Recipe for Winter Skincare: How to Treat Breakouts and Acne


You would think that acne and breakouts would be less common in the winter, since skin is drier than normal. But as my fellow oily and combination skin girls know: The winter blemish struggle is real. And it’s particularly tricky to treat because typical acne fighters like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are naturally drying, which can cause even more inflammation when temperatures and humidity drop. After years of struggling to get my skin back on track, I finally found a clear-skin game plan that works. Here, the best K-beauty strategies I learned for combating flare-ups during the coldest months of the year. (Hint: It’s all about hydration!)

“Simply put, overly dry skin can trigger an over-production of oil in skin to compensate, which can in turn cause or exacerbate troubled skin,” explains Young Hoon Kim, MD, of Lee Jiham Dermatology, a prestigious skin clinic in Seoul. “During the winter months, we tell our patients to remember to exfoliate, hydrate, and treat.”


It seems counter intuitive to exfoliate during the winter but during this time, dead skin cells can easily build up on skin, preventing essential skincare ingredients from effectively penetrating and working. It’s important to regularly use a gentle exfoliator, at least once a week, that helps to slough off dead skin cells and help with skin turnaround without irritating active acne. Also, Dr. Kim recommends avoiding gritty scrubs with harsh ingredients like crushed apricot seeds or walnut shells. Under a microscope, these particles are often highly irregular with jagged edges that can potentially create micro-cuts on skin. This leaves the skin vulnerable to bacteria and can potentially exacerbate inflammation, redness, and breakouts.

Our recommendation for a gentle yet effective SLS-free cleanser with pore-clearing exfoliating acids? Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser ($34).


Once skin is prepared to receive active ingredients, you’re ready to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. It’s the key to regulating natural sebum production and maintaining the skin’s moisture barrier. Your goal: Hydrating on three different levels—from within (drinking sufficient amounts of water), on the surface of your skin (using an emollient moisturizer that contains humectants like hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate to draw moisture to the skin), and in the environment (get yourself a humidifier or put a shallow bowl of water out, stat). Fun fact: If you have your heater on blast, dry air can actually pull moisture from your skin because the humidity is so low. Being mindful of the environment your skin is in will go a long way in keeping it supple and hydrated!

After a thorough cleanse, the first dose of liquid hydration (ie. a toner or ‘skin’) helps to not only prep and balance the skin, it’s an essential step to infusing the skin with quick-penetrating moisture to keep the skin hydrated for longer. LJH’s Hope 5a Control Emulsion is a milky essence toner that leaves skin moist yet velvety-matte ($32). 

For blemish-prone skin, choosing the right moisturizer for your skin type is critical to keeping skin youthfully hydrated without greasiness. Our recommendation for a hydrating moisturizer that works for troubled skin? Glow Recipe Watermelon Pink Juice Moisturizer ($39). It’s a lightweight, oil-free gel that sinks in instantly and won’t clog pores.

So, how do you treat and prevent cold-weather blemishes? The three FDA-approved ingredients for acne are salicylic acid, benzyl peroxide, and sulfur. But these potent ingredients can also cause major dryness. During the winter months, an alternative option to using spot treatments to tackle a blemish that has already formed is to use a serum with natural anti-bacterial and soothing properties such as tea tree on an on-going basis to keep skin blemish-free.

Our recommendation for a tea-tree treatment to keep skin blemish free? LJH’s Tea Tree 90 Essence- formulated with 90% tea tree extract ($45). Best solution for instant calming? The LJH Tea Tree Soothing Mask ($5). Read about how it calmed one of our writer’s epic breakout here.

Dr. Kim’s final tip? Remember to change your pillowcase regularly and clean and disinfect your cell phone. All the blemish-fighting skincare products and diets in the world won’t help if you are constantly pressing your skin—for prolonged periods of time—up against grimy surfaces that can transfer oil, bacteria, and dirt.

Have any great winter skin survival tips? Share them in the comments section below!

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