Updated 11/24/21. A damaged moisture barrier is the root cause of so many winter skin woes, including dryness, dehydration, tightness, and sensitivity. While there are a number of ways to correct it, using gentle and supportive skincare products is key. When you use skincare products that are too harsh or stripping, they only compromise your barrier further, making it really difficult for your skin to retain water. As we transition to winter, this is only exacerbated by the cold and lack of moisture in the air. So, in an effort to keep you educated on how to best care for your skin, here are my top ten product recommendations to maintain your moisture barrier this winter—no matter your skin type.
My Top 10 Favorite Winter Skincare Products
1. Moisture Protecting Cleanser
When people try to fix a problem with their skin, they often turn to expensive serums with potent active ingredients. While these certainly have their place, oftentimes, switching out the type of cleanser you use can make a world of difference. Many people are surprised by this. They think cleanser doesn’t matter since it’s just being rinsed off anyway. But think of it this way—cleansing is the very first step of your routine, so it sets the tone for everything else you do. If done incorrectly (i.e. using something too harsh or stripping), it can negatively affect the performance of the rest of your products by causing surface dehydration.
To prevent this, look for a high-quality cleanser that’s sulfate-free and low-foaming (the more lather, the higher the risk of stripping your skin). I love Moisture Protecting Cleanser because its unique gel-to-milk formula is extremely gentle and coddles damaged and dehydrated skin.
2. Vitamin-Infused Cleansing Emulsion
I recommend using a gel cleanser in the morning and a cleansing lotion at night. This is because a gel removes excess oil and primes the skin for protective daytime products like antioxidant serum and sunscreen. Cleansing lotions, on the other hand, dissolve away dirt and makeup that accumulates on your skin throughout the day. They provide a truly comforting cleansing experience during colder months and leave the skin feeling plump with a cushion of moisture.
When it comes to a cleansing lotion, I recommend the Vitamin-Infused Cleansing Emulsion. Massage it onto dry skin before emulsifying it with water. Then wipe your skin with a damp washcloth or sponge to ensure proper removal. You can always follow up with a gel cleanser afterward, for a second cleanse. From there, it’s on to the next step in your skincare routine, whether that’s toner, serum, moisturizer, or all three.
3. Moisture Infusion Toner
Readers of my blog already know I consider an alcohol-free toner to be essential to any skincare routine, so this product should come as no surprise! I love recommending the Moisture Infusion Toner to anyone in need of extra hydration. Whether your skin is dry, oily, or anywhere in between, your skin cells need water-based hydration to function properly—this toner provides just that. It’s silky and lightweight and it can remove drying salts and chlorines leftover from tap water.
If you’re feeling really dehydrated, you can layer this toner. Start by applying it onto a toning cloth and wiping the product all over your face. Then, apply a quarter-sized amount of toner into your palm and press it into the skin until there’s nothing left in your hands. Repeat this two to three times as needed, then immediately follow with a hydrating serum. (By the way, you should always apply your next skincare product within 60 seconds of cleansing. I call this the Golden Minute Rule. It prevents transepidermal water loss or TEWL from occurring in the skin.)
4. Exfoliating Acid Serum
While most of us can get away with being a little lax about acid exfoliation during the summer, winter is not the time to neglect this important step. Dry air—both indoors and out—leads to an increased buildup of dead cells on the surface of the skin. Not only does this make the skin look dull, but it also perpetuates the cycle of dryness and dehydration that plagues so many of us this time of year. This is because moisturizing products may not be able to penetrate through that layer of dead skin cells, so your skin isn’t actually getting much hydration. To break this cycle and keep skin looking (and feeling!) dewy and fresh, I suggest using an exfoliating acid serum three nights a week. Which serum you use will depend on your skin type. Take the Skin Type Quiz to get a personalized recommendation!
5. Mint Buffing Beads
Speaking of exfoliants, a facial scrub is another really effective winter skincare product. It ensures you’re sloughing off all those dry skin cells that build up so quickly this time of year. While acid exfoliators dissolve and digest the “glue” that keeps these cells attached to the skin’s surface, a facial scrub can physically lift them away. This leaves the skin looking smoother and brighter. Plus, it primes it to fully absorb any moisturizing products you apply afterward. Using both a chemical and physical exfoliator in your routine is definitely the best way to manage dryness and flaking as we head into winter.
I recommend the Mint Buffing Beads. This product uses perfectly round natural jojoba beads, which roll across the skin to polish away dead skin cells. It’s gentle and effective, unlike other facial scrubs which use harsh and uneven particles that can irritate the skin.
6. Vitamin C&E Treatment
A lot of people think of vitamin C as a summer skincare ingredient. However, I highly recommend using it throughout the year since it can boost your skin’s defenses against harmful free radicals. The Vitamin C&E Treatment is also a favorite winter product of mine because of its lightweight yet hydrating formula. This makes it perfect for all skin types, even those who are sensitive! We use a fat-soluble form of vitamin C that’s more stable than its traditional, water-based counterparts. This means it won’t sting the skin if you’re struggling with dryness or sensitivity in winter. Another benefit of this product is that it’s incredibly brightening, which I know we can all use an extra dose of this time of year!
7. Total Eye Repair Creme
Eye creams are essential for hydrating the thin, delicate skin around the eyes. Because there are so few glands and lipids in this area, your skin can’t hang on to moisture very well. That said, you never want to use anything too heavy or greasy around the eye area since it can lead to excess puffiness, irritation, and even premature wrinkles!
I love using the Total Eye Repair Creme. It strikes that perfect balance of plumping and hydrating without being too occlusive. As humidity drops and the heat kicks on, people tend to notice a visible difference in the eye area. Dehydration causes crepey skin and fine lines to look more pronounced. Thankfully, this condition is temporary, and you can easily fix it by using a well-formulated eye cream. It’s a true fast fix.
8. Pure Radiance Creme Masque
When you’re in need of a reset, nothing will moisturize your skin faster than an at-home facial. I always recommend starting with an exfoliating product to remove dead skin cell buildup and allow the following products to work more effectively. After that, go in with a hydrating mask to plump and nourish those fresh new cells.
I love the Pure Radiance Creme Masque. It’s amazing for dry skin, as it’s formulated with a blend of bioactive, lipid-rich oils. (Note: If you have oily, breakout-prone skin, this mask may be too rich for you. In this case, I suggest the Renée Rouleau Rapid Response Detox Masque instead. Leave it on for twenty minutes to quench thirsty skin.)
9. Phytolipid Comfort Creme
This is the richest cream in my line, and it’s great for dry winter skin. If you have a dry skin type that doesn’t produce enough oil, use it in your daily routine to build up lipids in your skin. If you have oily or breakout-prone skin, this product will probably be too heavy for you to use on a regular basis. But if your barrier is damaged, I suggest using it a few nights a week until hydration levels in your skin are restored, then switching back to a more suitable moisturizer like Renée Rouleau Sheer Moisture Lotion. Since the Phytolipid Comfort Creme is fragrance-free, it’s great for skin that’s experiencing slight itchiness or irritation in the winter.
10. Pro Remedy Oil
What I love about face oil is that you can easily incorporate it into your routine whenever you feel like your skin needs it. For example, if you have a moisturizer that you like, but you feel like you need an extra boost of moisture, you can simply add a few drops of face oil over top. I use Pro Remedy Oil to do this. It’s a lightweight and non-comedogenic blend of oils that’s suitable for all skin types. (Make sure you know how to properly use face oil.)
You can also shop the brand new Barrier Restoring Kit. It bundles the Pro Remedy Oil, Moisture Infusion Toner, and Pure Radiance Creme Masque together. They’re my go-to winter skincare recommendations for when your moisture barrier is damaged and you need to fix it fast!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”