Once upon a time, skin type was the only thing to consider when it came to developing an effective skin care routine. And while whether you’re dry, oily, or sensitive is still a determining factor as to what products you should be putting on your face, it turns out the zip code you’re in is just as important. The reason is simple: Your skin needs change depending on the local temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure of the climate you’re in. Think of it as climate-specific skin care.
According to board-certified dermatologist and AmberNoon founder Dr. Erum Ilyas, the skin deals with different challenges throughout the year depending on where you live. “While summer adds humidity, added UV exposure, and heat that cause us to flush much easier, spring and fall can add allergens to the air that can irritate our skin just as much as our airways,” she says. “And with the excess cold and dry air in the winter, our skin will need added moisture since it is simply not getting it from the environment.”
Not to mention, your moisture barrier (aka the outermost layer of skin responsible for shielding your skin from the outside world) is also at risk depending on the climate you’re in. Studies have shown that colder climates with low humidity can lead to a general decrease in skin barrier function, meaning your skin is less equipped to tackle things like UV rays, toxins, and pollutants.
Below, find out the common skin concerns according to the climate you’re in, plus how to care for your complexion accordingly.
Living or traveling to the southeast can leave your skin exposed to heat and humidity year-round, which can, in turn, increase oil production, clog pores, and exacerbate blemishes, notes board-certified dermatologist and founder of DermaDoctor Dr. Audrey Kunin. “Also, increased sun exposure can lead to premature skin aging including age spots and melasma.”
Because you’re more likely to find high humidity levels versus freezing temps in the southeast part of the country, there’s less of a need for heavyweight moisturizers. Instead, opt for lightweight, oil-free moisturizers, serum-based treatments, and sunscreens. Dr. Kunin also recommends using chemical and physical exfoliants, as they help lift away pore-clogging oils, makeup, and surface debris. Finally, look for products that are labeled non-comedogenic to help keep your pores clear.
The northeast is known for its extreme, fluctuating temperatures (think: harsh, ice storm-filled winters and warm, humid summers). Those living or traveling to the northeast in the winter may experience eczema or rosacea flare-ups in addition to dry, cracked skin. “Dry skin can trigger itching, which can trigger a breakdown in skin, which can ultimately lead to infection or cellulitis,” says Dr. Ilyas. This breakdown — or “cracks” in the skin — can pave the way for environmental elements like pollutants and irritants to seep their way into your skin and lead to potential damage. “Think of cracks in the skin like the walls of your house,” says Dr. Ilyas. “If you let cracks develop in the walls of your home, it’s only a matter of time before it’s impacted by the environment.” In contrast, summers in the northeast involves high humidity levels, which may cause breakouts in those who have oily skin.
If your winter plans call for a trip to the northeast, Dr. Ilyas says to layer a hyaluronic acid-based serum underneath a moisturizer. “Hyaluronic acid tops the list [for this climate] because it’s very effective at drawing moisture to it,” she says. “It’s ideally used in conjunction with a moisturizer on top because if the skin is excessively dry, the hyaluronic acid will still ‘seek’ moisture to pull into it. It may paradoxically dry your skin further if it doesn’t find it.” If you live or are traveling to this climate in the summer, opt for cleansers and lotions with glycolic acid to help reduce excess oil.
Touted for sunshine and warmer temps, a west coast climate can leave your skin exposed to the sun, which can result in sunspots, freckles, uneven pigment, and premature aging, says Dr. Peredo. Studies have also found that pollution in major high-traffic cities like Los Angeles can also trigger age-inducing stressors upon the skin such as wrinkles and age spots.
For those living in this type of climate, Dr. Peredo recommends wearing an SPF of at least 30 to protect against premature aging. And, since those living in or traveling to this climate are more likely to spend time in the water, reapplication every two hours or after swimming is essential for keeping the skin protected.
Stockdale-Shaw says to go lighter on the oils if you’re in a warmer, more humid climate to avoid clogging your pores, and to use brightening products that include vitamin C to ward off the hyperpigmentation this sunny climate can cause. “In addition to improving collagen production and pigmentation, vitamin C is also an antioxidant that can help fight free radicals for those who are exposed to pollution,” she says.
“Mountain living is associated with a dry climate and less ozone protection,” notes Dr. Kunin. “This can lead to skin dryness and irritation (think: redness, itchiness, and sensitivity).” Also, the high altitude can increase your exposure to UV rays. According to Dr. Ilyas, studies have shown that fresh snow can reflect and magnify UV, and can as much as double your UV exposure.
To treat your dry, sensitive skin, Dr. Peredo says to look for hydrating, soothing products that have a thicker, cream-based consistency to help combat dryness and flakiness. Oatmeal, ceramides, borage seed, evening primrose, and black currant seed oils rich in linolenic acid are all ingredients to keep on hand if you’re in this type of climate, says Dr. Kunin. And if you’re spending time outdoors engaging in snow sports, make sure to up the ante on your SPF.