7 Skincare Ingredients To Add To Your Routine This Winter

From barrier-protecting emollients to dull skin-fighting exfoliants, The AEDITION asked two cosmetic chemists to share their go-to skincare ingredients for winter.
Written by Meg Storm
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7 Skincare Ingredients To Add To Your Routine This WinterAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Feel like you need a dictionary every time you look at the ingredient list of a beauty product? Still unsure of the difference between retinol and retinoids? What about the unique benefits of vitamins B, C, and E? Are alpha and beta hydroxy acids the same thing? The skincare aisle can be overwhelming, but you don’t need a PhD in cosmetic chemistry to navigate it. With expert help, The AEDITION is demystifying and simplifying the beauty industry — one label at a time.

Winter is upon us, which likely has your complexion feeling perpetually parched. And it’s not in your head. While we may curse the humidity that leaves our faces oily and hair frizzy in the summertime, the lack of it (both indoors and outdoors!) come winter leaves the skin more apt to lose what little moisture it has left. The result? Desert-like conditions that can leave skin dehydrated and dull.

But that is not to say we are resigned to a rough ride until spring. With the right skincare routine, you can counteract the effects of the cold, dry air outside and artificially heated, arid inside air that accompanies the dead of winter.

“I highly recommend ingredients that will help prevent transepidermal water loss and ingredients that provide a protective barrier on the skin,” says Valerie George, cosmetic chemist and co-host of The Beauty Brains, of her approach to winter skincare. Adding in an exfoliator, meanwhile, will “help remove any dry, dead skin that does occur,” she shares.

So, what exactly should you incorporate into your skincare routine this winter to avoid a dry, pasty pallor? The AEDITION tapped George and cosmetic chemist and BeautyStat founder Ron Robinson to get their expertise on the most important ingredients of the season for face and body.

1 & 2. Petrolatum + Shea Butter

“Ingredients like petrolatum and shea butter prevent the skin from losing moisture to the ambient atmosphere when relative humidity is low by providing a protective barrier,” says George. Known for their rich, emollient properties, petrolatum is a highly purified derivative of crude oil that is FDA approved for use in skincare, while shea butter is a plant lipid extracted from the karite tree that contains triterpene esters.

Using them in tandem has a “synergistic effect” that offers both skin protection from dry air and the healing benefits of the terpenes, she says — adding the ingredients work best when they are “left on the skin in the form of a moisturizer and not washed off down the drain.” Vaseline is perhaps the best known petrolatum-based product, and we are partial to the raw, unrefined shea butter in the Karite Creme Corps Hydrating Body Cream. If you are prone to acne or clogged pores, George suggests using products with these ingredients sparingly on the face.

3. Vitamin C

This jack-of-all-trades antioxidant works year-round, but Robinson says topical use of the “essential nutrient” in the wintertime can “improve skin’s tone and texture.” He recommends using a facial serum containing vitamin C at least once a day on clean skin, but it is important to do your due diligence before settling on a formula. Robinson says the ingredient is “notoriously unstable” and prone to breaking down when exposed to light or air, so you’ll want to look for products that are “stable,” “have air-tight packing,” and come with “independent clinical test results.” He formulated his BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner with 20 percent pure vitamin C (L-Ascorbic Acid) and EGCG (the active component of green tea), which boosts the anti-aging benefits (think: reducing the look of fine lines, firming and tightening skin, and evening tone).

4. Ceramides

Both George and and Robinson agree that the naturally occurring lipids are a must for winter. “Applying them topically can help reinforce the barrier and moisturize the skin,” says Robinson, who notes that they are great for hydrating both the face and body. His BeautyStat Universal Pro-Bio Moisture Boost Cream, for example, is designed to correct dryness and make skin less sensitive. “Ceramides are a natural part of the skin barrier and are essential to balanced skin,” George adds.

5. Hyaluronic Acid

One of the buzziest ingredients on the market today, Robinson defines hyaluronic acid (HA) as “a polysaccharide found naturally in the skin that helps keep it hydrated.” While there is no wrong time of year to incorporate HA into your regimen, winter makes particular sense because, when applied topically, “it works as a humectant — meaning it can draw and hold water to the skin's surface,” he says. Using an HA-based serum or moisturizer, like the The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 serum or Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream, twice a day (read: morning and night) can heal dry skin and leave it soft and supple.

6. Chemical Exfoliants

While it may seem counterintuitive to exfoliate dry skin, both George and Robinson say it is important to slough off dead skin cells. “If skin has been dry, I recommend a chemical exfoliant followed by a moisturizer,” George says. “This will help remove any dead, dry, and dull skin, while making sure your skin stays hydrated for the winter air.”

While there are an array of alpha and beta hydroxy acids (i.e. AHAs and BHAs) to choose from, Robinson suggests lactic acid because it can “both exfoliate and moisturize the skin.” As a result, he says the AHA can be “used on very rough and dry skin on the body.” He likes the Amlactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion, which is formulated with 12 percent lactic acid to “leave skin smooth and hydrated.” A bit of exfoliation is important, but be careful not to over do it. “It’s important not to over exfoliate during winter, so that dry skin is not exacerbated,” George warns. “Exfoliate sparingly!”

7. Green Tea

Not only the basis of your favorite Starbucks order, Robinson says green tea (often found on ingredient labels under the name 'camellia sinensis') is rich in antioxidants that have skin-boosting benefits. Applying it topically will allow your complexion to drink up the anti-inflammatory and soothing benefits of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) — the most important component of green tea. He recommends applying a facial moisturizer or serum (like his BeautyStat Universal C Skin Refiner) with the extract morning and night for smoothing and toning benefits.

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MEG STORMis the editorial & content director at AEDIT.

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