No matter how badly you want to see results, the truth is, committing to a skin-care game plan is just plain hard—even for beauty enthusiasts. Add in the need to swap things in and out seasonally, hormonal changes, or sporadic weather patterns, and it’s all a recipe for manic skin and a medicine cabinet full of barely used products. Since a glow up is top of mind no matter what the season, we asked a cohort of skin-care experts to help map out exactly what to use (and when!), for the most effective path to perfect skin all year long. Keep on scrolling for your month-by-month break down of how to take care of your skin.
Now is the time to lay it on thick. Heavier creams, salves, and ointments are particularly helpful during dry winter months because they will do a better job of locking moisture into the skin. More moisture is lost from the skin when the humidity is low, so look for products that combine humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin with emollients like ceramides, petrolatum, and shea butter to draw in moisture and keep it there.
You also want to layer on your skin care the same way that you do your clothing this time of year. “I highly recommend keeping at least three steps after cleansing: toning mist, serum, and a moisturizing cream to deeply hydrate your dry skin. For an extra boost, add in a light eye cream,” suggests Angela Kim, founder of Savor Beauty. Also keep your toning mist nearby during the day to reboot on hydration if dry indoor air is bringing you down.
Let’s go back to the skin basics for sec. Our skin is coated with natural oils that form a protective barrier to help seal in moisture and protect us from harsh environmental conditions. When those oils are lost, water evaporates from the skin and the skin is left dried out. “Using harsh soaps and detergents exacerbate the effect because they are formulated to remove oil so they consequently strip moisture from the skin. It’s helpful to use gentle soap substitutes instead, like Dove, which won’t strip the skin of oil and moisture,” says New York City dermatologist Hadley King, MD. Particularly during the winter, King suggests keeping baths or showers to under eight minutes, no more than once per day, use lukewarm rather than hot water, and swapping in a soap-free beauty bar or other gentle soap substitute that won’t completely wipe out your protective armor.
While skin is particularly vulnerable and dehydrated, you may also need to cut back on certain anti-aging products that can cause more dryness. Retinols, chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid, and anti-acne ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are all culprits. Of course you may not want to forgo the glow-boosting benefits that these types of products provide, so stick to using them at night when you can layer up on your heavy-duty moisturizers.
If you’re new to retinoids, your face might be red, peeling, and extremely dry within the first few weeks of use. This is normal as the skin is getting adjusted to it. It may not be the best idea to start on it while your skin is already compromised because of the cold. “For best results, make sure your face is moisturized. You want your skin to be moist when you apply the retinol. Layering the retinol over a gentle moisturizer at night will help soothe the harshness of the retinol,” says NYC Cosmetic Dermatologist, Howard Sobel, MD founder of Sobel Skin.
The start of spring is a good time to put your clear summer skin plan into full throttle. A good addition to your regimen may be a vitamin C serum. The antioxidant protection against free radicals is ideal year round, but some formulations are potentially more irritating, depending on their pH. “If you have dry or sensitive skin or during the dry winter months you may do better with a gentler formula with a higher pH. “Wearing antioxidants at night helps you fight sun damage the next day. Your body builds up a storage of antioxidants as you use them, so using vitamin C serum at night will ensure your body has enough ready to go in the morning,” says Dr. Sobel.
As summer approaches line up a stronger SPF that blocks both UVA and UVB rays to help keep skin protected. Around now, you also want to stop using any chemical peels or laser treatments that can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. “Invest in a great sunscreen with SPF 50 as you will be spending more time outdoors enjoying the warmer weather,” says Michelle Henry, MD, Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Once the humidity in the air starts to rise, ditch the heavier creams for something lightweight or gel-based. This is especially helpful if you’re prone to oily skin. “Summer is the time to chill out a bit on the serums and oils depending on your skin’s needs. Too much can make you look way too oily instead of having that sought-after dewy glow,” says Kim.
Plus, heavier products coupled with naturally oiler skin can also lead to acne flare-ups. When your skin is already hydrated because of the humidity in the air, gel moisturizers and gel cleansers offer a lighter level of moisture. It’s also a good alternative when skin gets oily due to your hormones. “During the warmer months gel cleansers are very effective at removing sweat, oil and debris,” says Henry. She also notes that while these can be drying for sensitive skin in the winter months, they’re a good option for summer.
Chemical exfoliators like AHAs and BHAs, in addition to retinoids can all make your skin more sun sensitive, so dial them back come summer. Retinoids, particularly when your skin is first adjusting to their effects, can make your skin more sun sensitive. Prescription-strength retinoids can even thin out the skin, making it more prone to the sun’s harmful rays. “I do not think you have to sacrifice the benefits of these products all summer, it just means that you have another important reason to be super vigilant about sun safety,” says Dr. King. Many retinol products are deactivated by sunlight, so it’s generally best to use these products at bedtime. If your skin tolerates nightly use without becoming irritated, try using a one every night.
Of course you never know when you’ll get a breakout, but spot treatments used to treat them tend to work better during the summer. These are often difficult to tolerate when your skin is dry, but the oiliness of your skin, due to hormones and/or summer weather, makes these types of treatments more manageable on your skin. In addition, some face masks, particularly those that are clay-based, can be quite drying. These will be better and more useful when your skin is producing more oil in humid weather. Also on the cleansing front, you may feel the need to go a bit harder with removing dirt and oil from sweaty summer skin—if so, incorporate a cleaning tool like a sonic brush to your regimen. Just be sure stick with a gentle brush head so that you don’t overdo it.
Once you’ve soaked up all the summer sun (hopefully slathered in SPF) focus on evening out your complexion. “Brightening may be most helpful in autumn, after summer sun exposure has done its damage, to help reverse the discoloration. Sometimes using these products during the summer can be a losing battle unless you are extremely diligent with sun protection,” says Dr. King.
Depending on your location, you may be feeling an unpredictable mix of both true fall and left-over summer. Cool air, low humidity, cold winds, and moving from warm central heating into the cold and back again can significantly dehydrate your skin. Rehydrating the skin should be your focus in fluctuating weather condition—but building your skin care around a fickle forecast can be tricky. “Always check the weather and during the seasonal transition have different regimens prepared for whatever the conditions of the day might be,” says Dr. Henry. “I always have a light and rich version of my favorite moisturizers for this purpose. I even carry skin care to work as my needs change, based on the humidity of the office environment.” she adds.
Although skin protection is a year-round job, in preparation for winter and while almost completely out of exposed skin season, consider putting some anti-pollution products to work. “Protect your skin against environmental aggressors by using an antioxidant serum which can help neutralize free radicals,” says Dr. Sobel. Pollution protection goes hand-in-hand with your sunscreen. A serum versus a mist may feel more nourishing as temperatures drop. Either way, use it daily.
This time of year, your skin is likely rebelling against you hardcore. Scaly dry skin is trying to settle in for the next few months, and while not unexpected, it can be difficult to get under control. If not treated properly it can leave red or dark patches on your skin that you’ll have to treat with other products later. Your best bet is to ramp up on exfoliation—but do it gently. “Use gentle physical exfoliation like a warm washcloth or scrub gloves in the shower. Use gentle pressure and focus on areas where dry skin can build up like elbows, knees, heels and lower legs,” says Dr. King. So you get the same benefit in less steps.
FYI: In the throes of winter, here’s one way to think about changing your skin-care routine and this is your best bet for dry skin moisturizers.
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