Winter Breakouts? Here's How to Deal with Them

Young woman applying moisturiser to her cheek
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Putting up with winter’s sub-zero temperatures, snow, and slush, is torture enough, but throw breakouts into the mix and the struggle to make it through to spring reaches a whole other level.

Breakouts during winter may come as a surprise, but a number of factors can trigger blemishes. Holiday stress and diet, lack of sleep, and indoor heating can cause you to sweat—and, in turn, can aggravate acne. At the first sign of a breakout, your initial reaction is probably to pile on the acne-fighting products. Our advice: Lay off the product cocktail. The tendency to use too many at once can often clog pores further and irritate the skin, causing even more breakouts.

Instead, break the cycle and hibernate through the cold weather with clearer skin by following the tips of Jennifer Chwalek, M.D., a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York.

Watch Your Diet
Now that the holiday season is long over, getting back into a regular, balanced diet consisting of nutritious meals will aid in maintaining a clear complexion throughout the rest of the season. Dr. Chwalek suggests avoiding processed and sugary foods, which can trigger acne.

Catch Enough Shut Eye
Although work deadlines, social commitments, and tempting Netflix binges can make it hard to shut off and get the full recommended eight hours of sleep every night, it’s essential in maintaining healthy skin. Not only will your breakouts be less frequent, your complexion will be brighter and radiant when you aren’t tired.

Splurge on a Humidifier
Since we spend a lot of time indoors with thermostats turned up throughout winter, Dr. Chwalek recommends investing in a humidifier for your home as an extra measure in preventing dry skin. A humidifier will add water vapor to the air, which indirectly helps your skin retain moisture. Your humidifier doesn’t have to be an eyesore. Middle Color’s MD-KH1401 Ultrasonic humidifier ($180; can easily be mistaken for a sleek vase and is available in a bevy of colors to coordinate with a variety of decors.

Don’t Forget to Moisturize
Regardless of whether you have frequent breakouts or perfectly clear skin, you should be applying a daily moisturizer, whatever the season—but it’s especially important during winter when the air is dry. If your skin is drying out despite breakouts, Dr. Chwalek suggests moisturizing twice a day with a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer to give your skin an extra dose of hydration. A non-comedogenic moisturizer like First Aid Beauty’s Skin Rescue Daily Face Cream ($20; is oil-free and won’t clog pores with dirt and oils, which can instigate breakouts.

Ease Up on Retinoids
If you are going to use a topical acne treatment to calm breakouts, Dr. Chwalek warns to use these creams with caution. “Many acne medications are drying because they target the sebum production in the skin. In the winter, you may not be able to tolerate using them everyday. I often warn patients using topical retinoids that they may experience more dryness and irritation in the winter even if their skin was tolerating the medication previously,” she says. To combat this, use a treatment like SkinCeuticals Retinol 1.0 Maximum Strength Refining Night Cream ($70; sparingly, where needed, and follow up with a moisturizer. If you still find your skin getting irritated or parched, cut back and use on your blemishes every other day.

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