What Happens To Your Skin During Winter

As we move into the hibernating months of Winter, the cold conditions can wreak havoc on our skin, leaving it feeling dry, irritated, and flaky. On top of that, spending more time indoors, on planes, and mask-wearing can also contribute to dryer skin.

So what can we do about it? Thankfully there are many moisturising ingredients that can help combat the causes of dry skin and draw hydration back into the skin.

At pH Factor, we like to stay up-to-date with the latest skincare ingredients that offer the best protection against environmental stressors all year round. When it comes to combating Winter skin issues, we encourage all of our clients to use humectants, moisturisers, and lipids (what we like to call our Hydration Heroes) in their formulations.  

Read on to find out what happens to your skin during Winter and to see our key ingredient picks that will repair and protect the skin’s natural barrier all Winter long!

What Happens To Your Skin During Winter

As the seasons change from Summer to Winter outside, your skin also goes through some changes, too. You may notice that your skin feels tight or appears drier than usual, or if you have acne-prone skin, your acne may be more inflamed than ever. 

Why does this happen? To put it simply, the skin likes consistency. When the weather gets colder, the temperature and humidity levels drop quickly. This can take a toll on your skin as it adjusts to the new environment. 

But it’s not just the temperature that can cause this unpleasant, inflamed, and dry skin – the lifestyle changes we make to adapt to the climate, such as hot showers and heating can also contribute to changes in our skin. 

All these factors can result in a phenomenon called Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL). It might sound complicated, but really TEWL is just where the skin loses water content, causing it to work harder to maintain adequate hydration. In other words, the skin gets dryer and has to go into overdrive to compensate.

What is Trans-Epidermal Water Loss?

Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL) is a natural process that happens to all skin types, and it means that water is lost through the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin). The average person loses about 300-400ml of water through their skin each day. While it happens to everyone, more water is lost when the skin is exposed to cold climates. When there’s less water content in the air, it compensates by sucking out the water content from your skin. 

The skin becomes dehydrated and dry when the rate of water loss from the epidermis is faster than the skin’s ability to rehydrate. 

What Causes Trans-Epidermal Water Loss?

TEWL is the loss of water from the stratum corneum (SC), the skin’s uppermost layer. The main function of this barrier is to protect the body from excessive TEWL. The cold, windy, and low-humidity conditions reduce the water content of the SC barrier, causing dry, scaly skin. 

The skin’s barrier can also be impacted by several other factors, but mainly from the loss of lipids (our Essential Fatty Acids), which happens from washing your face. Here are some skin care tips to protect your skin’s lipid barrier and prevent TEWL:

    • Use a gentle cleanser – Harsh surfactants (soaps and detergents) can strip the skin lipid or moisture barrier. For all skin types except oily, we recommend opting for a non-foaming, emollient-rich cleanser (uses gentle emulsifiers instead of detergents). 
    • Avoid over-cleansing & over-exfoliating – This will cause your skin barrier to weaken over time leading to more TEWL. 
    • Opt for lipid-loving skincare ingredients – we will go into more detail soon, but some examples include, Ceramides, Glycerine, Squalane, and Hyaluronic Acid (HA). 
  • Use a humidifier – We know that low-humidity environments worsen TEWL, so using a humidifier can help keep TEWL at bay.

Our Key Ingredient In Focus Picks 

We would like to focus on key ingredients that we feel from our formulating experience, are part of the building blocks in combating TEWL and assist with the Natural Moisturising Factor (NMF).

NMF is the moisture-retaining capacity of the epidermis layer. This is made up of a range of different components such as amino acids which make up 40% of it and help to maintain skin hydration.

So not only do we need to look for ingredients that can “hydrate” and “moisturise” the outer and deepest layers of our skin, but we also need to focus on lowering the TEWL and supporting the NMF. 

How can we do this? We need to choose ingredients that draw moisture into our skin – either by being a water-binding ingredient or an occlusive ingredient (think of occlusives as a protective seal over your skin). Here is an overview of the types of winter-proof skincare ingredients we need and what their differences are:

  • Hydrators: These are known as humectants that bind water to the skin. Please note, that you may want to steer clear of humectants if you live somewhere dry as these are best used in climates with a higher humidity level. Glycerin & Hyaluronic Acid are some examples.
  • Moisturisers: On the other hand, moisturisers create a protective barrier that locks in hydration and prevents water loss. In scientific terms, moisturisers are broken down into two categories, emollients, and occlusives. Some examples of emollients include oils, lipids, and fatty acids. Some examples of occlusives are petrolatum, silicones, and waxes. 


Our Favourite Ingredients for Winter Skin Care

Now let’s dive into 6 of our key ‘ingredient in focus’ picks that can be used to help in restoring the skin’s hydration this Autumn and Winter season.



  • Type of Ingredient:  It is a natural polysaccharide that helps lower the TEWL.
  • Properties:  A hydrator (a humectant) that helps attract water to the top layer of the skin.
  • Main Benefits: It is a strong anti-inflammatory and offers skin-cell repair benefits which help reduce skin sensitivity.
    • The Science: It has been shown to help with eczema, dermatitis, and wound healing.
  • Best Food Source: Algae & Fungus/Mushrooms.

Sodium-PCA (Pyrrolidone Carboxylic Acid)

  • Type of Ingredient: It is a natural moisturiser, which forms 12% of the NMF. 
  • Properties: A hydrator (a humectant) that helps attract water to the top layer of the skin.
  • Main Benefits: Protects and helps moisturise the epidermis layer and is anti-inflammatory. 
  • The Science: By simply adding Na-PCA, Na-Lactate, or lipid derivatives to your formulations, you can help moisturise the outermost epidermal layer of the skin.


  • Type of Ingredient: Tiny spherical molecules, formed by membranes of natural phospholipids.
  • Properties:  A skin moisturiser.
  • Main Benefits: Supplies lipids and hydrates the skin barrier by occlusion, supports the NMF, enters deep into the skin, and delivers active ingredients for a longer period.
  • The Science: They are highly effective because they are made out of the same material as a cell membrane. 

Polyglutamic Acid

  • Type of Ingredient: A polypeptide (made from long chains of amino acid- glutamic acid).
  • Properties:  A hydrator (a humectant) that helps attract water to the top layer of the skin. It has similar properties to HA and Glycerin. 
  • Main Benefits: Helps break down HA and stimulates the production of NMF on the skin’s surface.
  • The Science:  It can hold 4x more moisture than HA. 
  • Best Food Sources: Fermented Japanese soybeans called ‘natto.’


  • Type of Ingredient: A protein (derived from vegetables or animals).
  • Properties:  A hydrator (a humectant) that has a strong affinity to bind water. 
  • Main Benefits: Improves skin hydration and smoothing, reduces TEWL, and is accepted by all skin types.
  • The Science: Topical collagen will moisturise the skin, while oral collagen is shown to stimulate increased collagen.
  • Most Popular Types: Bovine Collagen and Marine Collagen.
  • How to use: Can be applied both topically and orally for best results. 


  • Type of Ingredient: An occlusive.
  • Properties:  A skin moisturiser that seals in moisture. 
  • Main Benefits: Long-lasting hydration, accelerates the healing process, soothes cuts and abrasions – we find this ingredient invaluable as an ointment!
  • The Science: Most of the petroleum grades used in cosmetics conform to U.S and EU Pharmacopoeia purity standards. They are safe for personal use. 
  • Skin Type: Not recommended for oily skin types – stick to using this for dry skin.

Plant-Derived Petrolatum Alternatives

If you don’t wish to use petroleum in your formulations, there are some plant-based alternatives that also work very well. One ingredient is a 100% plant-based texturising emollient and petroleum jelly substitute that is composed of castor oil. You can also use ingredients such as shea butter, beeswax, and jojoba oil. All of these ingredients have a similar texturising effect to petroleum, help retain moisture, and prevent TEWL loss.


Our SuperFood Choice For Winter: Pomegranate 

Our superfood of choice for the Winter Season is Pomegranate! This ingredient offers powerful skin care benefits not only when consumed, but also when applied topically. This ingredient is a powerhouse antioxidant and reservoir of hydration that can be formulated as a water-soluble extract or an oil. Pomegranate helps skin regenerate, detoxes the skin, and is anti-inflammatory. Due to its detoxing properties, people with oily or congested skin types will find this ingredient most beneficial. 

Understanding the dynamics of the skin and the most effective winter skincare ingredients will allow you to create products that do two jobs effectively: moisturise AND hydrate the skin! 

By formulating with the Winter skincare ingredients we use and love, you too can provide the ultimate natural skin barrier protection for your customers. 

Are there any ingredient suppliers or beauty brand owners out there who would like us to highlight the benefits of their ingredients for the winter months? If there is, get in touch with us and we can educate your team on the science behind your products!