Winter is a tough time for everyone in the skin stakes but if you're sensitive, you'll need a reliable beauty arsenal to get you through it. Judy Johnson stocks up on the essentials

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I'm no stranger to dry, itchy, irritated skin. We know this. But dear GOD, winter has a lot to answer for. What with the harsh ice-cold wind that seems to start up just as I leave the house, to the cranked up office central heating and stuffy dry air, to boiling hot showers (to make up for the freezing house) and even more heating (to warm up again post-boiling shower), my skin can't catch a break. A sore scalp, scaly legs, cracked hands and a prickly face that feels like it's falling off; add to that the signature winter flyaway hair that makes an annual appearance and it's fair to say I'm not looking or feeling my best.

"Our skin is cleverly designed to retain water, keeping it supple and pliant," says dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. "However, the winter environment presents a real challenge: outdoors, cold air can’t hold moisture, resulting in low humidity. Indoors, the same things happen due to the blasting central heating. This widespread lack of moisture in the air results in increased water evaporation from our skin, and when this happens the skin starts to malfunction. We need a certain minimum water content in the outermost layer, the stratum corneum to ensure the barrier works properly. When skin is parched, cracks appear, cells clump and pile up into flakes and a vicious cycle begins as the skin is now even less capable of holding on to that all important moisture. The result? Dull, scaly, itchy skin."

Yes, winter plays havoc with the skin whether you're sensitive or not - but if you are on the easily-irritated side, it's pure hell. "Sensitivity tends to go hand in hand with thin, dry skin where barrier function is often less robust. This means that changes in the environment are much harder to compensate for," explains Dr Bunting.

Sadly, everything is against you - so you need to make some adjustments. Dr Bunting's advice is to go for shorter, tepid showers rather than hot baths; avoid foaming products; avoid over-exfoliation and seek moisturisers that support the skin barrier function.

Be discerning with your products, too - Dr Bunting shares her top tips for finding winter-friendly ingredients:

  • Look for anti-inflammatory agents like allantoin and feverfew.
  • Niacinamide is a great anti-ageing ingredient that helps with uneven skin-tone but also increases ceramide production, supporting skin barrier function.
  • AHAs are often harder to tolerate in sensitive skin – but lactic acid is often the exception, as it has also got humectant properties, helping hydrate as well as gently exfoliate.

Having tested some products before Christmas that left my skin feeling like sandpaper, this winter has been even tougher to get to grips with, but these five favourites have slowly got me back to my best. I've had a few hiccups along the way where I've had to grab the previously raved about Clarins Skin Repair Concentrate  in desperation but I'm through the rough patch (literally) thanks to these miracle workers. Reevaluate your skincare and make sure you've got the best defence going...

Face: Avene Tolerance Extreme Moisturiser


I am currently squeezing the last few drops of life out of this genius tube of rich cream. I look forward to putting it on morning and night (after using a couple of drops of my aforementioned favourite, Balance Me Radiance Facial Oil ) because it just melts into the dry, sore, stinging skin that I've been putting up with lately and soothes it into a plump, glowing, supple finish; the relief is almost like a high.

Scalp: Philip Kingsley Scalp Toner


I generally have a very sensitive scalp but in cold weather my head feels so tight it really rather hurts. Philip Kingsley is my go-to hair expert for fragrance free shampoos and the like and so it came as no surprise that his scalp toner was quite magical. A water based formula that you can leave in (without looking greasy), it protects against flaking and just calms it all down so that tingling, itchy sensation disappears. Bliss.

Body: La Roche-Posay Lipikar Baume AP Lipid Replenishing Body Balm


Confession: I am rubbish at moisturising. I don't do it regularly, and then summer arrives and I load up on sun care and realise how soft my skin is, promise myself I will do it all year round and then… the tights go on and I forget because it's a hassle. However. This balm is the softest, smoothest, loveliest formula I have ever used and has converted me into a moisturising pro. A tiny slick of this post shower and my previously scaly legs look as good as they did in the summer (minus the tan, sadly). Use it everywhere; it works wonders.

SPF: Clinique City Block Sheer SPF25


Though my moisturiser feels like a dream on the skin, I don't feel fully dressed and ready to battle the elements without a bit of SPF. This sheer, tinted formula from Clinique is ideal - I use it like a tinted moisturiser. It's a mineral SPF so no need to worry about reactions to chemicals and it imparts a lovely, natural glow (rather than coverage). Dr Sam Bunting says it's worth investing in, too: "Thin, sensitive skin may be prone to wrinkling even earlier than normal or oily skin-types – so this group really stands to benefit from slathering on SPF all year-round."

Hands: Pai Fragonia and Seabuckthorn Instant Hand Therapy Cream


I've never been a huge hand cream fan as I can't stand having greasy, slimy palms (can anyone?) but in the winter it's not my call: my hands need it. My aversion to wearing gloves means I need all the help I can get, and I get it in the form of this dream cream from Pai. Their organic formula is free from SLS, alcohol and parabens and instead is packed with natural wonders such as rosehip, a known skin healer and fragonia, an anti-inflammatory oil - plus, it sinks in immediately so there's no nasty residue. It makes light work of cracked hands and restores them to their best.