Guide to Dry Skin Care in Winter

balms vs lotions

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With the changing of the seasons and temperatures, you most likely have also noticed tight, dry skin. Unfortunately, that is normal and to be expected in the winter!

It is good to understand what causes this dryness, which can lead to uncomfortable chapping, cracking, and even bleeding fissures on the skin! Dry skin, be it on your face, hands, or any other part of your body, is a result of the reduction of water in the skin. The upper layers retain a regular amount of water but with constant exposure to drying conditions like cold and indoor heat, the water decreases, making the skin less supple. 

What are those drying conditions, you ask? Unfortunately, for us Canadians, the cold, long, and often harsh winters are the biggest culprit – along with everything we need to survive them, like heat! Hot showers can also dry you out; perhaps try taking warm showers this winter if you typically suffer from dry skin in the winter months. Frequent hand washing (much needed as winter is also cold & flu season) also contributes to those sandpaper hands.

Keep your skin hydrated, dewy and plump 

But I won’t be all doom-and-gloom with all this talk of dry skin and cold weather – let me offer you some delightful advice! After all, there is nothing more therapeutic than a little self care. Let’s talk about keeping your skin hydrated, dewy and plump. There’s a plethora of options, so let’s thoroughly examine those best suited to alleviate our winter birthday suits.    

Key ingredients to look for

  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin D
  • Shea butter
  • Cocoa butter
  • Aloe

Note that petroleum jelly did not make the list. Petroleum jelly, aka Vaseline, can create the illusion of moisturized, hydrated skin, while actually suffocating your pores! It's water-repellant and not water-soluble, meaning it merely makes a barrier so that moisture does not leave the skin. So while you might feel the instant gratification of softer skin, you're actually drying out your skin further by keeping out air and moisture. Plus, there are far better environmentally friendly and skin-nourishing options!

Back to the good ingredients: how do you want those delivered? You may have wondered at some point what the difference is between a balm and a cream/lotion, and which is more effective at moisturizing. Both are good options, but there are some key differences you may want to consider.


Balms tend to have a wax base (look for plant waxes or beeswax) and they offer the best protection for the skin; they are wonderful for healing surface layers of skin. Balms would provide you with the perfect barrier if you were spending time skiing, shoveling, or even walking outdoors during the winter months.

They can also be 100% organic, as they don’t contain any water or emulsifiers (making them much easier to formulate and preserve than lotions). However, oils and water don’t mix and your skin is actually a delicate balance of oil and water. It is actually beneficial to use a hydrosol prior to application to aid in the absorption of the balm – especially if they contain skin-loving therapeutic ingredients, like calendula, that would provide more benefits when penetrating deeper levels of the dermis.

Creams and lotions

Creams or lotions provide us with another option. Typically, they absorb quickly and don’t leave you feeling ‘greasy.’ They are emulsions of oils and waters – in essence, they replicate what our body does naturally. Creams contain water in order to replenish lost moisture from dry skin and offer fast penetration of actives and anti-oxidants into the deeper dermal layer of the skin. When the skin becomes dehydrated (i.e. experiences winter), trans-epidermal water loss can accelerate aging and the appearance of fine lines, as our skin and body are mostly comprised of water.

Some skin nutrients are only water soluble so they would never be found in a balm: allantoin, niacinamide, and beta-glucans, are a few examples of such, and minerals are imperative for skin health as they are responsible for cell life processes, proper hydration balance, stimulation of cell renewal, reduction of redness, and keeping acne in check.

There you have it: some differences, albeit subtle ones. The key to knowing which to use is really knowing what your dry skin needs and what results you are aiming to achieve. Fighting wrinkles? Clearly a lotion or cream would be your first choice. Cracking winter hands? A balm would do you wonders!  

For some more soothing, pampering relief, check out our round-up of luxurious facial masks to unmask your gorgeous glow!

*Originally published December 19, 2015