Give your skin-care routine a winter makeover

Cristina Bolling
Charlotte Observer

Besides being the season of resolutions and fresh starts, now is the perfect month to revamp a skin-care routine. Dry, heated air leads to dull, flaky skin, and the summer glow is long gone. If you’ve been slathering on the same products year after year and are craving a change-up, read on.

Figure out your goal. If your issues are minimal — your skin is dry or you have the occasional mild acne breakout — then there’s nothing wrong with reading up on product reviews and trying your luck with over-the-counter products. Within two to three weeks, you should know if the products are working, said Dr. Elizabeth Rostan, a board-certified dermatologist at Charlotte Skin and Laser

People with headier goals — banishing severe sun damage or reducing wrinkles — may want to save themselves time and money searching for the perfect products by visiting a dermatologist or licensed medical aesthetician who can pinpoint exactly what procedures and products will help.

“You have to be very clear about what your goal is. Sometimes you may have expectations that may not match up with what a product can do,” said Dr. Brooke Jackson, a practicing dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill.

“If you are 50 or 60 and have never done a thing for your skin, you cannot look at a jar of moisturizer and think that it’s going to do anything for you. The more you need, the greater the likelihood that you’re going to have to involve some procedures.”

“What works for your co-worker or your sister may not work for you,” Jackson said. “You have to have that same open-mindedness with your skin products.”

Build your routine around your lifestyle, but consider adding some new steps. Busy moms or women with heavy work schedules may not have time to fiddle with a 10-step program every night, but there are some components every woman should have in her skin-care arsenal. A mild facial cleanser is one (don’t overspend here, the experts agreed, as the product only stays on your face for seconds), as well as an all-over moisturizer. Consider choosing two moisturizers — one lighter for warmer, more humid months, and a thicker one for cold, dry seasons.

Also consider using retinols and topical antioxidants if you don’t already, Rostan says. Retinols are sold over the counter to combat problems such as acne and wrinkles (retinoids, available only by prescription such as Retin-A, are much more highly concentrated), while antioxidants are preventive medicine, fighting free radicals or damage-causing molecules that age the skin. And peptides and growth factors, used to stimulate collagen production and promote tissue repair, can also be helpful tools for women to add to their skin-care routines, Rostan said.

The trick, though, is purchasing them through a source you trust, Rostan says. The formulation must be chemically stable in the bottle and penetrate the skin in order to be effective. So even though a product says it contains a certain ingredient, that doesn’t mean the ingredient will be active in your skin.

Don’t worry about being brand loyal. Many skin-care companies urge customers to buy an entire line, saying that the products build on each other. That’s usually not true, our experts said. “It’s a marketer’s dream,” says Jackson. “It’s certainly OK to cross the aisle and mix it up a little. Don’t feel afraid to cross-pollinate.”

Rostan did offer one caveat, though. If you’ve got a specific skin-care goal, such as reducing hyperpigmentation or banishing acne, it’s best to use all the products in the regimen aimed at that particular goal, “at least for the prescribed amount of time,” she said.

Spend wisely. Be wary of high-priced skin-care products that don’t come with a licensed practitioner’s supervision or are sold on an automatic-refill basis, the experts agreed.

Direct-sales skin-care lines are booming, but Rostan says customers should remember that the companies are “recruiting people who don’t have a background in skin. That doesn’t mean these products are bad, but they might not be best informed about skin care.”

The biggest bangs for your skin-care bucks are usually medical procedures such as chemical peels or laser treatments that produce quick results, which are often sustainable if followed up with proper skin care.

After that, products with a chemical component that are going to stay on your skin the longest, such as retinols that will be applied at night and sink in until morning, should be your biggest expenses.

“I see women who only use Vaseline on their skin, or Dove soap, and their skin is perfect. I tell them, ‘Don’t change anything,’” Green says. “But not everybody can do that. The majority of us need a little help.”

Spending $150 on a Clarisonic electronic facial scrubber is fine, Jackson says, “but if your budget is tight and you have $150, I would much rather you buy your tube of retinoid, which is going to last you three or four months, than the Clarisonic.”

Embrace change. “I tell people you should reevaluate your skin routine every time there’s a zero (in your age). ... I meet so many patients who use the same things as they did when they were 15,” Jackson said. “Every time there’s a zero behind your number, your skin is going to dry out a little bit.”

Of course, big changes that affect a woman’s hormones, like having a baby or entering menopause, require a reassessment of a skin-care regimen. But so do changes like moving to a new climate or starting an aggressive new exercise schedule.

Licensed medical aesthetician Rhonda Green said clients who do hot yoga often deal with drier skin, and Jackson says even a job, such as one that requires the use of face masks, can cause breakouts and other issues that require more help.

Use sunscreen daily. If smoothing on sunscreen isn’t already in your daily routine, make it the first skin-care change you make in 2015, all of our experts said. Many moisturizers come with built-in SPF, which should be enough during winter months when most time is spent indoors. During warm-weather months, when the days are longer and the sun is stronger, a dedicated sunscreen is a must, preferably one with zinc and titanium that are non-chemical sunblocks, Rostan said.