"This change in the air is dehydrating our skin, and we're all going to turn on our furnaces which will speed up that dehydration process even further," says Audrey Kunin, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermaDoctor. "Eventually, there’s going to be a chemical reaction going on in the skin where we lose our protective acid mantle and our pH gets disrupted. When that happens, the cells of the skin, which normally lay tightly on top of each other, like shingles on a roof start, to pull apart."
This, she explains, causes moisture to escape from your skin more quickly, and becomes a "portal of entry" for pathogens like bacteria. Cue even more dehydration, plus textural changes, increased redness, and skin sensitivity. "The change in the weather makes our skin more reactive to ingredients that you might be able to tolerate [at other times of the year], and aggravates skin sensitivities," says Dr. Kunin.
Because of this, it's important to steer clear of certain ingredients that will wind up making things worse. Below, Dr. Kunin reveals the five products you should keep far away from your skin (or at the very least, use sparingly) until spring has sprung.
1. Alcohol-based toners
While some toners are made with hydrating ingredients and are fine to use on winterized skin, you'll want to leave any alcohol-based or astringent ones sitting on the shelf. "In general, astringents and toners that have isopropyl or ethyl alcohol on their ingredient lists are going to strip and purge the skin, speeding up the sensitivity process," says Dr. Kunin. If you want to keep the toning step in your routine (which, by the way derms say isn't totally necessary), look for something formulated with hyaluronic acid or niacinamide—like Fenty Beauty Fat Water Pore Refining Toner Serum ($28)—which will help to hydrate and restore your skin barrier.
2. Clay masks
Masking has become an emblem of self-care (particularly while we've all been stuck at home), but be sure to lay off anything formulated with clays while temps are getting colder. "A lot of people use clay masks to detoxify their skin, but in general, they will further dry out and irritate the skin this time of year so you'll want to back off on their frequency," says Dr. Kunin. Instead, you can replace your clay mask with something that's detoxifying and hydrating, like the Peter Thomas Roth Cucumber Gel Mask Extreme Detoxifying Hydrator ($55).
While Dr. Kunin won't tell you to lay off of retinol entirely between now and next spring, she does recommend using any sort of vitamin A derivative sparingly, if you're experiencing dryness. "Back off on the frequency, and make sure you're using them properly," she says. First, wash your face, then wait 30 minutes before applying to ensure your skin is completely dry, "because water interacts with vitamin A and causes redness, dryness, and irritation," says Dr. Kunin. Limit yourself to a pea-sized amount of product once or twice a week. And if you're still experiencing irritation? Try the "retinol sandwich" method, which involves putting on a layer of moisturizer both before and after your retinoid, which gives your skin an added level of protection.
4. Fragrances and essential oils
While your skin may have no issue with fragrance during the warmer months, your favorite sweet-scented products could suddenly become irritating once cold, dry air starts to set in. "Fragrances and essential oils in products can suddenly cause irritation and sensitivity—even for people who can actually tolerate them for most of the year," says Dr. Kunin. "Once that acid mantle is disrupted, your skin can suddenly become far more sensitive." Check your labels for terms like "fragrance," "essential oils," "perfume," and "linalool," and do your best to stay away from them.
5. Acne ingredients
In general, ingredients that work to quash zits tend to be drying (hence why they're so great at sucking oil out of your pores), so when you change up your skin care for fall, you'll want to be careful with things like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. "If you're blemish or acne prone, you may need to switch up the ingredients you're using in your acne products or use them less frequently so that you don't cause further irritation," says Dr. Kunin. Azelic acid is a gentle yet effective alternative, and niacinamide can help by reducing inflammation and dark spots.
Want to know more about how to deal with dry skin? Check out the video below.
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