Do you really need to swap your skincare seasonally?
A dermatologist separates truth from fiction.
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As the seasons change and you replace your wardrobe with appropriate clothes, you might wonder if changing up your skincare routine is necessary as well. Noticeably, many people contend with excess sweat and oils in the hot, humid summers and drier skin in the cold, harsh winters. As a result, many begin to care for their skin differently, opting for lighter-weight lotions and potions in the warmer months, and even removing products from their routine altogether. Aside from upping your usage and reapplication of sunscreen in the summer, is it really necessary to swap out your entire skincare routine seasonally?
To answer this burning question, we spoke with Dr. Cynthia Robinson, a board-certified dermatologist based in Texas, who also touched on the role the environment plays and offered tips for unlocking healthy skin all year long.
Is it a necessity to swap your products out seasonally?
The short answer: No.
If you have a skincare regimen that works well for your complexion and addresses any concerns and conditions, you don’t need to change things up. “The main difference between winter and summer, as far as our skin is concerned, is really how dry it can get,” Robinson says. Hot temperatures cause sweating and an increase in oil production while colder weather can dry out skin and leave it prone to irritation.
Overall, though, switching out your products according to the weather is more of a personal preference rather than a dermatological necessity. Robinson compares it to changing out your wardrobe, acknowledging that it may be more comfortable to use a lighter moisturizer in the summer when you produce more sweat and oil and a thicker moisturizer in the winter when your skin is drier, for example. If you notice a drastic difference in how much sweat or oil you produce in the summer, you may want to incorporate lightweight or gel-textured products. Otherwise, your regular regimen is fine year-round.
What role does the environment play in skin health?
One major factor that’s often overlooked when it comes to achieving healthy skin is the environment you live in. It’s just as important as sticking to the right skincare routine for your skin type (normal, dry, oily, or combination), and maintaining appointments with a dermatologist, especially if you have any underlying skin conditions or sensitive skin.
Environmental factors like pollution can take its toll on our skin, Robinson explains. “Part of why our skin ages and looks a little bit more dull at times isn’t only due to sun exposure, but also oxidative stress and things in the environment that cause oxidation to our skin.”
She recommends leaning into antioxidants, like vitamin C, to help protect against some of those stressors. You may spend more time outside—where pollution is most likely to affect your skin—during the warmer months, but you can use a vitamin C serum year-round to block damage from so-called free radicals.
How can you better maintain your skin in any season?
You may already reach for the SPF on summer days, but you should apply sunscreen to exposed skin all year long. Using a sunscreen can help protect the skin from UV rays, regardless of whether it’s sunny and warm outside. “Being outdoors [and] not wearing sunscreen [or] not seeking shade can cause damage to the skin that can sometimes be irreversible,” Robinson says.
The key is to find a sunscreen that's suitable for your skin type and tone, so that it doesn’t irritate your skin or leave behind a white cast and you’ll be more likely to reach for it. Getting to your personal Goldilocks product could be a process that's more trial and error than anything else, but you can look for keywords like "oil-free" or "lightweight feel" or "invisible" if your main SPF complaints are that it feels greasy or filmy or leaves you looking chalky.
Another skincare aspect that may not get as much attention: your shower routine. Showers should be kept to a maximum of 10 minutes and the water temperature should be cool or lukewarm, not scorching (not even—and especially!—when it’s extra-cold out). Longer and hotter showers strip your skin’s natural moisture, which can translate to skin dehydration, dryness, and irritation. This is true even in the summer months—in fact, you may be showering more frequently in the summer because of sweating or swimming, so you want to keep the showers short and use a hydrating body wash to hold in moisture.
Lastly, applying your lotion or body cream directly out of the shower will help to lock in the moisture and bolster your skin’s barrier, or the outer layer that protects it from the outside elements. According to Robinson, applying creams while the skin is still damp allows you to “work with the moisture that's already sort of sitting on your skin and the moisturizer cream can help you lock that in.” Look for skincare products containing hyaluronic acid to help pull in and retain moisture in the skin, and ceramides, or the lipids found in the outermost layer of the skin that protect the skin barrier.
Are there any skincare ingredients to avoid in summer or winter?
Just as all skincare routines are not created equal, all ingredients aren't, either. Products including retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and other ingredients commonly used to treat acne will make you more sensitive to the sun, according to Robinson. This fact underscores the importance of sunscreen, especially when you’ll be outdoors more often. Otherwise, it's more of a frequency versus tolerance conversation, as some ingredients can be more irritating than others and your sensitivity may be exacerbated by weather changes. If you notice sudden irritation, consider reducing your use of those actives until things calm down.
What if you have a medical skin condition?
If you have acne or underlying skin conditions, you’ll want to tailor your routine to manage those symptoms year-round, and watch for signs of them worsening when the seasons change. Those with eczema or rosacea in particular tend to have dry skin, and any weather extremes can worsen symptoms.
Dry, cold climates leave the skin with little moisture, and the hot summer sun ramps up sweat production. Plus, the things you might do to cool off—such as swim in chlorinated pools or the salty ocean—may also irritate sensitive skin. Both seasons may require a ramp up in moisturizers and ointments, as well as sun protection when going outside during any time of year.
The bottom line: Speak with a dermatologist to determine how best to manage skin conditions as the seasons and weather changes, especially if you’re frequently outdoors.