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My go-to serums, balms, and creams are up to 40 percent off.
When New York City’s aggressively chilly winter weather starts to rear its ugly head, I don’t worry about what to wear. I have a puffer coat ready to go, thick cozy sweaters on lock, and waterproofed boots prepped for slush puddles. Instead, my number one winter stressor is my skin. Even on a bright summer day, it feels tight and blotchy, but come summer, I’m drier than the Sahara, no doubt due to 15 years cycling between three rounds of Accutane and countless prescription topicals filled with powerful actives that suck out every ounce of hydration and the good kind of oil my skin has. If left unchecked, I’m almost certain I would turn into a reptile, scales and all. If you can’t relate, you have steel fortress-level skin, but I need to call in the big power player and my BFFs, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin.
My saving grace? A collection of powerful, hydrating serums that do not mess around. After much trial and error — years of anxiety and lots of kissing skincare frots — I found my all-time favorite serums to prevent dehydrated, frozen winter skin. My dry, sensitive, and reactive skin (a very glam trio) instantly slurps up the active formulas without feeling sticky or tacky while also ensuring a neutral, if not ideal, base for makeup. Not to be dramatic, but these serums and slick balms are my winter hail marys that save my face from ruinous winter misery.
Shop the Best Hydrating Serums and Balms:
Cosmedix Rescue Intense Hydrating Balm
Despite not (yet) being a household name, the entire range of clinical-grade skincare from Cosmedix are just next-level great. When my skin is at its wintery worst and I can start to feel like I’ll break out into alligator scales any second, this is the intensely rich balm-mask hybrid I rely on to save the day. Packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and plant extracts, it’s the thickest, most nourishing hydrating balm on the planet, especially if your skin is as dry and sensitive as mine. I honestly can’t imagine surviving an East Coast winter without it. I slather this dense, balmy mask all over my face, neck and sometimes even hands, and then just to sleep and let it work its magic. I wake up and my skin looks so dewy, it’s almost like I slept on watery pillows. Although it's technically a mask, I use it more like a night cream and I am not ashamed.
111Skin Hyaluronic Acid Booster
The meat of every hydrating routine for hopelessly dry skin is a pure hyaluronic acid serum to flood the skin with nutrients. This one hydrates by penetrating deep down below the skin’s surface, increasing the skin’s overall water content and while it’s at it, it does us another solid by strengthening the skin barrier, too. I layer it on at least twice a day, and sometimes more if I’m skiing or spending a lot of time outdoors in ungodly frigid temperatures. It’s kind of like washing your hands — it’s always a good idea.
DHC Facial Cleansing Oil
In the dead of winter, I can’t even look at a cleanser that’s not an oil — or at least a consistency that’s thick and creamy. This DHC Cleansing Oil is an OG, and I start every morning and end every day with a wash that is as cleansing as it is nourishing. Naturally, an oil cleanser is very much one that is more hydrating than your average, but it’ll get your skin looking clean, feeling comfortable (no tautness here), and looking fresh. You can rest assured that this miracle oil-based formula will absolutely not strip your face. As a bonus, you can use it in the summer as the first step in a double-cleanse routine or as a makeup remover.
Avéne Cold Cream Concentrated Hand Cream
Although my face is my top priority, my hands are a close second. Cracked cuticles, white ashiness, and an overall unsexy-feeling texture, are all par for the course, and it takes an overindulgent hand cream (and lots of reapplication) to quench my skin completely. I don’t think I’ll ever have soft-soft hands during the winter, but I can’t bear to think about what they would look like without this ultra rich moisturizer that manages to fully and immediately eradicate my flaky bits and patches.
The Inkey List Oat Cleansing Balm
When my skin takes a turn for the worse into extremely dry territory, I need more help than the lightweight DHC Cleansing Oil can provide, and I need it fast. Cleansing balms are a bit polarizing, but for my dehydrated and uncomfortable-feeling skin, they works wonders. The Inkey List makes one of the best I’ve ever used (and I’ve tried a lot). It’s rich, waterless, and at first feels like you’re rubbing semi-soft butter into your pores, but as it responds to the skin’s warmth, it softens into a silky oil to rid the surface of impurities and makeup. And it’s not just me who says so: In a four-week clinical study from the brand, 95 percent of people said that their skin felt instantly hydrated, softer, and smoother.
Dr. Pawpaw Multipurpose Soothing Balm
When you’re not sure what the heck you need, but you know you need something, this beloved classic balm is a terrific option. The formula’s rockstar ingredient is fermented Pawpaw, which is the tropical fruit from the Carica papaya plant, and pawpaw has been known for centuries for its natural healing properties, especially for angry, eczema-prone skin. With aloe vera and olive oil, you have yourself an all-natural balm that can be used pretty much from head to toe (dry heels and thick calluses included), and even your hair flyaways — a true multi-purpose master. Similar to a lip balm, it wraps skin in a layer of protection to keep moisture within the skin barrier where it belongs. And I’ve honestly, never seen the original formula this cheap before, so I’m stocking up.
Zelens Lip Treatment Oil
One of the many unkind hallmark side effects of Accutane are dry lips — and we’re talking chapped lips that flake, crack, burn, and are filled with an irritated red flush. I’m still on my journey to get my lips back to neutral and this non-sticky lip oil has been my trusty sidekick for the last ten years (a lip mask is second). Founded by medical researcher Dr. Marko Lens, MD, who has been studying skin aging and skin cancers for more than 20 years, this recently relaunched brand is botanical-driven, science-backed, and extremely effective. Lens was also obsessed with clean, plant-based formulas before it was cool (we’re talking late ‘90s), and not one product is made with an animal-derived ingredient. I met with Dr. Lens when he first launched his brand in the U.S. in 2012 and I had an immediate love connection with this silky lip oil for the way it made my lips look (glossy) and feel (conditioned, smooth, and happy). Although I use it year-round, I never leave home without it from October to April (and once even turned around to go get it after forgetting to take it with me. I was 90 minutes into a drive to Pittsburgh.)
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