How to Care for Winter Skin

Red-carpet facialist Joanna Vargas shares her tips for a lit-from-within glow come sleet or snow.



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I HAVE ALWAYS had a love-hate relationship with winter. What I love about winter: being cozy by a warm fire, watching my kids play outside when it snows, and listening to the quiet crunch of the snow under my boots when out on an evening walk with my dog. What I hate about winter: the dry, itchy skin that everyone complains about when they come into my salon. After doing facials for over 20 years, I have observed a thing or two about people’s seasonal habits. I’m confident that, with a little guidance, you can transform dry winter skin and remain glowing all winter long.

Before we get into the skin-care routine of your dreams, let’s talk about some other simple things that can help your skin tremendously. Even though the cold might make you feel like you need to hibernate, eat nothing but high-salt, high-gluten food, and chill out, none of that will actually wind up making the body grateful. As you get older, this form of reset can be challenging for your body. Foods with too much salt or gluten can cause inflammation in the body. Additionally, hard-to-digest foods can lead to a breakout or cause reactive, patchy, or dry skin. I would propose instead incorporating healing foods into your diet, ones that benefit every aspect of our health and wellness. For example, bone broth as a supplement to a healthy diet is awesome for digestion, immunity, and gut health in general. Also, adding some probiotics to your morning smoothie not only helps your skin, but also improves your body’s natural line of defense. I also personally love adding ginger-turmeric matcha into my daily routine. I am obsessed with it. Not only is it good for inflammation, thanks to the turmeric, but also for the immune system, thanks to the ginger, and it helps give my skin and body an antioxidant/energy boost when I start to lose steam in the late afternoon.



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Tending to the mind and spirit is also important: start thinking about the activities that bring us comfort. A stimulating conversation with a dear friend you haven’t seen in a while, or a totally electronics-free moment of enjoyment with your family. Simple things — the fun of a family puzzle or game, the challenge of creating a beautiful scarf or blanket after your mom or grandma taught you how to knit (I love this DIY kit from Loopy Mango) — can prove deeply meaningful and vital to your overall well-being.

Another honorable mention for your healthy skin-care routine is to simply keep the body moving. Winter is a struggle for many of us because it’s harder to stay active and positive when the days are cold and short, with darkness falling before we even leave the office. I strongly suggest staying active in some way as a means of keeping your spirits up and to help stimulate a natural, healthy glow. Nothing makes me feel more beautiful than knowing I’ve done something special for myself each day, even if it’s something simple. Personally, I know of no better cure than a good, brisk evening walk with a perfect soundtrack.

Now let’s talk about skin. That’s what you’re waiting for, right? The skin’s primary function is protecting the body against the environment. It’s honestly a beautiful machine. It helps regulate your body temperature, it prevents loss of moisture, it’s a sensory organ, and it acts as an immunity defense too, all while making us look soft, plump, and (hopefully) healthy. I have spent my entire career as an esthetician admiring everything our skin does for us.

While sensitive skin types will experience the effects of a compromised skin barrier more easily, the lack of moisture in the environment makes all of us feel the effects of a compromised outer layer pretty quickly. The best way to address winter skin is to look at the way we dress and apply that same philosophy to the skin. Winter is a time for layering. Knowing that we will be affected by the cold weather, we get dressed in the morning with a T-shirt, then a long sleeve, adding on a sweater, and finishing with a coat, hat, and gloves. If your skin is feeling itchy, dry, or looking red, you have a compromised barrier layer. I would address this issue with layers as well. I love building a skin-care routine for my clients and I always, always recommend layering. Looking for that one magic ingredient or magic cream is a pretty old-school way of thinking. Building the right steps, or adding layers into your skin-care routine, is essential.


Layer your skin care from lightest to heaviest, paying close attention to the three layers that will help reduce inflammation, restore the texture, and generally balance the skin. Of course, always regularly cleanse the skin, both at morning and night. I like using a cleanser that is, above all else, soothing (my own Cloud Bar is great for this).

Next, apply the first layer of product to the skin’s surface. I would choose a humectant with hyaluronic acid serum, such as my own Eden Serum or Deliverance Serum by Dieux. Humectants are great in the summer months on their own because they are lightweight and add moisture to the skin without clogging the pores. In winter they still add much needed moisture, but you can’t simply stop there. Step two of this process should involve an emollient. Emollients are substances that help soothe and soften the skin while improving the skin’s barrier function. Plant oils are great here, and you will instantly feel your skin breathe a sigh of relief after applying them. These substances are calming and they help hold in hydration, so you won’t feel your skin is losing water throughout the day. Products like my own Rescue Serum or this Active Botanical Serum by Vintner’s Daughter are both great options.

Your final step (before applying sunscreen of course) would be to use an occlusive. You need something that goes over the other layers in your skin care that will hold the moisture in and keep the environmental stressors away. Products by Aquaphor, Skinfix, Dr.Jart+ — as well as my own Eden Hydrating Pro Moisturizer — are great for this. Our skin craves balance, just as we do as human beings. With the right elements, it will behave like a well-oiled machine. A balanced routine, along with a balanced life, will bring you a lifetime of healthy, glowing skin.

Our Contributors

Joanna Vargas Writer

Joanna Vargas is a facialist and skin-care expert. Known for her powerfully refining and reshaping facials offered at her signature New York City and Los Angeles salons, she also has a line of products that reflect her unique combination of technique, technology, and all-natural ingredients formulated to beautify.

Vicki Ling Illustrator

Vicki Ling is a freelance illustrator currently based in New Orleans. Her clients include the New York Times, AFAR magazine, Morningstar Magazine, Trix Magazine, Warner Music, and the Swatch Group, among others.


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