Summer skin care is unanimous with sunscreen (duh) and sweat control. While winter beauty is all about hydration, days in the hot sun often means getting sticky and swampy in just a few minutes. Many of us trade in the heavy hydrating creams and mega-moisturizers for, say, blotting papers and light-but-mighty setting sprays.
Not to throw a wrench in your warm weather skin-care routine, but you shouldn't be skipping out on hydration when the temps start to climb, even if you're worried about breakouts. Sure, your skin might be producing more sweat than usual, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's hydrated.
"It's a common misconception that skin that is oily—which can occur even in people without oily skin at baseline in the summertime—does not require moisturizer," explains Rachel Maiman, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist at Marmur Medical in New York City. "Every skin type can experience dehydration... Skipping out on moisturizer, warm weather included, means you’re not providing your skin with sufficient water, which prevents the skin barrier from functioning optimally."
In skin care, dehydration refers to a lack of water, not oil. Dr. Maiman explains that when skin gets thirsty and oil levels become high, this can make skin more susceptible to all sorts of irritation. That's why you might associate breaking out with warmer weather—your skin is smart, and when it gets dehydrated, it'll kick those oil glands into gear to accommodate for the missing moisture. The end result? Acne, breakouts, irritation—all sorts of not-so-goodness.
The right hydrating serums can help
No, this doesn't mean you should break out that heavy duty ointment you slugged with all winter. Dr. Maiman recommends hydrating serums, which provide the right amount of moisture in a lighter, airier medium. "[This] can mitigate some of the concerns regarding moisturizer use in summer, like the product feeling too heavy and makeup prone to sliding off when applied after," she says.
If you have oily skin and are prone to breakouts, look for a warm weather serum that is formulated to manage acne, with ingredients like:
Dr. Maiman says HA is a hydration hero because it's a humectant, meaning it draws water from the lower layers of the skin to the upper layers. "Ensuring skin is adequately hydrated is key because dehydrated skin is at a greater risk for acne formation," she says.
Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)
"AHAs act as keratolytics, meaning they work to break the bonds between the outer layer of skin cells, including dead skin cells, and the next skin cell layer," says Dr. Maiman. "The end result is exfoliation, which reduces the likelihood that these dead, clumped skin cells clog pores and induce acne."
Similar to AHAs, salicylic dissolves dead skin cells and rejuvenates the top layer. Dr. Maiman explains the difference is in how it's absorbed into sebum-filled pores: "As a consequence of its action at the pore level, salicylic acid prevents pores from getting clogged with dead skin cells and, therefore, are excellent for patients prone to comedonal acne—the type of acne characterized by blackheads and whiteheads."
Niacinamide is a brightening agent beloved for its anti-inflammatory abilities, even in those with super sensitive skin. It's generally non-irritating and can be used morning and night.
Derms love this antioxidant for its magic on evening and smoothing skin tone. "[It helps] fade post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and post-inflammatory erythema, the pesky, flat, leftover brown and red marks that remain after acne resolves" says Dr. Maiman. "It also helps suppress inflammation in acne lesions that are active."
This one's a little tricky, since you have to be careful using it with sun exposure, but Dr. Maiman recommends a hydrating serum with a retinol at night. Specifically once daily, at nighttime, eased into, starting only a few non-consecutive nights per week before working up depending on how skin reacts. "[Retinols] normalize the maturation of skin cells, called keratinocytes, which ultimately reduces the formation of comedones," she says. "This not only prevents blackheads and whiteheads, but also reduces more inflammatory and cystic acne... Retinol has also been shown to have potent anti-inflammatory effects independent of its activity on cellular turnover."
Serums formulated with a handful of these ingredients are going to be your BFF all summer long. After cleansing and toning, rub it into your skin and enjoy the burst of hydration before finishing with your favorite moisturizer. Just keep an eye on that ingredient profile for how often you should use. "For instance, a pure hyaluronic acid serum or one that also contains non-irritating ingredients like niacinamide can be used twice daily," Dr. Maimain says. "Hydroxy acids, including AHAs and salicylic acid, require some experimentation to assess tolerance and optimal frequency. They should be worked up gradually."
For our senior commerce editor, it’s already hot in Los Angeles, so she’s had to switch over to warm weather skin care. This includes Banila Co Dear Hydration Intense Essence serum, a lightweight serum that feels like a cool splash of water on your face every morning and night. The water gel formula makes sure your skin stays ultra hydrated, bouncy, and dewy all day long—without worrying about clogging pores or pissing off your complexion. Thanks to ingredients like neem leaf extract (a plant-derived infusion of hydration that also fights discoloration), bamboo (more hydration), and fermented lotus water (this soothes and keeps skin clear), this serum has been her go-to for the last month. Supple, bright, clear skin? Yes, please.
“This is one of my absolute favorite serums for acne-prone skin, because, if there was ever an all-in-one serum for acne-prone skin, it’s this,” says Dr. Maiman. That’s because it contains a potent combination of salicylic acid, lactic acid, and a retinoid, “which makes it a powerhouse product for speeding cell turnover, decongesting pores, reducing inflammation, and fighting the signs of aging all simultaneously.”
Unsurprisingly, fan-fave Drunk Elephant is on Dr. Maiman’s list, thanks to the way it penetrates skin to deliver hydration and maintain long-lasting moisture. “It also contains a unique blend of lentil-apple and watermelon complex, which helps diminish drabness, dryness, and the appearance of fine lines,” she says.
Dr. Maiman adores this hydration hero because it doubles down on hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 (aka pantothenic acid). “Unlike other common moisturizing ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, panthenol has the added advantage of acting as both a humectant and an emollient, meaning it draws moisture from the atmosphere into the skin and then helps to retain it,” she says. Together, these two ingredients are a power couple, hydrating while enhancing the skin’s repair process at the same time.
True to its name, this serum will bring dry, thirsty skin back to life. It’s a water-based gel that hydrates and seals in moisture without leaving any sticky, tacky feelings behind, making skin dewy and radiant on its own (it also layers well with other products). In addition to sodium hyaluronate (a deeply penetrating form of hyaluronic acid), Dr. Maiman sings its praises for ingredients like arnica (which reduces inflammation) acetyl hexapeptide-8, “a neuropeptide that helps soften expression lines over time.”
A few drops of this thirst-quenching serum will leave your face feeling hydrated all summer long, minus the breakouts. Its star ingredient is Everlasting Flower, a Greek botanical that’s been around for centuries, thanks to its levels of antioxidants and soothing abilities. It’s also formulated with Dr. Maiman’s favorite hydration heroes, including sodium hyaluronate and squalane which give skin some serious love on the moisture front without irritating it.
Our editors can’t get over how good this hyaluronic serum—from new kid on the block skin-care brand Ferver—is. The entire line features fermented ingredients, which allows for greater efficacy and more potency during delivery.
This viscous hyaluronic acid is a dream for hydration. A few drops will make you think it’s thick enough to clog pores or weigh skin down—it’s not. The fermented HA goes on light and smooth, penetrating both layers of the dermis without getting heavy or tacky. Use it alone or mix a few drops in with your favorite moisturizer for all-day comfort.
Comfort Zone’s luxe Hydramemory line never ceases to amaze us, either. The texture alone is enough to make your skin swoon—it’s featherlight and effortless to apply under moisturizers or makeup. Then, there’s the biomimetic peptides of hyaluronic acid made to moisturize skin without throwing its natural makeup completely off balance. It’s a refreshing burst of hydration that does its job without irritating your face, even on the hottest, sweatiest of days.
Reminder: The key to good skin hydration is a healthy skin barrier. This new serum from Pacifica gives you all-day protection on even the most sensitive skin, without upsetting it even more. The vegan ceramides work to repair skin, nourishing dry patches and adding moisture where needed. There’s also marshmallow root, which soothes redness and smoothes cracks, and calendula, for an extra calming burst. For $16, it’s worth a spot in your routine.
Before you go to bed, rub a few drops of this luxurious plumping serum into your skin and enjoy your beauty sleep. This elegant oil doesn’t just hydrate skin overnight—it restores it, too, so you’re fueled to fight breakouts, pollution, and whatever else life throws at you the next day. Each batch is blended with kakadu plum, baobab, and macadamia, all of which are rich in antioxidants to nourish and renew your skin while you snooze.
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