A Derm Says Where You Live Is One of the Biggest Factors In Determining Your Skin’s Needs—Here’s How To Hack Your Routine Accordingly

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"The environment has a huge impact on skin," says Rebecca Marcus, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Dallas. Considering your skin is your first line of defense against the elements, this makes sense. Your complexion is constantly absorbing and reacting to what's going on around it—which means that people who live in dry, mountainous regions will likely have different skin concerns than someone in a pollution-filled city. And understanding the link between skin care and climate can help you curate a solid routine that will give your skin exactly what it needs.

While there are certainly a few skin-care basics everyone should follow (like washing your face, properly hydrating your complexion, and wearing SPF and antioxidants every day), you also want to make sure you're tailoring your routine to suit where you live.  For example, if you live in a humid climate, you may deal with oily skin and acne more frequently than someone who lives in a dry climate. If you live at a high altitude, you're closer to the sun and therefore getting more exposure to UV rays. And if you live somewhere with a lot of pollution, you're more likely to experience free radical damage caused by dirt and debris entering your skin.

Experts In This Article

Keep in mind that this isn't a perfect formula—depending on where you live, some of these concerns may overlap. Below, Dr. Marcus shares things you can do to best care for your skin in each and every environment.

How to care for skin in a dry environment

Simply put, dry air dries out your skin, but the impact goes beyond just dryness and flaking. When your skin is low on moisture, it weakens your skin barrier, which can cause irritation and make it harder for your skin to hold onto moisture. Plus, it can make your skin feel rough and itchy while also exaggerating the appearance of lines and wrinkles. "If dryness is an issue, then double moisturizing is a good idea," says Dr. Marcus. "So apply something like a hyaluronic acid humectant with a rich, thick emollient on top to seal that moisture in."

Sweet Chef Celery + Hyaluronic Acid Serum Shot
Sweet Chef Celery + Hyaluronic Acid Serum Shot — $20.00

Moisture is key when you live in a dry climate. This serum from Sweet Chef is full of moisturizing and hydrating ingredients like cold-pressed celery, hyaluronic acids, and glyceryl glucoside. It also provides antioxidant protection with niacinamide and a mix of green sprouts rich in vitamins A, C, E, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and chlorophyll.

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer with Niacinamide
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer — $20.00

This moisturizer is Dr. Marcus’s go-to. “I don’t think that moisturizers necessarily need to be expensive or fancy, but they just need to really work,” she says. This moisturizer has ceramides in it, which work to reinforce the skin barrier, something needed when dry air is constantly weakening the skin barrier.

How to care for skin in areas of high altitude

"If you live at altitude, it's not just the dryness, but also the radiation that comes from being actually physically closer to the atmosphere and to the sun," says Dr. Marcus. "People who are in the mountains get a lot more UV radiation." This is also the case if you live near the equator, as in both cases you're experiencing more direct sun rays.

Maei MD Serum 6
Maei MD Serum 6 — $140.00

Since being at a high altitude means you’re far from bodies of water and closer to the sun, you need hydrating ingredients to keep the skin moisturized and antioxidants to help protect the skin from UV damage. This serum from Dr. Marcus’s line includes hydrating hyaluronic acid and protective antioxidants. It also contains restorative peptides, revitalizing plant-derived skin cells, and balancing probiotics.

EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44
EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 — $37.00

“In terms of sunscreen, I tend to prefer mineral sunscreens,” says Dr. Marcus. “I love Elta MD, as pretty much every dermatologist says. Their UV elements is a really nice hydrating sunscreen.” It provides SPF 44 protection with transparent zinc oxide, plus hyaluronic acid.

EltaMD UV Elements Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 44
Heliocare — $28.00

Heliocare is an oral supplement that blends polypodium leucotomos (an extract that comes from ferns) and nicotinamide, which is similar to niacinamide in that they’re both forms of vitamin B3.

Nicotinamide has “been shown in clinical studies to reduce the incidence of basal cell carcinoma,” says Dr. Marcus. “Polypodium leucotomos comes from a fern in South America, and that has actually been shown in studies to increase the sun’s natural defenses to UV. So it’s not going to be a substitute for sunscreen, but it’s a great base layer. And I think that people in these high radiation environments, they really need a layered approach.”

How to care for skin in a humid environment

Humidity is more than just uncomfortable. Because your skin is surrounded by heat and moisture, your pores expand and oil production ramps up, which can lead to congestion and breakouts. The key is to keep things light. "If you live in a really humid environment, sometimes you're not going to need as much moisture for the skin," says Dr. Marcus. "People in South Florida, for example, can just get away with just a hyaluronic acid serum as their only moisturizer, and then sunblock on top."

Paula's Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster
Paula's Choice Hyaluronic Acid Booster — $39.00

If it’s humid enough that you can get away without using a cream- or lotion-based moisturizer, this serum from Paula’s Choice is a great alternative. It’s made with hyaluronic acid and sodium hyaluronate (the sodium salt of HA to help skin retain hydration; a triple-ceramide blend to visibly soften, strengthen, and firm skin; and provitamin B5, which draws moisture into the skin.

Isdin Eryfotona Actinica
Isdin Eryfotona Actinica — $60.00

This sunscreen from Isdin is great for those living in a humid climate because it dries down without leaving behind a greasy cast. It provides over SPF 50 protection with sheer zinc oxide.

How to care for skin in polluted areas

We know pollution is bad for our lungs, but it can also wreak havoc on our skin. When your skin is exposed to things like car emissions and cigarette smoke, your body creates free radicals, which are reactive, unstable molecules with unpaired electrons. Free radicals can impact your skin cells, and the damage they cause can result in signs of aging like wrinkles and dark spots. To protect your skin from pollution, Dr. Marcus says antioxidants are your best defense.

Platntkos Phyto Triple C
Platntkos Phyto Triple C Serum — $65.00

This lightweight serum is made with a blend of potent Ayurvedic herbs with hyaluronic acid and three forms of vitamin C (amla, e-ascorbic acid, and tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate) to provide ample environmentla protection while hydrating and brightening skin anf boosting collagen production.

SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic — $166.00

This serum is a faborite of derms everywhere because of its strong antioxidant protection. It’s made with 5 percent pure vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid along with 1 percent vitamin E and 0.5 percent ferulic acid. These all work together to neutralize free radicals, protecting against environmental damage while helping to lessen signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation.

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