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Woman with a summer skincare routine walking in water

Do You Need to Change Your
Skincare Routine with the Seasons?

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For year-round great skin, consider switching up your products as the weather shifts. One of our resident derms explains how.

Just as you swap out your wardrobe seasonally, you should also change a few things in your seasonal skincare routine. Humidity shifts, changes in how often you’re shaving, and other factors add up to slightly different needs in the warmer months versus the colder ones. It might seem daunting to periodically build an entirely different routine, but it’s actually pretty easy once you understand what fluctuations are taking place and the small adjustments that can address them. These are some of my top recommendations for seasonal skincare.

Does skincare change with the seasons?

Anyone who’s complexion gets drier or more irritated as the thermometer drops understands that the shift from hot and humid to cold and dry and back again does indeed impact your skin. There are changes in ambient humidity—there’s less of it in fall, winter, and early spring; much more throughout the summertime—so your skin’s needs will differ. And fluctuating moisture in the air can have a bigger impact than you might think. In a 2018 study in the British Journal of Dermatology, there was a significant drop in a protein called filaggrin on cheeks and hands in the winter months. [1] Why does this matter? Filaggrin is a key element of your skin’s protective barrier, which might explain why some people experience more skin disruptions like rosacea and eczema when dealing with dry skin in the cold winter months.

On the flipside, the humidity of the warm summer months is often associated with an increase in skin’s oil, or sebum, production, which could mean more breakouts for acne prone individuals. One 2015 study found that not only did sebum levels increase in the summer, so did the number of visible pores (a common complaint with oily skin). [2] That makes sticking to your skincare routine in the summer even more crucial than in colder temps.

In a 2018 study in the British Journal of Dermatology, there was a significant drop in a protein called filaggrin on cheeks and hands in the winter months.

Skincare in summer versus winter

In the summer, more humidity in the air means less moisture loss. Your skin is probably already moist this time of year. Can you imagine putting a thick moisturizing cream on your face? It will feel awful, and if you wear makeup it could just drip off your face in rivulets! That’s why it’s a good idea to go for lighter formulations in the summer, so that you won’t feel like you’re smothered in grease by the end of the day. And if you’re very oily, you can even skip it altogether if you’re using a moisturizing cleanser.

For winter, it’s time to reach for heavier, thicker creams with moisturizing ingredients like shea butter, dimethicone, petrolatum, and glycerin. Also, look for the word “cream,” which generally means the formula is a bit richer and is more likely to counteract dry skin caused by the winter air. But take care here: You don’t want to put anything too heavy on acne-prone skin, even during the chillier months. Thick, occlusive formulas can seal in debris and cause more breakouts so it’s best to start with something medium weight and go thicker from there if you don’t experience any breakouts.

Yes, you need sunscreen during all seasons

By now, I hope you realize that sunscreen is 365-day essential. Even in the winter, use sunscreen daily. Choose one with three important features: an SPF of 30, effectiveness against UVA and UVB rays, and mineral sunscreen actives such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. A sunscreen with tint can also work well as a foundation.

But in the summer, you'll probably be outside more—gardening, walking the dog, playing with your kids—and that’s why you really need to double down on your commitment to sunscreen as a part of your summer skincare routine. I suggest using a product with a mineral blocker like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which deflects UV light, providing a physical shield from the sun’s damaging rays. In my opinion, these tend to work better than chemical sunscreen ingredients like avobenzone and oxybenzone, which absorb the sun’s rays and become ineffective more quickly. One note about mineral sunscreens though: You might have to test out a few to find your favorite. These common active ingredients have been known to leave a cast on darker skin tones, so it may take some experimentation to find the formula that’s right for you. And if you have melasma or other skin pigment concerns, consider a sunscreen with iron oxide: A 2015 study found that the mineral prevented melasma relapses when added to a sunscreen product. [3]

Don’t switch up active ingredients between seasons

Playing around with the formulas you use seasonally is one thing, but when it comes to the active ingredients used to treat your acne or the visible signs of skin aging, stick with what’s working. If salicylic acid is doing the trick, keep using it. If you’re pleased with the results you’re getting from a topical retinol, there’s no need to abandon it. In fact, it’s much better to stay the course, especially with retinol. Since skin typically needs time to adjust to this vitamin A derivative, your regimen needs to remain consistent.

One thing you may want to add more of to your skincare routine as summer approaches are antioxidants. These ingredients, like vitamin C, are great at preventing sun damage so if there were ever a time of year to up your usage, it’s spring and summer. In fact, one research review found that vitamin C was shown to increase collagen production and prevent oxidative stress to reduce the damaging effects of UV rays on the skin. [4] So it’s extra important to use it during sun-heavy seasons.

Add post-shaving protection to your summer skincare routine

If you shave more in the summer than in the winter like a lot of folks do (especially women who may find themselves in bathing suits more often), you might be dealing with more ingrown hair and razor bumps. That’s called pseudofolliculitis, a fancy term for when a hair gets trapped under the skin as it’s growing. You can prevent it by ensuring your skin is well moistened, shaving in the direction of the hair growth, and using an exfoliating product with glycolic or salicylic acid to help slough off the skin cells regularly before they can block hair follicles.

References:

[1]: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/bjd.16150

[2]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25351787/

[3]: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25443629/

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579659/

Jerry Tan, M.D.

Dr. Jerry Tan is a member of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists and an adjunct professor of dermatology at the University of Western Ontario and in private practice in Windsor, Ontario. He is the principal of Windsor Clinical Research Inc., a research site for clinical trials, and the Healthy Image Center, a cosmetic dermatology treatment facility. Dr. Tan graduated from Queen’s University in medicine and trained in dermatology at the University of British Columbia and the University of Michigan. In 2009, he was awarded the Canadian Dermatology Foundation Lectureship Award for excellence in dermatology research. In 2019, he was named Dermatologist of the Year by the Canadian Skin Patient Alliance.

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