It’s time to get the red out.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2016 issue of SELF.
Last winter, after skiing in subzero temperatures for several hours, I looked in the mirror and was horrified to discover bright red streaks on the slivers of skin where my face mask had slipped down. It wasn’t sunburn or windburn—but it wasn’t the healthy glow of Lindsey Vonn after a successful run, either. This was an unnerving “Do I need to go to the hospital?” scarlet.
Once inside, my complexion eventually calmed to a less alarming pink. My problem, it turned out, was run-of-the-mill seasonal redness (albeit an intense version, thanks to inclement weather). But a flushed face isn’t just about appearance; it can also be a sign of distress. “Redness is the skin’s red flag,” explains Dennis Gross, M.D., a dermatologist in New York City. “It says something’s wrong.”
This time of year, redness is almost inescapable, even if you’re not one of the 16 million Americans with rosacea. Dryness and temperature extremes conspire to turn your face into a flaky, ruddy mess. Then there’s the holiday-party-season factor: Spicy foods and alcohol can cause increased facial flushing. Another common trigger? Working out. “Exercising, especially in extreme heat or cold, makes redness worse,” says Elizabeth Hale, M.D., a dermatologist in NYC.
Any of these factors can trigger a cycle that ultimately affects your skin’s ability to protect itself. “Skin is our barrier to the outside world,” Dr. Hale says. “In the winter, our skin tends to be drier, so it’s also much more sensitive.”
That explains why ingredients that normally play well with your skin—retinoids and alpha hydroxy acids, but also acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid—may cause your complexion to flare up come winter. “You’re more prone to irritation from products that might not otherwise give you a problem,” Dr. Gross says. (A note for those with darker skin: Just because you can’t see redness doesn’t mean the effects aren’t there. Tightness, loss of radiance and discomfort are other signs that your skin is stressed.)
Since you’re not going to sit inside all winter long, prevention is the key to halting dryness and redness.
1. Start by switching to a mild facial cleanser such as Olay Foaming Face Wash for Sensitive Skin ($5), and avoid hot water.
2. Look for thicker moisturizers with ingredients like ceramides, which mimic the skin’s natural lipid barrier, and hyaluronic acid, which locks water in. Burt’s Bees Sensitive Night Cream ($15) soothes with aloe, while SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel ($62) hydrates and calms inflammation.
3. Protection against the elements, of course, is essential. Ski masks and goggles can prevent windburn as well as sun exposure, and sunscreen is necessary even in the winter. Try Philosophy Ultimate Miracle Worker SPF 30 ($28).
4. Antioxidants such as vitamin C and ferulic acid help repair skin, and to help them absorb better, exfoliation is a must. Dr. Gross’s new Alpha Beta Ultra Gentle Daily Peel for Sensitive Skin ($88) uses alpha hydroxy acids in levels that won’t exacerbate redness.
Now, I’m much better prepared for this winter’s ski trip to Telluride: I’ve got my thick face cream, SPF 30, and a new wrap-around ski mask. After the last run of the day, I plan on having a healthy glow—the kind that doesn’t need any covering up.