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Perfect skin is hard to achieve and maintain, especially in the winter! Cold and dry air is definitely not good for your complexion, and you might be left wondering what you can do to fix it. If you’ve never followed a proper skincare routine before, here are the basics for achieving clear, hydrated skin this winter!

Finding your skin type

The first thing you’ll want to do before buying any expensive skincare products is determine what skin type you have; certain products work best for different skin types! There are 4 common types: dry, oily, normal, and combination. To do this, buy a simple cleanser (Micellar Gel Wash is a good option) and use as directed. Next, set a timer for 30 minutes and wait. After the 30 minutes are up, examine your face and refer to the following:

If your skin feels tight or dry or is peeling… you likely have dry skin.

If your skin feels oily… you likely have oily skin.

If your skin feels normal… you likely have normal skin (lucky you!).

If your skin feels dry in some places but oily in others… you likely have combination skin. 

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A good first step in a skincare routine is a cleanser. Cleanser is super important when it comes to your skin, as it’ll lift makeup, dirt, and oil off your face! You should cleanse your face 2 times per day — once in the morning and once before bed. To use cleanser, wash your hands thoroughly and wet your face. Put a small amount of product in your hands and rub your hands together, then massage the cleanser into your face. Wait for a few minutes, and then wash it off with water. If you use a towel, make sure it’s clean, as you don’t want to transfer any dirt back onto your face with a dirty towel!

For any skin type: If you’re looking for an inexpensive cleanser to buy, I highly recommend the Squalene Cleanser from The Ordinary. It’s gentle and good for any skin type. Find it here

For oily/combination skin: As cleansers can strip the moisture from your skin, you can use a stronger cleanser with oily/combination skin. A good option is the Youth to the People Kale and Green Tea Cleanser. It’s on the expensive side but works extremely well (speaking from personal experience!) Find it here.

For dry skin: For dry skin, you’ll want a hydrating cleanser to avoid stripping too much moisture from your skin. Any hydrating, fragrance-free cleanser should do the trick, but if you don’t know where to start, the First Aid Beauty Face Cleanser is amazing and extremely gentle on your skin! Find it here.


Toner isn’t a necessary step in your skincare routine, but you might want to incorporate it as a personal preference. Toners essentially remove any dirt your cleanser might have missed and are best for oily, acne-prone skin. However, I wouldn’t recommend using toner for dry or sensitive skin types, as it might irritate your skin due to its drying factor. If you’re looking for a gentle toner to start, I recommend the Rose Petal Facial Toner by Thayers. Find it here.


Exfoliating is great for acne-prone skin, as it removes dead skin cells that can trap dirt on your face and cause pimples. There are two kinds of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Some examples of physical exfoliants you might recognize are sugar scrubs and loofahs. A downside to physical exfoliants is that you run the risk of scrubbing your face too hard, so I’ll focus instead on chemical exfoliants. Chemical exfoliants promote quicker cell turnover than physical exfoliants and will break down dead skin cells on your face. It’s best to start with a gentler product as your face gets used to the chemicals, and slowly increase the strength if necessary. Be sure not to leave the chemical exfoliant on your face for too long, and — if you’re using a new product — do a patch test first! For your first chemical exfoliator, I recommend 2% BHA liquid by Paula’s Choice. Find it here. (Side note: if you choose to exfoliate chemically, you lessen your skin’s protection from UV rays, so remember to use sunscreen!)

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Like toner, serum isn’t necessary in a daily skincare routine, but I find it extremely beneficial for extra hydration, especially in the winter. Serums target a bunch of different skin concerns. For example, if you’re trying to reduce hyperpigmentation, you can find a serum that will target exactly that concern. Because it’s winter and dehydrated skin is a common concern, a good serum to start with is the Hydration Burst Light Serum by Botanics. Find it here

Spot Treatment

If you struggle with acne, or even an occasional blemish, spot-treatments should be used before using moisturizer! This way, there are less layers for the treatment to penetrate. Some common spot treatments you might have heard of include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and tea-tree oil. Tea tree oil is a good spot treatment, as it has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. The Body Shop sells a good tea tree oil that you might want to try for your first spot treatment product. Find it here


Winter air is dry and cold, so moisturizer is a very important step in your skincare routine. Especially after using cleanser, your skin needs it! Moisturizer should be applied last, as it is the thickest product. The type of moisturizer you use will depend on your skin type. 

For any skin type: For an inexpensive, simple moisturizer, I recommend Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA by The Ordinary. Find it here

For combination skin: You might think you don’t need moisturizer if you have combination skin. However, your skin overcompensates for dehydration by producing even more oil, which can cause breakouts. Using a moisturizer is a simple way to prevent this! Evenprime has a lightweight moisturizer that will benefit a combination skin type, as it’s heavy enough to hydrate your skin but light enough to feel non-greasy. Find it here

For oily skin: Oily skin will benefit from a light moisturizer. First Aid Beauty’s Water Cream is a good option, as it’s made with coconut water which is light and refreshing. Find it here.

For dry skin: For dry skin, a hydrating moisturizer is essential. First Aid Beauty has an amazing moisturizer that will save your skin from winter’s harsh conditions. Find it here. If you’re looking for a less expensive option, Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost Cream is good as well! Find it here.

Winter is harsh on your skin, but by following this guide, you’ll be able to customize and create a skincare routine that works for you. Have fun!


Gwen is a fourth-year health science student at uOttawa. Her interests include yoga, zero-waste living, and latte art photography.
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