The Dermatologist-Approved Guide to Summer Skin Care

surfer in a wetsuit with sun cream protection on her face

Dermatologists spend summers underneath the same sun as the rest of us, but somehow their skin manages to stay clear and glowing all season long. Sure, it’s part of the job description, but even the professionals have to work a bit harder to prevent breakouts and minimize sun damage during the summer months. Warm weather brings a whole slew of skin-care challenges and questions like, “Do I really have to moisturize even if it’s 100 degrees out and my face feels oily?” (Spoiler alert: Yes.) Luckily, the experts know exactly how to face summer — pun intended — head on.

“A solid routine should be applicable to all seasons and all climates,” says Omer Ibrahim, a board-certified dermatologist and codirector of clinical research at Chicago Cosmetic Surgery and Dermatology. “With that said, there are a couple of changes one might consider when transitioning from winter to summer.” Ahead, we asked three dermatologists for their best summer skin-care advice. Consider this your definitive road map to healthy-looking skin all season long. Meet our experts, then keep scrolling for their favorite summer skin-care hacks and yes, one final reminder to wear broad-spectrum SPF.

1. Lighten up your skin-care routine.

If you’re not wearing a winter coat, why should your skin? “In the summer, I generally remind patients that just like their wardrobe, their skin-care routine may need to be a little more lightweight,” says Ibrahim. The heat and humidity of summer means you can swap out a heavier cleanser (think cream or oil cleanser) in favor of a gentle, foaming option.

2. Ditch that extra layer of moisturizer.

To help lighten things up, Ibrahim recommends switching to a combination moisturizer and sunscreen during the summer. “A lightweight moisturizer with SPF of 30 or higher may be plenty for most people,” he says. In fact, Ibrahim notes that thicker moisturizers can lead to clogged pores, inflammation, and acne. Especially if you have acne-prone or oily skin, losing one skin-care step with a combination moisturizer/SPF can help keep skin clear.

3. But don’t stop moisturizing completely.

That extra layer of sweat on your face does not count as a moisturizer. “Despite the weather being hot and humid, you still need to moisturize,” says Nava Greenfield, a dermatologist and medical director at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Brooklyn, New York. Even if your skin already feels oily, you should always follow cleansing with a moisturizer.

“Moisturizers reestablish the stratum corneum, your outermost layer of the skin, which protects from harmful pollutants and chemicals and prevents further irritation or dryness,” says Ariel Ostad a board-certified dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon in New York City. This is where that combination moisturizer/SPF comes in: A lightweight texture will help keep that outer layer nourished without feeling too heavy on your skin.

4. Invest in a solid vitamin C serum.

“Vitamin C is great year-round, but all the more important in the summer,” says Ibrahim. Vitamin C helps prevent hyperpigmentation, improve the appearance of fine lines, and can help with collagen production. Layer a few drops on your skin between cleansing and moisturizer.

5. Talk to your dermatologist about a retinoid adjustment.

Many people with acne (myself included!) use a prescription retinoid to help, as Ibrahim describes, “healthily dry out the skin to make sure the pores stay nice and clear of oil and debris,” but using the right strength is important.

In an already dry winter, a low- to mid-potency retinoid may be enough to keep acne at bay. Thanks to the heat and humidity of the summer, “a low-strength retinoid may not be enough to keep the skin clear and such patients may break out,” says Ibrahim. To combat that, he helps patients determine if a higher-strength retinoid may be appropriate. When temperatures start heating up, make an appointment with your dermatologist to discuss your retinol options.

6. Add an exfoliation skin-care step.

Dermatologists are often reminding us not to over-exfoliate, but the summertime ’tis the season to slough away. If you have oily skin, Ostad suggests incorporating “more exfoliation” into your skin-care routine. That doesn’t mean a daily dose of all your favorite acids, but try slowly increasing the amount of days you exfoliate per week. Ostad recommends alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) pads to “open up blocked pores and remove oils that result in acne.” Plus they feel nice and soothing on stressed-out summer skin.

7. Cut down your tub time.

Between workouts, beach days, and plain old summer sweat, many of us shower more than once a day during the summer. Ibrahim recommends keeping showers short, around four to five minutes. “Over-showering, or showering in water that is too hot, can lead to over-drying your skin, leading to inflammation and even summertime eczema,” he says.

8. Make sure all your makeup is non-comedogenic.

Take a close look at your makeup product labels and only keep those that are non-comedogenic. That’s a fancy word for a product formulated without pore-clogging ingredients. Especially over the summer, Greenfield recommends her patients “wear makeup that is not going to occlude your skin.” That might include options like a powder sunscreen, an oil-free primer, or a lightweight foundation.

9. Stay in the shade.

All our experts recommend their patients wear sun-protective clothing, wide-brim hats, and sunglasses in the sun. We don’t expect you to wear a long-sleeve shirt every single moment you’re on the beach, but be mindful to expose as little of your body as possible to direct sunlight. That might mean sitting underneath an umbrella, wearing an extra-large hat, or avoiding the midday sun.

10. Don’t forget to hydrate.

“Hydration is always important for our skin, but even more so in the summer,” says Ostad. Aim for eight glasses of water a day, which Ostad promises will have “great results” when it comes to your skin. Hydration can also help skin recover after a sunburn — but we know you’re all too smart to get those in the first place.

11. SPF, SPF, SPF.

We saved the most important, fundamental, don’t-leave-home-without-it tip for last: Wear sunscreen. Each of our experts recommends a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher on all exposed skin. Don’t forget about hands, feet, ears, and lips. “It is also important to note that sunscreen needs to be reapplied every couple of hours, so make sure to pack extra sunscreen for longer summer days outdoors,” says Ibrahim. Pro tip: Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to reapply.

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