Most can agree that summer days are often spent soaking up the sun (while wearing SPF, of course), surfing the waves, and trying out new hiking trails. But, according to Dr. Christina Weng, a Harvard-trained board-certified dermatologist, these exciting excursions typically come at the expense of some level of damage to the skin — be it from the UV rays, chlorine, sweat, or oils that can accumulate. That’s why, just like your wardrobe, it’s important to transition your skin care routine from summer to fall to address these common concerns, as well as the new needs your skin has with the cold weather.
Dr. Weng explains that in the summer, even though one may try their best to protect their skin, it’s of the utmost important to repair the effects of sun damage and environmental exposures that can happen during the warmer months. In particular, the dermatologist says post-summer, people might start to notice new dark spots or sun spots, worsened hyperpigmentation or melasma, as well as congested skin with more breakouts.
And then, one must factor in the shifts in weather which can take a toll on the skin quicker than one might think. Come fall, the dermatologist says many can begin to see their skin becoming dry, flaky, or more sensitive. “Especially for those with seasonal allergies, they may even notice conditions like eczema flaring,” Dr. Weng adds. “The cooler weather, use of indoor heaters, and other environmental irritants can all disrupt the protective barrier of the skin and make it more sensitive and prone to rashes.”
Adding to that, Dr. Hope Mitchell, founder and CEO of Mitchell Dermatology, explains that as we’re transitioning to fall, the dryer air draws moisture right out of the skin. “Cooler weather may strip the skin’s protective barrier, creating breaks in the outer layer that allow water to escape and irritants to settle into the skin,” she explains. “It’s not just about the changes on the skin that you can see like red breakouts and flaky, cracked skin, but also the discomfort you may feel, such as burning, itching, and tingling during the cooler months.”
To address these skin issues, ahead, experts share how to transition your skin care routine from summer to fall. Hello fall, goodbye dry skin.
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Treat Sun Spots
When it comes to treating sun spots, Dr. Garshick says fall is a great time to transition your skin care to incorporate ingredients that work to lighten and brighten the skin — which can include antioxidants like vitamin C, exfoliating acids, retinoids, and other lightening ingredients, such as kojic acid. “The fall and winter months are also a great time to incorporate in-office procedures such as chemical peels and lasers to help eliminate any sun damage,” she adds.
Handle Skin With Care
“Consistency with dry skin care instructions will help combat each [cold-weather skin concern] and typically entail shorter, cooler showers with gentle cleansers, patting the skin dry and applying a moisturizing lotion or cream while the skin is still damp,” Dr. Mitchell explains. “If you are dealing with drier skin than normal, you may want to consider applying the moisturizer twice daily to lock in the moisture for best results.”
Look For Key Ingredients
As you’re putting together your fall skin care routine, Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, says overall key ingredients to look out for during the colder months are those that help to support the skin barrier to work to prevent moisture loss. “This includes ceramides which strengthen the skin barrier and occlusive ingredients that help to lock in moisture,” she explains. “Additionally, humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid are important as these draw moisture into the skin, helping to boost overall hydration and improve the appearance of the skin.”
Go For Creamy Cleansers
“Typically, in the summer months when people are facing humidity and excess oil, it is often recommended to use lightweight formulations and more foaming and gel-based [products] to help remove excess oil,” Dr. Garshick explains. “In the winter months, products with a more creamy or hydrating consistency, such as the CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser, tend to be preferred to help replenish any moisture lost.”
Dr. Mitchell agrees, adding, “my common advice is to first get rid of the cleanser that stripped the skin of natural oils and the summer shine or may even have ‘exfoliating’ on the label and choose a creamy, ‘hydrating’ cleanser that can start the moisturization process and not leave the skin dry or tight after cleansing.” And on top of that, she says to avoid cleansers with high alcohol content, sodium lauryl sulfate, and salicylic acid, which, as she notes above, tend to strip the skin of natural oils.
Swap Out Light Moisturizers
Dr. Weng says moisturizers that are popular for the summer tend to be gel or lotion formulations, which are lighter. “As we switch to fall with cooler weather and new environmental irritants, it's time to think about thicker formulations that are nourishing without feeling heavy or greasy,” the dermatologist explains. “Look for creamy, thicker products [that] tend to come in jars.”
To that point, Dr. Mitchell recommends searching for and loading up on moisturizers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, niacinamide, glycerin, urea, oat, colloidal oatmeal, petroleum jelly, and aloe vera.
Slightly Adjust Your SPF
Unsurprisingly, Dr. Shari Sperling, MD of Sperling Dermatology in New Jersey, confirms that sunscreen is still super important in the fall. However, she says, “if you [are] only outside for a short amount of time, like walking to and from the car, you can use a moisturizer with SPF, as opposed to a separate sunscreen that you would use in the summer months.”
Return To Retinoids
Though retinoids can be used year-round, Dr. Weng finds some people tend to ease back on the ingredient during the summer as it can make skin more sun-sensitizing. “As we transition into fall, it's the perfect time to add this back into your routine if you took a break, and retinoids are one of the most clinically proven ingredients for improving skin texture and tone,” she explains. “It's important to remember, even if you've used it daily in the past, when restarting retinoid products after an extended break, always do so gradually.”
Cut Back On Harsh Scrubs
It might be tempting to slough off dead skin cells, but these experts recommend cutting back on harsh scrubs and alcohol-based toners during the cold months. “While these, in general, should always be used with caution, particularly for those with sensitive skin, the fall and winter months are an especially important time to be gentle on the skin barrier and avoid stripping the skin of its natural oils as can occur with harsh, abrasive scrubs, and alcohol-based toners,” Dr. Garshick explains.