Acne Skin Care for Winter Weather

Wintertime can be hard on the skin. Cold weather, wind, and dry indoor air can suck moisture from your skin. Add in the use of drying acne fighting products and medications, and you have a recipe for uncomfortable dryness, itching, flaking, and peeling.

What can you do to help keep your skin hydrated throughout the winter months, while still getting the most from your acne treatment routine? Try these four tips to winter-proof your acne skincare routine and make your skin look (and feel) a whole lot better.


Change Your Cleanser

Close-Up Of Young Woman Looking Away During Winter

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While it may have been a great choice during the summer months, your cleanser may not be working for you now that the cold weather has set in. If you feel tight and dry after cleansing, you probably need to switch to a milder cleanser.

Foaming cleansers, whether they be liquid washes or in bar soap form, are incredibly effective at cleansing away excess oil. This is great during the warm weather when your skin tends to be sweaty and oily, but not so great when your skin is feeling parched or chapped. Try switching out your foaming wash for a non-foaming or cream cleanser. These are less likely to leave that tight, overly-cleansed feeling.

Also, take into account that any cleanser containing acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are particularly drying. This is especially true if you are using them in conjunction with other acne treatment products like retinoids, topical antibiotics, and such. During the winter months, you might do better with a gentle, non-medicated cleanser like Dove, Neutrogena, or Cetaphil. You can always go back to an acne-fighting cleanser once the weather warms and your skin doesn't feel as dry.

If you need help choosing a cleanser, you can ask your dermatologist for recommendations.


Don't Wash as Often

Man washing his face with tap water

Thierry Lord / Getty Images

If simply changing your cleanser isn't doing the trick, try cleansing less often. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom, because with acne you may feel compelled to wash your face quite frequently (or body, if you have body breakouts).

Excessive cleansing can dry out the skin, though. During times when your skin is feeling dry, even a twice-daily cleansing can be too much. Try lathering up just once a day, preferably at night so you can remove any makeup, sweat, oil, or grime that may have built up on the face throughout the day. Skip the morning facial cleansing altogether or, if you feel the need, just a splash of plain water will do.

If the skin on your body is drying out, consider skipping the daily shower too. (No, it's not gross. Most people over-wash anyway.) Or, at the very least, save the soap for B.O.-prone areas and use plain water everywhere else.


Don't Be Afraid to Moisturize

woman with moisturizer on her finger

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Yes, you need a moisturizer even if you have acne-prone skin. When you're prone to breakouts, it's normal to shy away from moisturizing creams and lotions. But to fight tight, dry, flaking and peeling skin, moisturizer is a must.

Remember, nearly all acne treatment products dry the skin to some extent. Using a moisturizer regularly will make your skin look better, feel better, and can help your skin tolerate drying acne treatments better too.

You don't have to slather on a thick, greasy product though. And, if you choose the right moisturizer for your acne-prone skin, you don't need to worry about it clogging your pores either.

Choose a moisturizing gel or lotion. These are typically lighter products than moisturizing creams or balms. Whichever moisturizer you choose, be sure it is marked noncomedogenic. Noncomedogenic products are less likely to cause pore blockages.

Apply your moisturizer after every cleansing. Your topical acne medications can be applied right over the top.


Don't Skip the Sunscreen

Woman in winter clothing smiling and looking up with sun in background on Brooklyn Bridge
Chris Tobin / Getty Images

Sure, it seems odd to be slathering on sunscreen when it's 20 degrees outside. But your skin is as susceptible to the sun's damaging rays during wintertime as it is during the warmer months. For optimum sun protection, wear sunscreen 365 days a year.

Sunscreen isn't just for preventing sunburn. The regular use of sunscreen protects your skin from signs of premature aging like hyperpigmentation, fine lines, and a coarse skin texture.

So, if you have a favorite sunscreen product (or moisturizer with SPF) that you use during the summer months, continue to use it throughout the year. Not using a sun protection product? It's never too late to start.

Choose a sunscreen that gives broad-spectrum protection with an SPF of at least 30. You have plenty of options, from oil-free products made especially acne-prone skin, tinted sunscreen that gives some cosmetic coverage, to natural-based sunscreens if you're so inclined. Truly, there is a product out there that is perfect for you and one you're love. There's no excuse to not be wearing SPF daily.

Besides, some acne treatments make you more susceptible to sun damage. If you're using them, it's doubly important that you're protecting your skin from the sun.


If Needed, Scale Back on Topical Medications

Girl applying acne medicine to face

Dex Images / Getty Images

If, even after your best efforts, your skin is uncomfortably dry or chapped, or you're stuck with lots of peeling and flaking, you may need to scale back use of your acne treatments. Try using your treatment products every other day, or even every third day. This will give your skin a little break, allowing the dryness and irritation to lessen. Once your skin is feeling better, slowly work up to using your acne medications every day again.

Of course, never change your usage of your prescription medications without first talking to your dermatologist.

A Word From Verywell

Dealing with wintertime dry skin is tough enough, and especially so when you add drying acne treatments to the mix. In most cases, you can get alleviate dryness with just a few tweaks to your skincare routine.

If you can't get dry skin under control, though, or if dryness, chapping, and peeling is extreme, or if your skin is incredibly irritated or uncomfortable, talk to your dermatologist or regular physician. You may have something else going on besides run-of-the-mill dryness (eczema, for example) or you may just need a little extra help to get your skin on the way to healing.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hoffman L, Subramanyan K, Johnson AW, Tharp MD. Benefits of an emollient body wash for patients with chronic winter dry skin. Dermatol Ther. 2008;21(5):416-21. doi:10.1111/j.1529-8019.2008.00225.x

  2. Zaenglein AL, Pathy AL, Schlosser BJ, et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016;74(5):945-73.e33. doi:10.1016/j.jaad.2015.12.037

  3. Proksch E. The role of emollients in the management of diseases with chronic dry skin. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. 2008;21(2):75-80. doi:10.1159/000112957

  4. American Cancer Society. Choose the Right Sunscreen.

By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.