What Your Skin Really Needs (and What It Doesn’t) for Summer

Dr. Loretta: You definitely don’t need to change every product you are using as the seasons change.  But during the summer months, it is advisable to make some tweaks to your daily skin care regimen. Here are a few to consider:

  • You may want to change your cleanser to address increased sebum production in summer. Formulas containing salicylic acid are often good summertime cleansers.
  • Consider using a hydrating, tinted SPF in place of morning moisturizer and makeup to reduce the number of products you’re applying to your skin.
  • You can consider using a green-tea serum in place of an oil-free moisturizer. Green tea is very helpful for oily skin and acne, and it is actually photoprotective.
  • If you are exfoliating with a chemical or physical exfoliator, you might want to lessen the frequency of use (more on this in a bit).

Do I still need to moisturize even if it’s 90 degrees out and my skin feels like an oil slick?

Yes, most of us still need moisturizer (or a moisturizing serum) even if our skin is oily in summertime. Skin-hydration levels and skin-oil levels are two totally different things. When our skin feels oily, it is mostly coming from non–water trapping oils, like sebum. So our skin can be very oily (reflecting excess sebum levels) and very dry at the same time (reflecting lack of moisture). Low moisture levels can have many causes, from dehydration because you’re not drinking enough water to loss of healthy water-trapping skin oils on the skin’s surface because you’re over-exfoliating.  Even if you have oily skin, you will generally need to use a hydrating serum or moisturizer to maintain good moisture in summer months.

I get freckles/sun spots/unwanted pigmentation in the summer. What can I do about it?

Daily sun protection and regular exfoliation are both essential to minimizing dark spots.

Exfoliation will help in two ways: First, although it’s our living cells that produce pigment, the excess pigment gets stored in our dead cell layer, so you should see some fading of dark spots with regular exfoliation. Second, spot-fading ingredients will penetrate better into living layers of skin if you exfoliate away the dead cell layer before applying topical skincare ingredients.

To protect your skin from the sun, wear sunscreen, preferably a mineral sunscreen with a tint from iron oxide. We know that iron oxide helps to fade dark spots faster and provides protection against blue light. And do reapply your SPF every two hours if you are at an outdoor activity.

Just as important as using SPF is avoiding outdoor activities during the sun’s strongest hours (from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.) and wearing sun-protective clothing. To protect your face, you should wear a floppy, wide-brimmed hat that will shade your forehead and central face.

Does skin need more or less exfoliation during the summer?

Skin’s natural rate of exfoliation slows down in the winter months and becomes healthier/more rapid during the summer months. For this reason, it is wise to lower the strength of the exfoliator you are using or to cut back on the frequency of exfoliation during the summer. Also, remember that our dead cell layer provides some sun protection, which means that exfoliation makes skin more sun-sensitive—another reason to consider exfoliating less.

There are two ways to tone down summer exfoliation: lessen frequency or use a lighter exfoliator, like going from a 30% to a 10% glycolic acid during the summer.

Can I use retinol during the summer?

You can absolutely use retinol in summer.

A few precautions/guidelines: Even if you are just applying retinol at bedtime, you do need to apply SPF in the morning, since retinol makes skin more sensitive to the sun.

If you see that you are getting red or peeling, a process we refer to as “retinoid dermatitis,” you should cut back on the use of the retinol since these skin changes will make you more susceptible to the sun.

Will do! Any other tips for summer?

Be sure to find a sunscreen that you like using on a daily basis. And match the SPF product to your activities: If you are planning to visit the beach, be sure to use a water-resistant SPF. If you are outdoors in the heat for extended periods, or vigorously exercising, be sure to apply a sweat-resistant product.