Winter Dry Skin - What is it?

Posted by Dr. Natasha Ryz on

'Winter dry skin' is dry skin that develops during the cold winter season.

Winter dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like fine lines, surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

Dry skin during winter is common in Canada and cold climates.

This article will discuss:

    • What is winter dry skin?
    • Winter dry skin is dehydrated
    • Winter dry skin has less lipids
      • Summary
      • References
    Dry Skin During Winter

    What is winter dry skin?

    'Winter dry skin' is dry skin that develops during the cold winter season.

    Winter dry skin can have a wide spectrum of symptoms - from mild dryness and flaking to severe itching, redness and pain.

    Symptoms of dry skin during winter include:

    • Loss of skin elasticity
    • Skin feels tight, dehydrated
    • Skin appears dull, rough and blotchy
    • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
    • Fine lines and wrinkles are more pronounced
    • May have irritation and a burning sensation
    • May have itching

    Winter dry skin has been reported to involve scaling, defects in water holding and barrier functions, and decreased lipid levels in the stratum corneum (Ishikawa et al, 2013).

    Dry Skin During Winter

    Winter dry skin is dehydrated

    Dry winter skin has a lack of water.

    Daily insults from the environment, such as low humidity, wind, and sun, can lower the skin's water content, causing improper desquamation and the appearance of dry, flaky skin (Verdier-Sévrain et al, 2007).

    Water is essential for the normal functioning of the skin. 

    The water content of skin is remarkably high - the epidermis (the outer skin layer) contains more than 70% water, while its outermost layer, the stratum corneum has been shown to contain ~15 - 25% water (Warner et al, 1988; Caspers et al, 2001; Caspers et al, 2003).

    When the water content of the stratum corneum falls below 10%, scaling on the skin surface becomes visible (Rycroft, 1985).

    If the skin water content falls below a critical level, normal cell turnover is impaired, leading to skin cells sticking and building up on the skin surface (Verdier-Sévrain et al, 2007). 

    These changes lead to the visible appearance of dryness, roughness, scaling, and flaking (Verdier-Sévrain et al, 2007).

    Studies have shown a drop in transepidermal water loss (TEWL) (a measure of the integrity of the skin's barrier function) with low humidity, as well as alterations in the water content in the stratum corneum, decreased skin elasticity and increased roughness (Goad et al, 2016).

    A study on dry facial skin found a higher dryness score with low temperatures, high wind speed and low humidity (Cooper et al, 1992) and as little as 15 min of cold and dry air has been proven to significantly decrease skin hydration (Roure et al, 2012).

    These data suggest that a reduction in temperature leads to a decrease in skin hydration and transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and that this effect is stronger when relative humidity is low (Cooper et al, 1992; Roure et al, 2012). 

      Your dry winter skin is lacking lipids - Dry Skin During Winter

      Winter dry skin has less lipids

      The surface of your skin is covered by a layer of protective fats, including epidermal lipids and sebum.

      Epidermal lipids include:

      • Ceramides
      • Free Fatty Acids
      • Cholesterol

      These lipids are released from skin cells and fill the spaces between the cells, like mortar or cement (Pappas, 2009).

      Sebum is made of:

      • Triglycerides
      • Wax esters
      • Squalene

      Sebum is an oily, waxy substance produced by your body’s sebaceous glands and eventually released to the surface of the skin. Sebum coats the skin, seals in moisture, and protects your skin from getting too dry (Pappas, 2009). 

      Lower lipid levels in the stratum corneum have been reported in winter dry skin (Akimoto et al, 1993; Rawlings et al, 1994; Rogers et al, 1996).

      In a study with healthy women, aged 21-60 years, there was a pronounced seasonal decline in all the lipid levels from summer to spring and winter (Rogers et al, 1996).

      There was a 20% decrease in ceramide 1 linoleate levels in leg samples in winter compared with summer (Rogers et al, 1996).

      The reduction in lipid levels may in turn reduce the water content of the stratum corneum. This may influence the activity of the stratum corneum enzymes involved in cell shedding and will interfere with the generation of natural moisturizing factors, leaving the skin prone to dryness (Rogers et al, 1996).

        Dry Skin During Winter


        Winter weather is harsh on your skin.

        'Winter dry skin' is dry skin that develops during the cold winter season.

        Winter dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like fine lines, surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

        Winter dry skin is lacking water, humectants and fats. Humectants absorb and hold water, while fats coat the skin and seal in moisture. When there is not enough water, humectants or fats, skin barrier disruption can occur, further worsening symptoms of dry skin.

        Winter dry skin is common in Canada and cold climates.

        It is important to protect your skin against winter weather.

          How are you protecting your winter dry skin?


          Dry Skin Love 3 Face Oils to nourish, brighten and protect your winter dry skin


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          Author Information

          Dr. Natasha Ryz, Scientist and Founder of Dry Skin Love Skincare

          Dr. Natasha Ryz is a scientist, skin care expert and an entrepreneur. She is the founder of Dry Skin Love Skincare, and she creates skincare products for beauty, dry skin and pain relief.

          Dr. Ryz has a PhD in Experimental Medicine from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and she is a Vanier scholar. She also holds a Master of Science degree and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

          Natasha is the former Chief Science Officer of Zenabis Global, and she oversaw extraction, analytics, and product development. Her team brought 20 products to market including oils, sprays, vapes and softgels.

          Why I Started A Skincare Company

          Twitter: @tashryz
          Instagram: @tash.ryz
          LinkedIn: @natasharyz

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