Winter Skin Care Guide

image of logs covered in snow with heavy texture

As colder temperatures descend on us for the fall and winter months—the dry air, freezing wind, and constant exposure to indoor heaters all take their toll on our skin. If you’re feeling dried out, flakey, and irritated, it’s not just those winter blues getting you down. Your skin is crying out for some extra tender loving care, and we’re here to help. As the largest and most porous organ of the body, your skin absorbs everything you put on it, so show it some natural love using essential oils. 

All About That Skin Barrier

Just like our closets, our skin care routines need to be adjusted seasonally, most of all for those frigid temperatures. The dry air and cold climate have a way of sucking moisture from the skin and stripping the oils it needs to maintain a healthy skin barrier function. This critical function is not only responsible for keeping water in your body, it also keeps everything else out of your body—from bacteria and fungi, to allergens and environmental toxins. Dry skin, acne, eczema, and sensitivity (just to name a few) are all signs of a damaged skin barrier.

The good news is that the skin is adaptive and can respond to the right care and treatment. Studies have shown that plant oils are particularly effective at repairing skin barrier issues, and the anti-inflammatory properties of many common carrier oils will go a long way to promoting healthy skin. While it’s important to take good care of skin year-round, the unique conditions of the winter season require that extra attention is taken to preserve glowing and healthy skin.

Humectants, Emollients, and Occlusives, Oh My!

When it comes to cold weather skin regimens, the name of the game is keeping skin hydrated. In general, it’s time to transition to more gentle cleansers and start using richer moisturizers. While a light lotion might be enough in the summertime, particularly in humid areas, skin often requires something more substantial for the winter months. What does that mean specifically? Opt for a formula high in emollients and occlusive compounds, not just humectants

Okay, those were a lot of big words, but in layman’s terms: humectants refer to low molecular weight substances that extract water from the air and put it back into the skin, like glycerin or salicylic acid (two common ingredients found in lightweight moisturizers). In other words, they are like magnets that attract water—which is great in theory, but not quite enough in dry seasons when there is less moisture to pull from the air. Conversely, emollients refer to fatty substances that fill in the “gaps” of a damaged skin barrier and directly hydrate skin, while occlusives are oils and waxes that form a layer on the skin to physically block moisture from escaping. The best moisturizers contain a balance of all three—but when environmental humidity is low, like in the winter, emollients and occlusives are extra important.

DIY Winter Balm Recipe

If that’s still too much, here is a simple answer and all you need to know: many carrier oils act as both an emollient and occlusive, making them the perfect addition to winter skin care routines. Here’s how to make your own moisturizer at home:


  • Medium saucepan
  • Glass bowl
  • Eye dropper
  • Hand mixer
  • Mason jar or container to store balm. 


  • 1 cup coconut oil (or alternative carrier oil if acne is a concern)
  • 1 cup solid cocoa butter
  • 15 drops of preferred essential oil


  • Warm a saucepan over medium heat, add carrier oil and cocoa butter. Allow to melt completely, 4-5 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. 
  • Pour mixture into a glass bowl and place in refrigerator. Allow mixture to cool until set, but not hardened, roughly 30-45 minutes.
  • Gently stir in essential oil(s). Use a hand mixer to whip mixture until firm peaks form, generally in about 10 minutes. 
  • Transfer balm to sanitized container, boiling will do the trick!

Store mixture at room temperature. Massage as needed into dry skin, ideally post-shower and before bed. Use enough to leave the skin feeling hydrated, which will likely be more than the summer months. Keep in mind that the carrier oil and cocoa butter are meant to combat general winter dryness, while the essential oils add fragrance and can be used to address specific skin concerns.

Essential Oils for the Skin

When it comes to selecting the best essential oil for skincare, the many blog posts and Pinterest graphics can be overwhelming—in part because different oils are better suited to different tasks. Don’t worry though, there’s a reason commercial skin products often contain essential oils, and that’s because research has shown they really can be beneficial when used appropriately. While by no means exhaustive, here are some of the best essential oils for winter skincare:

Lavender: One of the most versatile and thoroughly studied essential oils, Lavender Essential Oil is a skincare favorite thanks to its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal properties. It’s great for treating a wide range of skin concerns, from acne and eczema, to scars and psoriasis. And as an added bonus? Its scent has known relaxing properties, and will help keep potential pests at bay. 

Chamomile: Like lavender, chamomile is particularly good for treating skin dryness and conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis, and provides a safe alternative to topical steroids like hydrocortisone, which can thin the skin with prolonged use. Particularly when skin concerns are caused by allergens (as is often the case with itchiness or bug bites), Chamomile Essential Oil’s histamine-reducing properties can provide relief. 

Bergaptene-Free Bergamot Oil: Berga-what? A common by-product of citrus-based products, bergapten is a form of furanocoumarin, a naturally occurring plant chemical that can produce chemical burns and skin discoloration when exposed to UV rays. In other words, it’s the main culprit behind the photosensitivity risks of many citrus essential oils—which otherwise tout many great benefits for the skin. Bergaptene-Free Bergamot Oil is a great alternative to leverage the anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and skin-evening benefits of citrus oils, without the risk. 

Of course, when a product contains ingredients that already include the carrier and essential oils you need, there’s no rule that says you have to make a DIY winter moisturizer. Feel free to keep it simple with natural blends like Restore Face Oil, which already include rosehip oil, evening primrose oil, Turkish Rose Otto, and other ingredients high in Vitamins A, C, and E.  

Keep in mind that with any essential oil, it’s always important to research potential side effects and do a patch test to make sure irritation does not occur. No oil is one size fits all, and most natural compounds will cause an allergic reaction in some portion (albeit tiny) of the population. Use any new oils lightly for the first three days to test for possible allergies. 

What About Cleansing and Exfoliation? 

Ahh yes, few things sound better in the depth of winter than a long and very hot bubble bath—but not too fast, as both bubbles and hot water will exasperate dry and flakey winter skin. Surfactants, like sodium lauryl sulfate, are ingredients added to many skincare cleansers to produce foaming effects. To be frank, we don’t recommend them any time of year thanks to their short-term drying and irritating effects on the skin, but they are especially devastating for the skin come winter. Less is more, and it’s better to opt for cleansing creams, balms, and oils instead, which are less likely to disrupt the skin barrier. Same goes for that piping hot shower, which can strip the skin of its natural moisture. If possible, take brief lukewarm showers instead, and apply lotion as soon as possible to lock in moisture.

Wondering how to keep skin clean and fresh, then? Exfoliation is still a go, as it’s an important way to help remove dead skin cells and environmental dust and irritants accumulated from dry winter air. However, many people exfoliate too frequently, even in the summer, which can disrupt the skin barrier and lead to dryness and irritation. Try to exfoliate no more than once or twice a week. For a gentle scrub that will keep winter skin clean without drying it out, try the recipe below.

DIY Coffee Scrub


  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup used coffee grounds
  • 1/4 cup of preferred carrier oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 15 drops of preferred essential oil(s)

Blend all ingredients together and store in a cool, dry place. Massage into damp skin as needed and rinse. Moisturize shortly after application to prevent dryness and irritation.

Keep It Simple

If there’s one thing you take away regarding your winter skin care routine, it should be this: moisturize, moisturize, moisturize! It can be easy to overcomplicate personal care, but at the end of the day, our bodies are pretty well-equipped to self-regulate and regenerate. When things get out of balance, symptoms like dry skin and irritation are just signposts that our bodies need some extra attention. There is no better way to give ourselves (and our skin!) the love we deserve than through the many benefits of essential oils and other natural ingredients!

Categories: Essential Oils

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