5 Reasons Your Skin Is Breaking Out in Winter (And What to Do About It)

Wondering why pimples are popping up in the dead of winter? Unfortunately, it’s a myth that most acne tends to clear when the temperatures cool down. To understand what’s behind this frustrating truth, we asked Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper) to explain the reasons why your skin is breaking out in the winter.

A woman in a pink hat thinking contemplating her wintertime acne breakouts

#1 The weather outside is frightful

We’ve talked about the perils of winter weather before: chilly temperatures and drier air means that your skin has a tough time retaining both water and natural oils. Technically speaking, this is known as an increased potential for transepidermal water loss — aka TEWL.

Proper moisture levels are key to keeping your skin healthy. When that balance is upset, two things are more likely to happen:

  • Decreased skin barrier function: this leaves skin vulnerable to pathogens, like acne-causing bacteria.
  • Increased inflammation: when skin is irritated, it can make inflammatory acne worse.

What’s more, evidence suggests that getting less UV exposure during wintertime can lead to changes in immune function, which can leave skin more susceptible to C. acnes bacteria.

#2 You’re still using your same skincare

It’s no secret that seasonal changes affect your skin health. Summer’s hot, humid weather translates to increased perspiration and excess oil production. So when temperatures turn colder, it’s time to re-evaluate whether your regimen of frequent face washing, masking and exfoliating still makes sense for your skin.

If you haven’t switched up your skincare routine since the weather went from hot and humid to cold and arid, chances are you’re stripping away much-needed natural oils. If your skin seems dry and oily/acne-prone all at once, it’s time to scale back on either the strength or the frequency (or both!) of the active ingredients you’re using.

If you’re following an acne routine, says Dr. Lee, like the SLMD Acne System, keep it up. If your skin seems extra dry, cut back on any additional masking and exfoliating, and make sure you’re applying enough acne-safe moisturizer. Try: SLMD Facial Moisturizer, formulated with acne-prone skin in mind.

SLMD Facial Moisturizer

#3 You abandoned your healthy habits

If winter weather makes you want to hibernate on the couch, you’re not alone. Just know that slacking on your healthy skin routine — going to bed without cleansing, easing up on exercising, staying up late watching YouTube — could translate into breakouts.

We get it: seasonal lifestyle changes are somewhat inevitable. But your skin still needs TLC during the winter months, especially if you’re acne-prone. Dr. Lee’s suggestions:

  • Stick with a routine. Daily cleansing and moisturizing, as well as weekly exfoliating (as tolerated by your skin) will help keep pores from clogging up.
  • Keep moving. Regular exercise promotes nutrient-rich blood flow and generates a healthy glow.
  • Get some zzzzzz. Plenty of quality sleep allows skin time to repair itself.

SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser

SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser effectively exfoliates and removes pore-clogging impurities, but is gentle enough for everyday use.

#4 You’re touching your face (and not cleaning your phone)

This one’s valid year-round, but especially true when you’re slathering on occlusive hand creams and body lotions. If you’re in the habit of touching your face, those pore-clogging oils are being transferred from your hands — potentially leading to acne.

On top of that, your phone, which is already a veritable petri dish of microbes, also gets coated in hand cream. If you're breaking out near your ear and along your jawline (especially on one side more than the other), it could be your oil-and-germ-slicked device (ew). Clean your phone and keyboard regularly with an approved antibacterial wipe or solution.

SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes

SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes exfoliate skin's dead, outer layers to help prevent buildup in pores. Adjust frequency of use during the colder, drier months.

#5 Yes, that shower is too hot

Taking a long, steamy, hot shower or bath is one of winter’s guilty pleasures, for sure — but it could also be taking a major toll on your skin health. According to Dr. Lee, bathing in water that’s too hot actually robs our skin of moisture, which is exactly the opposite of what we need in winter.

As tough as it may be, shortening your shower and turning that knob just a little bit more toward cold will help prevent the loss of both natural oils and water from your skin. This promotes a healthy skin barrier, which is essential for avoiding winter breakouts. And don’t forget to moisturize afterwards: applying product immediately post-shower to still-damp skin will boost its effectiveness.

Dr Sandra Lee

Dr. Lee's Last Word

People tend to associate acne breakouts with hot and humid weather — but in reality, pimples can appear year-round. This is especially true if your skin gets dry and irritated in the wintertime, which makes it more acne-prone. Stay consistent with your skincare routine, and make sure you’re using a lightweight moisturizer that won’t exacerbate acne, like my SLMD Facial Moisturizer and my Dual Defender sunscreen.

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