Updated 5/25/20. Once boots and sweaters have been relegated to the back of your closet, it’s officially time to start updating your skincare routine for summer. Any time there is an extreme shift in temperature and climate, it’s going to affect the way your skin behaves so it’s always important to listen to your skin and make modifications based on seasonal needs. Due to the higher summer temps and increased sun exposure, this can bring on a whole host of issues, including free radical damage, brown spots, redness, increased oil, and breakouts.
Here are eight tips for switching up your skincare routine that will help you avoid these summer skin woes like a pro.
1. Switch to a lighter moisturizer
When the air is really dry in the winter, your skin has a hard time hanging on to moisture. However, the higher humidity levels that accompany warm, summer weather allow your skin to retain more of its natural oils. This means you don’t need to be adding as much oil into your skincare routine in the summer. That being said, your skin cells always need water regardless of your skin type, and summertime is no exception. In fact, water can evaporate with heat, leaving you feeling tight and dehydrated. A light, oil-free moisturizer is a great moisturizer for summer, especially if you have oily skin. (Looking at you, skin types 3 and 4!) This will give your skin an infusion of water and keep it looking plump and feeling good. Using a lighter moisturizer in the morning will also help foundation makeup and sunscreen to stay put longer throughout the day. Some of the oils in heavier moisturizers can actually start to dissolve these products.
With that in mind, remember that it’s always important to listen to your skin. Spending a day in the sun can cause moisture evaporation and leave skin feeling parched, in which case you can play it by ear and use something a little heavier to replenish the oils that were depleted by the sun exposure.
2. Properly cleanse at night to remove sunscreen, sweat and oil
Sunscreen (especially water-resistant sunscreen) can be the trickiest part of a summer skincare routine, especially if you’re prone to clogged pores. Add in the excess sweat and oil production that are unavoidable during summer months, and it may seem like breakouts are inevitable. (Ugh!) Including a proper cleanse as part of your nightly skincare routine is by far the best defense against summer breakouts.
Here’s how to wash off sunscreen so it doesn’t clog pores:
- Use a cleansing lotion that contains lightweight emollients (oils). This type of cleanser does a better job of removing sunscreen and makeup than a water-based cleanser.
- Massage the cleansing lotion onto dry skin for 60 seconds. This will break down sunscreen, makeup, and oil better than on wet skin.
- Wet your fingertips and thoroughly massage the skin one more time, making sure you get into all the nooks and crannies.
- To remove your cleanser, wet a baby washcloth and gently wipe it across your face. This will pick up any last traces of sunscreen and dirt so you can feel confident it’s not hanging back to settle in your pores.
- Optional: use a deep-cleansing mask such as Rapid Response Detox Masque for your pores. This is especially helpful if you’ve been wearing water-resistant sunscreen and spending a lot of time outdoors that day.
Read more on how to stop your sunscreen from clogging your pores.
3. Switch to a low-foaming cleanser in the morning if you have oily skin
If you’re wondering how to take care of oily skin in the summer, this tip is for you. While some traditional foaming cleansers are a no-go because many can strip the skin, using a gentle, low-foaming cleanser instead of a lotion or balm cleanser in the morning can help you get a somewhat deeper clean and cut through sweat and oil. A low-foaming cleanser like with antimicrobial properties is an especially good option after a workout or any activity that causes you to sweat a lot. When choosing a foaming cleanser, make sure it’s ‘sulfate-free.’ I still recommend a lotion-based cleanser in the evening to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to removing makeup and sunscreen from the day.
4. Use an anti-bacterial body wash to prevent body acne
When you’re updating your summer skincare routine, don’t forget about the skin on your body. During the summer, breakouts on the back and chest can become more frequent. This is because spending time in the sun can actually lead to an increase in dead skin cell buildup. This causes dirt, oil, and bacteria to get trapped under the skin, which in turn can cause blemishes. One way to stay ahead of this is to use an anti-bacterial cleanser containing ingredients like salicylic acid on your body twice a week. Apply it to a loofah or baby washcloth and massage it over the back or body. This will encourage the removal of dead skin cells so that your pores are less likely to get clogged in the first place. Regular exfoliation will also keep your skin looking smooth and glowy, which is great in the summer when you’re showing more skin.
5. Reapply sunscreen throughout the day
It’s no secret that summer equals sun, and this means it’s more important than ever that your skincare routine includes diligent sunscreen application. Excess sun exposure can lead to DNA damage, resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin later on. It can also trigger melanin cells and cause them to become overactive, which is what leads to brown spots, hyperpigmentation, freckles, and, in some cases, melasma. (Read all about melasma.) While a good application of a lotion sunscreen in the morning should always be the cornerstone of your skincare routine in the summer, you need to be re-applying sunscreen throughout the day as well to stay protected from strong UV rays.
Here’s how to re-apply sunscreen over makeup.
For your regular day-to-day, using a mineral powder to top off your sun protection should suffice. Look for the ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and dust on a layer of powder every 1.5 to 2 hours. I like an SPF-rated powder like Colorescience or Supergoop, but if you’re using makeup that contains titanium dioxide, know that you’re getting protection from UV rays even if the product does not have an SPF rating. If you’re spending the day doing outdoor activities (like hiking or going to the lake or beach), it’s important that you continue to layer on actual sunscreen lotion every 1.5 to 2 hours.
6. Go easy on retinol and chemical exfoliants before prolonged sun exposure
Generally speaking, you don’t need to stop using retinol or chemical exfoliants in your skincare routine during the summer. I use them year-round, faithfully. You can continue to use them regularly as long as you are diligent about daily sunscreen application. Remember, these ingredients can sensitize your skin a bit and could make it more vulnerable when out in the sun, so using them in the summer without sun protection is a big no-no. That being said, if you know you have a trip or event coming up that will result in a lot of sun exposure (like a trip to the beach or a day spent outside at the pool), it’s best to go easy. Discontinue use of any retinol or chemical exfoliation products four days prior, and pick them back up again two days after you’ve been in the sun.
7. Load up on antioxidants
When you’re spending more time outdoors, you’re exposed to more free radical activity from both the sun and pollution (especially if you live in a city). The best way to combat this is to load up on antioxidants—both internally and topically. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is the best way to load up on antioxidants internally. Foods like tomatoes, spinach, watermelon, oranges and blueberries are packed with immune-boosting antioxidants. (Read more about how food affects your skin.)
Topically, you should be using a stable Vitamin C serum every morning. Not only do the powerful antioxidants in this serum protect against free radical activity, but they can help suppress excess melanin activity. During the warm summer months, UV light can trigger unwanted pigmentation, but did you know that heat can have the same effect even without UV light? Using an antioxidant serum will help keep unwanted pigmentation under control.
I also recommend adding in an antioxidant replenisher as part of your nighttime skincare routine in the summer. Think of your antioxidant supply like a tank of gas. Even if you apply an antioxidant serum in the morning, your tank is empty by the end of the day, especially if you’ve been spending time outdoors. Using a product like this at night is a great way to restore your supply or “refuel” while you sleep.
8. Use soothing products to manage heat-induced redness in sensitive skin
Summer can be tough if you have sensitive skin and are prone to redness. When temperatures are high, your capillaries can dilate, which means more blood coming to the surface of the skin causing it to look pink or red. In some cases, it may also feel warm to the touch. When capillaries are constantly dilating and restricting from heat, they become stressed and can turn into “broken” capillaries with age. But don’t worry, there are a few things you can do to avoid this:
- Use products with calming, soothing ingredients like chamomile, green tea or oat kernel extract.
- Put your products in the fridge to help cool down the surface temperature of the skin. If you experience redness, one of the main goals is to keep the skin cool, and products with a gel consistency lend themselves especially well to this! Avoid hot water as well to prevent capillaries from expanding further.
- Avoid ingredients that are too harsh or irritating. Common culprits include synthetic fragrance, high concentrations of essential oils and foaming sulfates. In the summer, you may also want to look out for Avobenzone. This is a common ingredient used in chemical sunscreens that may cause skin sensitivity and inflammation. When in doubt, patch test first.
- Go easy on chemical exfoliation. As I mentioned above, it’s good to cut back on exfoliation before prolonged sun exposure, as this can make the skin more photosensitive. The same is true for those prone to redness, irritation and sensitivity. Over-exfoliating can lead to a damaged moisture barrier and end up causing more harm than good. (Read how to fix a damaged moisture barrier.)
So there you have it, my recommended tweaks that will give you the perfect summer skincare routine. Bring on the barbecues and pool days—with loads of sunscreen and antioxidants!
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”