As long as I can remember, every winter that I've been aware of my own skim, I've gone into a moisturizer-buying frenzy when the temperatures dip. Black Friday and holiday sales/new releases only encourage that bad habit. I'm never more gripped by unsubstantiated and overblown marketing messaging than I am when my face is flaking off.
I've noticed a lot of my followers and mutuals on Instagram falling over themselves to bolster their routines with winter's arrival, and they often do so by splurging on new supposedly heavier-duty creams, high-tech treatments, and plsuh-sounding masks. But I've found, for the most part, that's not the most economical or efficient way to save your face. Here are the things that make the most difference for me, in the shortest amount of time, with the least financial outlay:
Get a humidifier
Shit, get two humidifiers. Put one on your desk at work, and put one on your nightstand for when you sleep. My face starts cracking around my jawline like clockwork the 3rd week of October (coincides with my birthday, thanks for the gift, Universe, you REALLY shouldn't have) and usually I'm too lazy to set up the humidifier until a few weeks later. But when I do set it up, I'm always astounded at the difference I feel in my skin. It's not instantaneous, but within 3 days, I notice increased comfort throughout the day, better makeup weartime, and less irritation and sensitivity when using acids or masks. I live in California- we do not have harsh weather. But most people crank up the heat in their cars, offices, and homes when the temperature starts to drop below their comfort zone (in California, that's under 68 degrees) and indoor heating wrecks even the most resilient of moisture barriers. Don't cry about humidifiers being expensive when I saw your Instagram stories justifying your desperate Drunk Elephant moisturizer purchases! A $60 humidifier will last multiple winters and pay for itself.
Ointment up, girl
Vaseline, Aquaphor, Cerave Healing Ointment, Biafine...there are so many options out there, and they all cost peanuts. During summer you might have the luxury of falling asleep with a whisper of gel-cream, or a light layer of hydrating toner on your face, but in the winter you need a heavy duty arsenal. I use my ointments as sleeping mask, spot "treatments" for dry spots even under makeup, and most importantly, I use them to bolster the strength of my existing every day face creams. By mixing a blob of Cerave Cream (nowhere near potent enough to carry my face through a winter's night) with a blob of Aquaphor, I can make my wimpy day moisturizer into a powerhouse night mask, without shelling out for three "sexy" new night creams that end up disappointing me or breaking me out. If you're not hardcore and you don't enjoy having a literal full face of Vaseline when you fall asleep, you're wrong, but you can do my sleeping mask trick as a final step.
Oil is your friend
Seriously, if you're not already a facial oil convert, you're missing out. It's [current year] and you have no excuse. There's some debate as to whether facial oils work better when applied BEFORE creams or after. Especially during winter, I say porque no los dos, and I oil-sandwich my night cream and let it all soak in while I slumber. The trick with facial oils is to apply them to not-fully-dry skin (usually I'll press on a layer of toner or gel essence, wait for it to soak in 50-75%, then go in with my oil) and also to press into the skin sparingly. You can always go back and add a few drops, but my skin prefers less oil, layered, rather than a whole puddle of oil slapped on at once. Although my skin loves many lightweight oils like jojoba, green tea seed, and hemp oil in the summer, in the winter I focus on heavier oils like mineral, lanolin, and pomegranate oil. Pure oils are remarkably cheap, even "precious" ones like pomegranate oil. Once I've determined what my skin likes by buying small samples from Garden of Wisdom, I search for bulk suppliers to get the best $/oz. I buy $28 for a pound of pomegranate seed oil. Trust me when I say the investment in oils is worth it, and minimal when compared to purchasing ready made products. My favorite trick is to mix a bottle of 50/50 light and heavy oil (my current go-to combo is green tea seed + lanolin oil) and keep a bottle on my bathroom counter to mix into my routine anywhere I want. It's cheaper than store-bought oils, so you can be really generous and frequent with application. The thing I love most about pure oils is how versatile they are in my routine. I've mixed a few drops of facial oil with my toner as a first step when my skin was raw and dehydrated, but I needed my face to be less greasy for makeup prep. You can apply oil at any point in your routine, mixed or unmixed, and it will do something slightly different. Experiment with "timing" and ratios of oil:other skincare and you'll be amazed at how cheaply you can stretch your routine.
Use less, not more, skincare
With this I'm specifically side-eyeing your (I'm sure) highly reasonable stack of acids, exfoliators, masks, and treatments. During the winter, your skin will tolerate less. That's just the truth. You're sick more often, you're exposed to harsh outdoor weather and indoor climate control, you're probably eating like crap and sleeping odd hours due to your circadian rhythms getting dicked by the lack of sunlight...give yourself a break. Give your skin a break. This doesn't mean you can't treat acne or aging concerns for half the year, but if your skin is rebelling, and you are throwing more products at it to make it behave, take a beat and think about removing a few steps before you add more. I specifically back way off of BHA usage in the winter- most weeks using it only once instead of 3-4 times like my summer schedule. I also completely swear off all clay masks from October to March, even though I adore them. I tend to avoid all physical exfoliation in the winter. I lean heavily on diluted tea tree oil and azelaic acid as those are the two least-drying but still-effective acne-fighters in my routine. Even glycolic acid, which my normally hardy skin loves, needs to be used with caution because it can cause tightness and itchiness on skin sensitized by winter. The best part about this tip (toots own horn discreetly) is you're encouraged to spend less not more. You do not need to buy One Magical Thing, Darling to fix your face. You need to listen to your own needs and be patient, even if that's less sexy and satisfying than blowing your skincare budget on 5 new cool-sounding moisturizers.
Turn the thermostat down
Hi Hungry, I'm Dad! Seriously, this may not be an option depending on where you live or who you share a living space with...but if you can at all avoid running the heat, do it. Not only will it save you money, it will also save your poor dehydrated skin. I run hot, I'll admit, but I bundle up in cozy pajamas and wool socks when I'm bumming around the house in wintertime. I never turn the heat on unless I have an overnight guest who runs cold, and because of where I live, that works for me. Of course this is not a cold turkey directive- if you live somewhere with a more punishing climate, you may need to run the heat. But think about reducing your usage whenever possible. Bundle up more, put an extra quilt on the bed, even use a heating pad or blanket in place of running the forced-air heater. Your skin will thank you.
Wash your hands way more
I avoid washing my hands in winter for a few reasons- one is that the sensation of cold water is obviously bothersome. Solution: run the hot water if you can. Just do it. The other reason I avoid it is because my already-dry hands feel drier the more I wash. I solve this by keeping a tube of cheapo face cream by my keyboard. This way if I touch my face I don't leave greasy, breakout-inducing hand cream swatches everywhere. Face cream is sufficient for daytime hand dryness and won't provoke more breakouts if I do touch my face.
Wash your clothing and bedding more frequently
Break up with "always never" rules
Be kind to yourself
I'm a filthy capitalist shill, not a corporate shill. Companies love to lump your bothersome winter problems into a cutesy self-care package that conveniently stuffs into a stocking for the holidays. The truth is, you have more important things to spend your cash on than 5 new moisturizers. Some common sense and holistic self-care (holistic here meaning with regard to your whole person and routine, not just skincare) will do more for your wellness this winter than an advent calendar of travel-sized hydrating lies.