Cashmere jumpers. Chunky scarves. Evenings spent curled up on the sofa, nuzzling into a blanket, the scent of Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir permeating around the room. Dreamy, right? As much as we’d all love to replicate scenes from The Holiday come winter, including handsome strangers and a rosy, fireside glow, the reality is that romcoms have been feeding us fallacies: a struggling writer would never be able to afford a detached cottage in Surrey, and no-one’s skin ever looks that good in winter. While Cameron Diaz would somehow manage to still look effortlessly cool in the middle of a polar vortex, the rest of us struggle with chapped lips, wind-burned cheeks, scaly skin and a generally drab complexion. Winter skin is anything but sexy. 

Though we think it hits later in the year, October is when the temperature and humidity drop, so now’s the time to take action. And, as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Reading a winter skincare feature in late November is a little late, as your skin cycle is six weeks, so any protective products you’re using now won’t fully take effect for a while. Because, in the words of Jon Snow, winter is here. 

Fiona Brackenbury, head of training and education for Decléor, agrees: “The biggest problem that our skin faces come October is that we’ve spent all summer dehydrating it before entering the most moisture-zapping season of them all: winter.” We naturally lose a pint and a half of water daily through respiration, sweat and skin evaporation (part of the human body’s cooling system); this increases when we add in exercise, humidity and holidays. And if not replenished, water levels in the epidermis (the uppermost layer of skin cells) start to affect our collagen reserves – by dehydrating the strands – leading to loss of skin plumpness. And while you can ‘push’ moisture back into the skin via liquid-rich skincare and ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, you can’t do the same with collagen. Which is why it’s time to act now and start rebuilding your defences and arming your skin against attack. The worst thing you could do is to head into winter with already depleted moisture stores. 

Freezing temperatures, plus the heating cranked up full blast, sends skin into overdrive: over or under-producing sebum. “When it’s very cold, there is less moisture in the air,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Susan Mayou.” This is compounded by wind, which blows remaining moisture away from the skin, and the biggest baddie of them all, central heating.” The result? In a dry environment, water is lost from the keratinocyte cells (skin cells which form the outermost layer), leaving skin feeling dry, sore and chapped.

Cold comfort 2

But in winter it’s not just the weather that takes a turn for the worse – our lifestyles change too. A recent study by Ofcom found that on average we spend more than 20 hours in front of a screen each week, as nights get longer and we spend less time outside. Founder of Elemis, Noella Gabriel, feels certain that this accounts for an increase in the number of women with dehydrated skin visiting her spas. “Before, dehydration was associated with maturity and age,” she says. “Now it’s associated with the mature millennial (aged 29-35) due to the increase of technology, without a doubt.” By this she means that all that time spent scrolling on Instagram and working on our laptops is actively dehydrating our skins. 

Debbie Thomas, a celebrity facialist and skin expert, agrees: “It’s believed that high-energy visible, or HEV, light emitted from screens can weaken the skin over time, which can then allow the skin’s natural moisture to evaporate, leaving it dehydrated.” 

Winter wardrobes don’t help either: wool can isolate your skin and disrupt its natural barrier, meaning that each time you pull that cashmere jumper up over your face or you wrap that Acne scarf around your neck, you’re at risk of losing hydration through an irritated barrier, which over time leaves skin feeling dry. 

But this doesn’t mean you should slather on a rich ‘dry skin’ cream and hope for the best. ‘Dry’ and ‘dehydrated’ skins have similar characteristics, but their underlying characteristics are very different. Even so, many of us are more aware of the distinctions. 

According to a Dove survey, 91% of women are concerned about having dry skin, with one in three actively struggling with dry skin on a daily basis. Confusion is rife and the beauty industry doesn’t make it easy for us, with labels such as ‘for dry and dehydrated skins’ leading us to believe they are one and the same. Dr Veronique Delvingne, director of scientific communications for Lancôme, points out: “You’re born with dry skin; dehydrated skin is a product of environmental changes and you need specific skincare for each.” Follow our four steps to discover how to work out your own personal hydration level and tackle any winter skin concerns, helping skin to feel comfortable and regain that glow:

Work it out

1. Two hours after cleansing, hold a tissue to your forehead for three seconds. Do you have any oily patches? “Dehydrated skin feels tight in some areas and greasy in others, as it lacks in water rather than oil, so your body makes up for this by producing more oil,” explains Thomas. If your tissue appears a little greasy, your skin is dehydrated. 

2. On cleansed skin, apply a piece of sticky tape and press for three seconds. Remove and examine. Is more than half covered in dead skin cells? If yes, your skin is dry. 

3. Next, place your forefinger horizontally against your cheek and then push the skin upwards. Are fine lines forming on your cheek? If so, your skin is dehydrated. 

4 Finally, pinch the skin on the back of your hand, hold for a few seconds, then release. If it takes more than two seconds to return to normal, your skin is dehydrated.

Dry Skin

Half of the UK population claims to have dry skin, yet many of us have no idea what it really is. Dry skin doesn’t lack water; it lacks oil. “Dry skin benefits from emollients such as shea butter, ceramides and fatty acids”, explains Paula Begoun, founder of skincare brand Paula’s Choice. “Gentle yet thorough cleansing and daily use of antioxidant-rich products are key,” Begoun explains. Dry skin needs a cleanser that won’t further strip away natural oils. Skincare blogger Caroline Hirons created Double Cleanse for Pixi (£24), comprising a balm that ‘melts off’ make-up and a cleansing cream formula packed with omegas. Feed your skin with Superfood Facial Oil, £45, Elemis, infused with broccoli and flax, then in mornings and evenings use Advanced Ceramide Capsules, £39, Elizabeth Arden, to hydrate and smooth the eye area. 

In terms of moisturisers, switch to a richer – but not necessarily heavier – cream such as Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream (£24.50), or for a more purse-friendly option, try The Ordinary’s Squalane serum (£5.50). Plant-based squalane possesses similar properties to the skin’s natural oils, meaning that your skin will drink it up. Follow this with Origins new GinZing Ultra- Hydrating Energy-Boosting Cream (£25), which is packed with panax ginseng and arabica coffee to help quench and wake up dry skin.

Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin lacks water, so may feel ‘crepey’ or overproduce sebum to ‘hydrate’ itself. Overcompensating by using a moisturiser that’s too rich leads to breakouts, with dead cells clogging pores and trapping sebum. Regular exfoliation will allow hydrating ingredients to penetrate better; a gentle chemical formula rather than a harsh, gritty one is best. Look out for products containing lactic acid, which is hydrating and exfoliating; one good example is AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser, £35, Murad. Next, the aim is to fix water within the upper skin layers. “There’s no need to use a rich cream,” says Dr Delvingne. Lotions suit dehydrated skin best. Scour the beauty aisles for hyaluronic acid in the ingredients – a natural acid present in the body that holds 1,000 times its weight in water.

Serums are dehydrated skin’s best friends. The sodium hyaluronate in Bobbi Brown’s Skin Moisture Solution – Intense Rehydration Compound (£29.50) works like a magnet, pulling moisture from your environment deep down into the layers of skin that need it most, or try Fresh Jelly Lotion, £24 from Shiseido’s sister line, Waso, infused with shiro-kikurage (white jelly mushroom), which is an epic hydrator, almost like a sponge in the way it holds water. It also contains glycerin, a humectant that traps moisture, instantly re-plumping deflated skin. Protecting your skin’s natural barrier will also help maintain moisture levels. Decléor’s Hydra Floral Anti- Pollution Hydrating Fluid (£42.50) harnesses the power of moringa, a rich antioxidant that fights against daily aggressors such as pollution. 

Finally, dehydration brings with it a flurry of fine lines, which can be plumped up, unlike deep-set wrinkles. The ultimate treatment comes in the form of Hydraskin Eye Gel Cream, £30, Darphin. This lightweight formula hydrates, de-puffs and dimishes dark circles. 

Return of the mask