The Ultimate 9-Step Winter Skincare Guide

Want to winter-proof your skin and make your skincare products work more effectively while you’re at it? Take your cue from fashion...

Just as in fashion, when logic dictates you shield yourself from bitter winds with cashmere scarves and duvet-esque coats, your beauty routine requires the same consideration. Sure, layering is a concept to get behind all year round, but winter, with the havoc it wreaks on your skin, is the perfect time to hone a skincare wardrobe that you can tweak and take through to spring.

‘Layering skincare lets you craft the most appropriate regime for your skin and allows you to adapt it as your requirements change,’ says consultant dermatologist Dr Virginia Hubbard.

And while a multi-step regime was perhaps once the preserve of ahead-of-the- curve Asian beauty buffs, an increasingly savvy consumer (that’s us, BTW) means we are becoming more experimental with the products we use and how we apply them. ‘Expert advice is increasingly accessible and dermatologists are getting involved in mainstream beauty, which means high-quality scientific research is being shared more widely,’ says cosmetic dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting. But, she advises, don’t get layer-happy for the sake of it. You’ll avoid pitfalls and reap the most benefit by learning from the pros: ‘There’s always the potential for irritancy when you start using active products like retinoids, and too many of the wrong layers can be counter-productive, leading to dull, congested skin,’ says Sam.

Not sure what to use and when? Don’t panic. ‘The general rule for layering is from thin (eg, toner, serum) to thicker (moisturiser, oil),’ says Virginia Hubbard. Cut out and keep our skincare cheat sheet and master the art of layering, fast.

Here’s how to do it right...

Step One: Cleanser

The first thing that should hit your skin, a cleanser removes make-up, dirt and impurities, leaving it ready to receive whatever you apply afterwards. The texture is up to you – dry skin may crave unctuous balms, while oily skin may prefer a lighter milk – but aim for one long, thorough cleanse morning and evening. Bonus points for double-cleansing.

Step Two: Toner

Although not strictly a necessity, a toner can effectively enhance the skin’s surface, whether through hydration or gentle refinement. If you’re looking for better clarity, you can’t beat one packed with AHAs (enzymes that gently exfoliate the top layer), while moisturising ingredients such as aloe vera hydrate thirsty skin.

Step Three: Retinoids (PM Only)

If you’re over 25 and not using a retinoid (a derivative of vitamin A), it’s time to reconsider. A transformational ingredient proven to seriously reduce the signs of ageing, it’s a skincare powerhouse.

Step Four: Antioxidant (AM Only)

Loved by pros for its ability to mop up damaging free radicals, an anti-ageing megastar like vitamin C (ascorbic or L-ascorbic acid is the derivative most widely used), should be incorporated in every skin routine. Apply straight after cleansing and toning to ensure maximum absorption.

Step Five: Serum

Packed with potent active ingredients and made up of small molecules that can penetrate deep into the skin, serums deliver targeted results. Hyaluronic acid is great for dehydrated skin as it can hold a thousand times its own weight in water. Apply pre-moisturiser to slightly damp skin to increase product performance and penetration.

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Step Six: Day Cream/Night Cream (AM/PM)

There’s nothing more important than moisturiser for locking in goodness and preventing moisture from evaporating. Take the time to massage it in as a little DIY lymphatic drainage will get the circulation going and keep skin glowing.

Step Seven: Oil (AM Or PM)

A wonderful addition, especially in winter, this is the equivalent of a cosseting chunky knit when skin is feeling dull. Apply after your moisturiser, but use sparingly – a little massaged in well goes a long way to nourish and illuminate dry patches.

Step Eight: Eye Cream

A specialist eye cream is a good idea as most face creams will be too heavy for this delicate area. To reduce puffiness, look for options containing caffeine, while vitamin K can help counteract dark circles. Press on gently with your ring finger.

Step Nine: Sunscreen (AM Only)

Consider an SPF30+ an essential final stage if you want to ward off the ageing effects of sun damage. Apply last as it’s essentially a shield (a bit like your fave shearling coat) and will actually hinder absorption of products applied on top.

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Think of these as the skincare equivalent of your oversized It bag and pendulous statement earrings – totally essential in helping you look fabulous and just the thing to perk up your weekly wardrobe.


If you’re not using an AHA or BHA daily, aim to exfoliate your skin once or twice a week to remove the build-up of dead skin cells and keep healthy cell renewal on track. Diligent application will also mean products applied afterwards will have a greater effect, so it’s a win-win.


As excellent multitaskers in life, we’ve naturally come to embrace the concept of multi-masking. A pore-refining charcoal number on our T-zone and a little redness relief on our wind-chapped cheeks? Yes please.


Hydrating versions are great for imbuing skin with much-needed moisture throughout the day, while sprayable SPFs provide extra protection over make-up when needed.

Additional Tips

As a rule, we like to schedule our skincare routines around our morning and evening activities. So our daily drill looks something like: morning shower; cleanser; make coffee; toner; let the dog out; antioxidant; make smoothie; serum... you get the gist. As long as you leave at least a minute between each layer, you shouldn’t experience any product piling or make-up slip later in the day.

Vulnerable to light and air, vitamin C requires particular packaging to keep it stable: opaque, dark or airtight bottles and pumps will ensure its potency isn’t compromised. A percentage upwards of 0.06% can have anti-ageing bene ts although the higher the value the more powerful it will be.

UV exposure can break down retinoids, rendering them ineffective, so save them for night-time. As they are a potential irritant, use slowly and sparingly at first (0.01% every other night) to allow your skin to acclimatise and don’t use at the same time as vitamin C (they can degrade each other).

A lengthy routine doesn’t have to mean a lighter wallet. Good affordable cleansers and moisturisers can be found in abundance at your local chemist, allowing you to save your pennies for those products that require more of a splurge. ‘Your leave-on actives and sunscreen are worth proper investment, so find textures you love using,’ says Sam.

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