the skin’s layers require water. TEWL is reduced by the retention of water (through Natural Moisturising Factors) and oil (epidermal lipids and skin sebum).
When barrier function becomes disrupted TEWL increases, resulting in dehydration, dry or irritated skin. Many external factors can cause these changes including aggressive / harsh skincare products, irritants / allergens, prolonged sun exposure and of course, colder weather, which strips moisture out of the skin. As a result skin can become tight, flaky, rough and red with skin pH also being altered, which in turn affects the skin’s ability to renew itself. It cannot function properly and becomes susceptible to irritation and infection as external substances are more readily able to penetrate through the defective skin barrier.
So how can we keep our skin barrier working optimally in the colder weather?
- Avoid harsh (e.g. high pH/aggressive/SLS containing) cleansers that strip your skin of its natural oils. Opt for a gentle but effective cleanser that cleans the skin without drying it out - there are lots of different types of cleansers available (gels, foaming cleansers, milks/creams, oils, balms) - all perform differently with regards to cleansing abilities and how they leave skin feeling. My rebalancing cleansing oil (fragranced) and comforting cleansing oil (fragrance / EO free) are suitable for a wider range of types as they’re gentle, lightweight but also fully rinse off. Cleanse your skin properly – massage your cleanser over your face for at least a minute to ensure you breakdown all traces of make-up, sunscreen and grime from your face, then rinse well. Your cleanser should leave your skin feeling clean, comfortable but not tight. Avoid over-cleansing especially if your skin leans normal to dry, and if you cleanse in the morning, keep it super gentle (or just drop it!).
- Build in ingredients for barrier health: two of my favourites are niacinamide (vitamin B3) and ceramides. Niacinamide strengthens barrier function over time, resulting in better water retaining abilities of the skin through increased ceramide production (amongst a multitude of other benefits). Ceramides are key components of your skin’s natural lipid mix that help to form a protective layer, thereby helping to reduce TEWL. More to come on these ingredients very soon as BOTH are in my barrier support serum (hence the name!)
- Switch to a more nourishing/occlusive moisturiser and/or add a face oil to your routine, like my rejuvenating face oils (delicately fragranced with essential oils) or my comforting oil booster (unfragranced). If you have a moisturiser you already enjoy, just add a drop or two of face oil to that. The addition of oil will give a bit of extra nourishment without feeling heavy or greasy. Apply your moisturiser (+ oil) to damp skin (damp with water or a hydrating toner) to help seal in moisture.
- Wear a dedicated sunscreen daily: although we live in the UK and don’t see the sun often UV rays can still cause damage, even when you can’t see them. UVB – the rays responsible for burning are more of an issue in summer months but UVA, responsible for premature ageing, is more pervasive and we’re exposed to it all year round. It penetrates clouds and glass and causes damage much deeper in the skin with cumulative exposure. Therefore, it’s important to choose a sunscreen which protects against UVB and UVA. UVB protection is easy to find – that’s your SPF number, whereas UVA protection is denoted with a star rating (UK brands), the UVA symbol (European) in a circle, or the PA+ system (Asian). Be aware that some products with built in SPF (e.g. moisturisers and make up) may not protect against UVA effectively, and you’re unlikely to use enough of them to get the protection indicated. The amount of UVA protection in a sunscreen is proportional to the SPF level so I recommend a minimum of SPF30 with good UVA protection. This might sound a lot when it’s grey and miserable outside but most people don’t apply the right amount of sunscreen so it’s a safer option than relying on a low SPF product. If you want to know more about sunscreen, check out my sunscreen series here
- Adjust or “temper” use of exfoliating products if they’re part of your routine: retinoids, AHAs, Vitamin C etc are great “anti-ageing” ingredients but they can cause irritation if used too much, or if your skin barrier is already disrupted (e.g. from colder weather). In this case either reduce the frequency or use them diluted with / over a moisturiser to reduce the risk of irritation. My blog post on incorporating retinoids can be found here. Go easy with physical exfoliation too (scrubs, flannels) – if you have sensitive skin or inflammation already then physical exfoliation is best avoided anyway
- If your skin is showing signs of irritation, drop all actives and opt for a simple and gentle (basic) routine for at least a few days which will allow your skin to recover. After that you can gradually reintroduce your actives, one at a time.
Pay close attention to your skin and adjust your routine based on what it needs. It will thank you for it!