4 Essential Winter Facial Treatments to Combat Dry, Flaky Skin

Three top celebrity aestheticians weigh in on the treatments you shouldn’t leave out in the cold.

by Michelle Rostamian

Rosamund Pike wiping makeup off of her face
Rosamund Pike photographed by David Fincher for W Magazine, May 2014.
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The last thing you may want to do in nippy weather is make a trip to your aesthetician’s office. But this is the time your skin needs it most. Between drier winter air, hot showers, and cranked-up indoor heaters, you’re likely dealing with a whole menu of skin issues: dryness, a compromised moisture barrier, and increased sensitivity among them. Sure, you can load up on at-home exfoliants and sheet masks galore, but if you’re really looking to go the extra mile, a solid assessment of your skin performed by a professional may be in order.

We turned to New York-based aesthetician Eden Gilliam; board-certified nurse practitioner and owner of SkinSplendid, Christy Adams; and celebrity aesthetician Shani Darden to divulge what our skin craves during the cold winter season.

Enzyme Peels

Think of enzyme peels as the little sister to chemical peels. The only thing is, they don’t penetrate the skin as deeply, and are therefore more gentle. Even if your skin doesn’t lean sensitive, enzyme peels may be a more solid alternative to chemical peels when you’re dealing with the inevitable skin-drying effects of winter. “Enzyme peels allow you to get the benefits of effective exfoliation without causing the skin to go through any extreme peeling or irritation,” Gilliam tells W. “Being that the air lacks moisture in the winter, if someone is especially sensitive or loves winter sports, an enzyme peel is ideal.”

The treatment relies on fruit enzymes like pineapple (bromelain), papaya (papain), and pumpkin to cleanse and resurface the skin. Like chemical peels, they still whisk away dry, dead skin cells sitting on the surface of the skin, but they don't break up any living cells while doing so, meaning you're less likely to experience any peeling, burning, or irritation you may have had with a chemical peel. Instead, you'll notice a softer, brighter, more even-toned surface, and that dull winter skin will take an instant backseat.

HydroJelly Mask

HydroJelly masks are the new trend in the treatment room, Gilliam says. Formulated by professional-grade skincare company Esthemax, these powder-based masks take on a jelly-like consistency upon contact with water. “The mixture is applied to the face in smooth, satisfying swoops before being removed as a semi-hardened mask that retains the imprint of the face,” Adams adds. “All HydroJelly masks are algae-based, which gives them their unique jelly texture—however, the antioxidants, enzymes, and ingredients differ depending on the specific powder you use.” You’ll find formulas that target a whole range of issues, including clogged pores, dullness, and loss of elasticity. At its core, though, Adams says HydroJelly masks protect the skin barrier by locking in moisture (which dry winter skin will most certainly find beneficial). They also help reduce inflammation, making them the optimal treatment to complement an injectable.

LED Therapy

You do a lot to protect yourself from the sun (SPF and protective clothing at minimum, we hope), but Adams says a controlled level of sun exposure can actually be medicinal for the skin. Because you’re likely not getting much direct sun exposure during the winter (and because sun exposure, in general, can be damaging), LED light therapy is the next best thing. LED lights offer sunlight in a controlled environment—without the risk of age spots and wrinkles.

During an LED light therapy treatment, a device that emits colored light waves onto the skin is placed a few inches away from the face. These light waves “penetrate the skin at various depths to address everything from aging skin to blemishes,” Darden says. The most commonly used light waves are blue and red, which work hand-in-hand to target acne, fine lines, and dull skin, Adams adds. Specifically, blue light helps reduce the activity of sebaceous glands and kill off acne-causing bacteria. “Red light offers similar benefits, but can also relieve any pain associated with inflammatory acne as well as stimulate collagen production,” Adams notes. Plus, LED light therapy is suitable for all skin types, has no downtime, and is a quick, in-and-out treatment you can get during your lunch break.


Certain skin treatments increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, which makes wintertime the perfect time to get them done. One such treatment is microneedling. “Microneedling is a treatment that firms, tightens, and improves the tone and texture of the skin,” Adams says. “The treatment involves using a device that’s equipped with a nozzle of tiny needles to penetrate the skin and cause controlled, superficial trauma.” Yep, this treatment is actually meant to cause micro-injuries to the skin—but they encourage cell turnover and ultimately minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, Darden says. Essentially, the treatment creates a wound response, which signals fresh new skin to surface.

With all the skin benefits of microneedling, the only caveat is that it isn’t great for those struggling with extreme dryness (as it may further aggravate the skin, says Darden) or those with active, inflammatory acne (as it can spread bacteria).

If you’re looking to level up your skincare routine during the winter season (or if you simply don’t want your routine to take a backseat despite the cold), ask your aesthetician about these and more beautifying treatments.