How Cold Affects the Skin

Are you aware of how cold affects the skin? It causes important changes in the skin that can be prevented with proper care. Learn more.
How Cold Affects the Skin

Last update: 12 August, 2022

Cold weather causes certain changes in the skin that make it more flaky and dry during the winter months. As a result, the skin looks less radiant than normal on the face, feet, hands, and other exposed areas. There are some measures that can be taken to maintain healthy skin in cold temperatures. Keep reading to learn more about how cold affects the skin.

Learn how cold affects the skin: Appearance

Dry indoor heat, cold air, strong winter winds, and reduced humidity levels contribute to the removal of moisture from the skin surface. For this reason, cold temperatures can cause dry skin, along with some of the following common signs and symptoms:

  • Redness
  • Slight flaking
  • Rough texture
  • Irritation or cracking of the skin surface
  • Itching

The symptoms of xerosis – dry skin – can vary according to the severity present. It can even manifest itself in different ways with respect to the area of the body it affects.

In these conditions, products that normally feel good on the skin can act as irritants. In addition, bathing with hot water to counteract the cold can remove the skin’s natural oils faster than with warm water.

Raynaud’s phenomenon

In response to low temperatures, the body adapts and limits blood flow to the skin. In other words, it acts as a thermoregulatory mechanism to maintain core body temperature and prevent heat loss from the body. In turn, Raynaud’s syndrome usually affects the distal areas of the fingers, which appear cold and with a demarcation of “white” regions. The thumb is usually not affected.

A woman with pale fingertips due to Raynaud's syndrome.
Raynaud’s syndrome is a condition that can occur in cold temperatures. Vascular spasms block blood flow to the fingers, ears, or nose.


Chilblains are itchy , red, demarcated spots that may appear after a cold. They usually occur on the toes and fingers and tend to disappear on their own.

They can develop because of an abnormal blood circulation response, most often in women, underweight people, and those with Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Cold urticaria

Cold urticaria is a type of chronic urticaria characterized by itchy hives, angioedema, or both. Although symptoms usually affect the exposed area, generalized rashes and systemic symptoms are sometimes evident. In addition, it’s most often suffered by young adults and women seem to be affected more frequently.

The role of humidifiers for skin

Humidifiers help to restore moisture to the environment, which can be helpful when the heating is turned on in the cold winter months. In other words, they act as a natural moisturizing agent by relieving and preventing dryness of the skin surface.

According to a Harvard Health Publishing publication, the most recommended setting for humidifiers is 60% in the cold winter months to replenish moisture in the surface layer of the skin.

Measures to prevent the effects of cold on the skin

Dry skin caused by cold weather may be unavoidable. However, some modifications to skin care habits can help keep skin smooth, soft, and radiant.

Moisturize after washing

After bathing or washing hands and face, the layer of natural oils on the surface of the skin is removed. These oils help to retain the skin’s own moisture, so it’s important to replace them.

To do this, after washing, it’s best to apply emollient cream, especially in the colder months. Creams with a high content of vitamin E, essential ceramides, hyaluronic acid, or vitamin A are ideal.

A woman touching her face.
Emollient creams or sunscreen – even in cold weather – are important to protect the skin and keep it moisturized.

Apply sunscreen every day

Even in the winter, sunscreen is recommended in the daily routine, as ultraviolet light can add negative effects to the skin’s moisture.

Therefore, after applying moisturizer in the morning, sunscreen can be used to keep the skin hydrated and healthy. The American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends sunscreens that are water-resistant, broad spectrum, and with SPF greater than 30.

Implement treatments at night

To revitalize or prevent skin dryness caused by the cold, night treatments are an excellent option. Creams are effective at hydrating and replenishing oils and moisture. Because they’re so thick, the skin takes time to absorb them.

In addition, the skin’s protective and moisturizing barrier must be healthy in order to respond effectively to toners, serums, creams, and other types of cosmetic products.

Cold weather and preventable skin changes

In conclusion, during cold weather, it’s common to have flaky, dry skin; not only on the face, but also on the feet, hands, and exposed areas. The key to keeping skin healthy and functional is to moisturize it frequently with the right products. Even hot water, scrubs, and some skin care treatments should be used with caution. Now that you know how cold affects the skin, make sure you practice proper care.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.