Winter Must Haves, From Skin to Socks, for Cold Weather Wimps

Posted on December 31, 2010 8 Comments

Hair flying up everywhere and sticking to your face, skin so dry it embarrassingly flakes around the rough parts, chapped lips, frozen toes and a general need for constant caffeination … yup, it’s the middle of winter.  Being a cold weather native, you’d think I’d be immune to freezing temps, one of those chaps who frolics lovingly outside when the mercury drops. Instead, I constantly feel as though ice is running through my veins, and I spend most of the winter grumbling about it. The sad truth is, I’m a cold weather wimp.

I don’t think I’ve always been such a shiverer; I don’t remember temperatures hovering in single digits for weeks on end growing up, and I don’t remember needing special winter gear or beauty care. I actually really like snow, and temps around 30 degrees are fine by me. But the past several winters in Chicago have been brutal. Either Chicago’s winters are getting colder, or I’m able to tolerate it less. Either way, it’s miserable.

But there’s a bright side to the cold conundrum – every year, I find cool new strategies to cope with the chilly conditions. And finally, after nearly 10 years of commuting through the frozen tundra to work downtown, I’m beginning to understand that famous quote, “There is no bad weather, only bad gear.” (But I would totally argue that wind chills of -40 degrees are, in fact, bad weather.)  So to honor our darkest week of the year in Chicago, during one of our coldest Decembers on record, here are a few of my favorite products for dealing with winter weather.


Face/Body lotion. By far, my favorite cold weather skin care product is my giant tub of Cetaphil moisturizing cream.  Skip the expensive stuff; you can get this at Target for like seven dollars and it will last you all winter. It is the bomb. I have sensitive skin that turns super dry in the winter. So dry it flakes (gross, I know). I have probably tried hundreds of products, including Neutrogena (the thick stinky fisherman’s hand and foot lotion, even), Oil of Olay, Eucerin, Clinique, The Body Shop, Bath & Body, and on and on. I found Cetaphil last year and haven’t turned back. It’s the only lotion I need for the winter.  And here’s one last tip: it’s gentle enough to put on your face. I’ve used on wind chill alert days when I have to wait for the bus next to Lake Michigan (I get wind burn really easily) and on my ski trips.

Lips: I get chapped lips like crazy. Big, painful, red-clown chapped lips can strike me in any weather, at any time of day.  As such, I carry lip products with me everywhere I go. (Sidenote: Sometimes I think I’m a lip product junkie. Usually when I check my commuter bag, at any given time I’m packing more than five lip products.) So I consider myself a bit of an expert on keeping lips lovely, even when winds get fierce. Ordinarily I would recommend cherry Carmex as my go-to product, but in Yellowstone this summer I discovered what I consider to be a miracle product. It’s called Back Country Lip Food and I keep it with me at all times. At $4.00 it’s a bit pricier than Carmex, plus you have to order it from a web site because it’s made by a small company in Bozeman, Montana, but seriously it’s worth it.  I would post a picture but I accidentally washed my tube in the laundry and the logo came off — thank goodness it survived! I will probably be ordering five tubes when this one runs out. Fair warning: the stick is bright green because it’s made with avocados. (It actually kind of feels like you’re smushing avocados on your lips.) But it goes on clear.  If you end up ordering, let me know if you like it. I am the only person I know who’s ever used it!

Soap:  Buy stuff with oatmeal in it. Aveeno Fragrance-Free Body Wash (again, about $7 at Target) is good, and I also have an unlabeled bar from Whole Foods that they sell on the bottom shelf of the soap aisle that is much cheaper than their other fancy soaps. It’s in the shape of a circle and is also fragrance free. I used to use Dove Sensitive Skin Moisturizing Bar but the soaps with Oatmeal in them work much better at preventing ashy leg syndrome.


I have yet to find a great winter shampoo and conditioner combo that is cheap and does great things for me. Plus, everyone’s hair reacts differently to different products, so I’ll skip that category. However, if you find your hair is frequently plastering itself to your face because of static electricity, I have a product for you. Deep breath, it’s not cheap. But I have scoured department stores, pharmacies and grocery stores and have tried many kinds of wax, pomade, “shine creams,” and more. I’ve rubbed dryer sheets on my head, too (it only kind of works when you have wicked static). If you are totally desperate, try “It’s a 10 Miracle Leave In Product.” At $20 for four ounces, it is not a bargain. But the good news is, it lasts forever. I got my four ounce bottle last winter and it’s only about a fourth empty (and I have long hair). So really, it’s $5 per winter.  So far it’s the best for taming the static.

This winter, I was telling my hairdresser that my scalp’s a little dry. She told me to mix one egg with some olive oil, brush it on my scalp, leave it for 15 minutes and then wash it off. I might do it this weekend. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Base layers

If you’re not from a cold climate, the concept of base layers for everyday and indoor wear may be foreign. But when you’re waiting 15 minutes for a late bus and it’s 11 degrees outside, you realize quickly when you’re underdressed.  Many women swear by silk long underwear, but I’m a fan of CuddlDuds. They’re warm, lightweight, they stretch and even fit under the most tailored work wardrobe. If you order online right now, they have a 25 percent off sale using the code “newfriend,”  but you can also get them at Kohl’s, Macy’s and a bunch of other stores.  The ClimateSmart leggings go for about $28 before sale price, but you can often find them for closer to $20 and remember you only need one or two pairs because they go under your clothes.

I’m also a big fan of sweater tights. I got my Hue sweater tights on sale at a pharmacy liquidation near my work (CVS was buying the store out). These are essential if you’re planning on wearing a skirt this season. (Make sure it’s a wool skirt, ok?)

Wool socks. I bought my first two pairs of SmartWool socks for a video shoot I was supposed to do outside in the snow, where we would be standing for approximately 10 hours. Thankfully the shoot was cancelled. But I still have the wool socks. And I wear them frequently.  Buy these if you’re going on a big outdoor trip and cherish them forever. Or, better yet, find a cheaper brand and let me know how you like them so I can add them to my cold weather inventory!

Outer layers

Coat. A few years ago, probably when our winters started getting freaking freezing, everyone in Chicago rediscovered down coats.  The North Face down parka is the most popular one seen on the street, but those retail for nearly $300 — I doubt many of us can afford such a splurge. My coat, a Calvin Klein that I wrote about in 2006, was$140 on sale at Macy’s and covers all the bases – down, with a hood and hits at the knee. Whatever down coat you get, don’t pay full price – just make sure it covers your butt. Trust me on that one.

Boots. Come to Chicago and wait on the el platform. At night. With the wind whipping and the freeze biting your feet and numbing your toes. Or stand on a corner waiting for the light to change and get sloshed with ice water by a city bus. I dare you to find me anything that keeps your feet warmer than Uggs.  Yes, they’re horribly ugly. No, the fashion plates don’t wear them. But fashion plates move to Los Angeles. If you’re staying in Chicago for good, eventually, you’ll get Uggs. (I have the Ultimate Short, bought from Nordstrom three years ago for about $150, I think.) Find us a better product and we’ll all convert. I promise.


So there you have it, my winter essentials. Not fabulous, not glamorous, not glitzy nor glittery. Just warm and effective.

One point I should make, some of these items are rather pricey and for budgeting babes like myself, the sticker shock can be ridiculous. That’s probably why I didn’t get the outer layer combo of Uggs and down parka (aka The Chicago Uniform) right until my late 20′s – I could never afford it. But when I did finally buy the right gear, I splurged. These aren’t purchases you should have to make every year. I bought my coat and boots in 2006 and thanks to proper care, am still rocking both (though I did get some nifty new gray Uggs for Christmas).  I bought my first CuddlDuds when I went to Spain in 2001 and they’re just now getting ready to retire. The SmartWool socks I got probably around 2003 or 04 and they’re still in great shape since they’re only worn on the coldest days (and for hikes!).

If you happened to get a gift card for Christmas and you’re constantly complaining about how cold you are, spend it on some of the essentials. Your frostbitten toes will be ever so glad you did.

Category: Life
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8 Responses to “Winter Must Haves, From Skin to Socks, for Cold Weather Wimps”

  1. tanja
    January 1st, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

    Thank havens I live in south and I do not have to worry much about the crazy winter weather and ugly UGGS (they are mighty ugly) But from what I hear (from my friends from western NY where I lived for a while) they are warm and comfy. So I guess warmth before fashion in this case :)
    But you are right some things it’s worth spending money on they will last forever and serve the purpose because lets’ face it sometimes that 19.99 jacket just wont do :)

  2. Stephanie
    January 2nd, 2011 @ 1:23 am

    I’ll second that vote for Cetaphil products. I went to a dermatologist because my skin was so dry (even in the summer…), so between a prescription lotion and the Restoraderm lotions from Cetaphil, I’m doing a lot better.

    Thanks for the suggestions on the under-layers. I’ll have to check those out. They looks super cute and comfy!

  3. The Budgeting Babe
    January 2nd, 2011 @ 11:10 pm

    Tanja – you’re so lucky to live where it’s warm! But I confess, I can’t handle the heat. Do you have similar strategies for dealing with the summer heat?

    Stephanie – Good luck finding the CuddlDuds. I love mine!

  4. tanja
    January 3rd, 2011 @ 1:56 pm

    My sister always said that no matter how cold it is you can always ass more clothes to warm up but when it comes to heat now that is another ballgame, because you can only remove so much before you get arrested for indecent exposure.
    The only thing I found working is not clothes but staying indoors between hours of 11-4 or hit pool or beach to cool down.

  5. tanja
    January 3rd, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

    Above I meant to say add (s is too close to d on the keyboard)

  6. The Budgeting Babe
    January 3rd, 2011 @ 3:17 pm

    Ha! I like “ass more clothes” better ;)

  7. Emily
    January 10th, 2011 @ 7:46 pm

    My doc recommeded Eucerin cream for a recent run in with extreme dry skin mixed with hypersensitive skin. It works, but the texture is thick and gross and sticky. Is the Cetaphil cream less so? I would definitely spring for some if it beats Eucerin in the head-to-head nasty texture showdown.

  8. Katherine
    February 11th, 2011 @ 6:48 am

    i’ve been drinking bird nest soup every night (i only get the homemade kind back at home). the only reason why i drink it is because it’s supposed to be good for complexion.

    i’ve been taking the store-bought kind online (e.g. of famous branded only of course) which is directly mailed from Hong Kong. this would be at a more affordable price.

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