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Hopefully, by now you are a man who has adopted some semblance of a skincare routine (if not, time to get on that). Regardless, if you are a man living in a colder climate, you may have noticed that your skin has devolved into an itchy, red and dry-as-hell beast — and it may even have hosted more breakouts than usual this time of year than usual.
While skin poses year-round challenges for many, the winter is an especially difficult time that requires added mindfulness and slight changes to your skincare routine. It’s why we tapped a few dermatologists for advice on how to manage your skin this winter and for lots of frigid winters to come.
The Physiological Changes You Should Account for in the Winter
With less humidity in the air during wintertime, skin retains less moisture and requires more hydration to keep dryness and itchiness at bay, explains John Hopkins dermatologist and Medical Director for Disco skincare Dr. Eva Simmons-O’Brien.
But while the combination of cold and dryness from the weather itself has an effect on skin, lifestyle changes like cranking up the heat in our homes and taking blazing hot showers also have an impact says Lynn Bartels, a clinical educator and aesthetic nurse practitioner and trainer at SkinSpirit in Palo Alto, California.
There are also differences structurally and physiologically between men and women that require different treatments, as men’s skin, in general, is thicker, oilier and has larger pores compared to women’s skin, making it a little heartier.
“What we’re noticing in the winter months for men specifically is that the weather can strip skin, breakdown the natural barrier, make you more dehydrated, red, flakier. There can be an increase in acne and skin conditions that are caused by those types of changes in the weather and also changes in the lifestyle that goes with it,” says Bartels who notes eczema, rosacea, redness, inflammation, more acne and clogged pores grow increasingly common in the winter.
Men, in particular, seem to struggle the most with irritation in the colder months, says Natalie Aguilar, LA-based licensed aesthetician and nurse who has worked with celebs like Rita Ora, Alfre Woodard and Sofia Vergara. Shaving during cold months, specifically, when the skin has been stripped of its essential humectants from hot showers and those other lifestyle changes can make already irritated skin much worse.
Bottom line: Your skin requires much more hydration in the winter.
The Winter Skincare Basics
If you need a refresher of what your skincare routine should look like, you need a cleanser, a daily serum, a moisturizer and a night serum if you’re over 30 according to Bartels.
“There are three simple things that, in a perfect world, all men would do. They would cleanse and shave, apply a serum and pat a little bit of a sunblock on their face. At night, they would wash their face to clean off the day, the toxins, the environment, the oils, and they would apply a night serum,” she says.
For day serums, Bartels recommends Skinbetter’s Alto, a penetrating serum with 19 different antioxidants, SkinCeuticals’ C E Ferulic or ZO® Skin Health’s Daily Power Defense, while Skinbetter’s AlphaRet is a popular night serum for men. These serums aid in anti-aging and preventing skin cancer.
When it comes to winter skincare, as noted above, hydration is key. Prior to showering, Aguilar recommends pre-hydrating. “Most of us are used to cleansing and then moisturizing, so what I have my male clients do is moisturize then cleanse and then moisturize again, therefore you’re creating a barrier to protect your skin,” she explains.
If you don’t already have a go-to moisturizer, CeraVe’s Daily Moisturizing Lotion is a popular, affordable option often recommended by dermatologists. Aguilar also recommends Jaxon Lane’s Relax and Repair Ultimate Anti-Aging Moisturizer. “Ingredients to look out for or to incorporate are anti-inflammatory plant origins like calendula oil and chamomile,” she adds.
Putting a humidifier next to your bed stand can also help nourish skin, notes Aguilar. “The ideal humidity per room is 30 to 50 percent. If your nose is dry, your skin is definitely dry. The inside nasal cavity is more sensitive, but it’s also a key, it lets you know that your skin’s dry, too. So not only will a humidifier help you breathe better, but your skin will just absorb the moisture from the air all night as the furnace is cranking.”
Don’t Stop Exfoliating
“In the winter, people often stop exfoliating altogether. It’s still important to exfoliate during colder months, but you can do so with less frequency. Exfoliation aids in the turnover of dead skin cells and allows for hydrating products to penetrate the skin better,” explains Simmons-O’Brien, who recommends using Disco’s Face Scrub all over your face and body.
It doesn’t sound like it, but when skin is well exfoliated, the moisture balance is more normalized. “We tend to have men use either enzymes or acids to help break down the dead layer that starts forming that makes your skin more dehydrated, crack, red and inflamed,” says Bartels. SkinMedica’s AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser is also a great cleansing option especially for those more prone to acne, since its light acid formula is non-stripping or irritating, and has tiny little scrubbing beads so when you thoroughly clean your face, you get exfoliation and anti-aging benefits.
It’s important to note, though, that you don’t want to exfoliate every day — once a week is recommended for the face and two to three times a week is recommended for full-body exfoliating.
Face Masks Are Optimal (and Fun) Hydrating and Exfoliating Options
A thick, serum-loaded face mask is an ideal, super fun addition to your winter skincare routine. If you’re really suffering from dryness, Aguilar recommends a hydrogel mask. Jaxon Lane’s “Bro Mask” is a soothing, 100% hydrogel sheet mask that’s even accessible for beard-havers, as it comes in two pieces. “The key when it comes to using face masks is you wake up the most hydrated and you go to bed the most dehydrated. If you want to use a hydrating face mask, it’s best to use before going to bed. And ideally, hydrating masks are done twice a week,” she explains.
While Bartels notes many of her male clients enjoy using the Skin Zyme Mask from Jan Marini. You can put a little bit on, wear it around the house, hop in a steamy shower and shave the mask off your face. “It’s super exfoliating, it gives men more hydration, it plumps and moisturizes, takes all the dead skin off. But because it’s an enzyme, it’s just eating dead skin, so it’s not like an acid that could be drying or irritating. And then shaving it off, you get that little extra exfoliation,” she explains.
SPF, SPF, SPF
The most important item in your skincare routine year-round is SPF, and yes, you should be wearing some even in the winter.
“SPF is 24/7, 365 days a year, especially if you’re in the snow because the sun reflects off the white snow, and then the white snow reflects onto the skin causing a sunburn that’s worse than a summer sunburn,” says Aguilar.
“Two minutes without something protecting you starts breaking down your skin barrier and your collagen. Not only do you have a higher propensity for skin cancer, especially if you’re an athlete, but you don’t age as well,” adds Bartels. “So men are starting to understand that they need to wear a zinc or mineral based sunblock.”
Sunscreens are often chemical-based and don’t mix well with our already red, irritated and inflamed skin, explains Bartels who stresses using a zinc or mineral-based, paraben-free sunblock like SkinMedica’s Total Defense and Repair SPF 50.
Opt for a Facial
We already discussed the benefits of at-home facials (preferably with a partner) but getting a professional facial is one thing Bartels notes many low-maintenance men enjoy doing. “Men love great facials. It gives them permission to have some downtime, too. And then they can go out and trash their skin, do whatever they want and we’ll fix it,” she says. Opting for a facial not only exfoliates, hydrates and polishes up skin but also helps your at-home products work better.
Another medical grade procedure that’s popular in the winter is something called a post-light, IPL or photo-facial that targets redness from inflammation and sun damage. The quick 30-minute laser procedure boosts collagen, brightens skin and under eyes leaving you looking well-rested, less red and glowing.
A Solution to the Dreaded Winter Itch
We could not forget about the dreaded winter itch — an itch that, no matter how many layers of lotion you apply, refuses to let up. But because of their hair and thicker skin, men especially fall victim to the itch. So if you’re feeling scratchy after exfoliating and, if you can bear it, a normal temperature shower, Aguilar recommends applying Sarna Lotion, a soothing menthol camphor that helps prevent that winter itch.
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