Simple steps can keep your skin lovely and hydrated in the season of sunshine.
By Beverly Burmeier | Edited by Amanda Mauceri
What is it this year – stretching out on the beach or paddling on a mountain lake? Or will you be enjoying some well-deserved downtime somewhere in between?
No matter where you wander this summer, strong sun and warm winds can be brutal on your skin. Follow the right beauty regimen, though, and you can keep your skin fresh and healthy – even as the mercury soars.
Because your body loses moisture more readily during the summer, staying well-hydrated is necessary.
“Washing your face strips skin of moisture, and it’s easy to overdo if you have grime and sweat from being outdoors,” says Heidi Waldorf, MD, director of laser and cosmetic dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. She recommends drinking more water than usual, limiting alcoholic and caffeinated beverages (which can be dehydrating) and using a gentle replenishing cleanser.
Exfoliating scrubs that contain glycolic acid – a product derived naturally from sugarcane, although it can be created synthetically – help remove dead skin, open pores and improve circulation. Waldorf says the papain enzyme in papaya-based products can be used on sensitive skin, and that a sugar-grapefruit scrub also exfoliates naturally. Follow up with toner, moisturizer and sunscreen.
Mary Lupo, professor of dermatology at Tulane University in New Orleans, recommends cleansing at night and exfoliating in the morning (although products that do both may be used effectively at night). She also advises choosing a lighter, water-based moisturizer for the summer months instead of an oily product. “Change from creams to lotions, even to gels, for oil-free hydration,” Lupo says. “Gentle cleansers containing hyaluronic acid provide a hydro boost and can be used morning or night. HA holds water in the skin, doesn’t clog pores and is not heavy.”
After that, she recommends spraying on a cooling mineral water or rose water toner.
Safe Sun Fun
Cumulative sun exposure, even without sunburn, is the primary cause of lines, wrinkles and brown spots (to say nothing of increased skin cancer risk). The best way to reduce exposure is to avoid the sun entirely. Even if you wanted to do so, however, total avoidance is not practical because of incidental exposure while driving the car, walking the dog or sitting beside a sunny window. Dermatologists do endorse staying inside during the period from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
Doctors also recommend wearing sunscreen every day year-round, but especially during summer. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both types of ultraviolet rays found in sunlight) with a skin protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher a half-hour before exposure. Reapply at least every two hours, and more often if you’re spending time in the water.
“Most people don’t use enough sunscreen,” says Janet Lin, MD, a dermatologist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. “If you only apply a thin layer or think the SPF in your make-up is all you need, your protection won’t reach the SPF factor claimed on the label. The best procedure is to layer: Apply one good coating from head to toe and then put on another layer – even before the first is dry.” Waldorf adds that it’s important to remember areas such as the back of the neck, upper chest and shoulders, and that sunscreen preferably should be applied before getting dressed.
Choose a sunscreen formula that works with your skin type. Oil-free, extra-emollient or dry applicator sticks are available. “Chemical-free sunscreens are best, since all chemical sunscreens have an oil component to them,” Lupo says. If you choose sunscreens with minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients, Consumer Reports states that while being less likely to irritate skin, these products are also less likely to meet SPF claims.
Don’t forget other sun-protection measures:
- Wear a hat
- Wear sunglasses
- Wear a lip balm with an SPF rating
For those of you that spend a significant amount of time outdoors, consider UVA/UVB protective clothing such as hats, shirts and pants, which are all available with up to SPF 60 protection.
What if you forgot to apply sunscreen, or didn’t use enough or missed some critical areas? Once the damage is done, your objective is to cool and soothe the pain while easing redness and inflammation. As soon as you see that pink glow, make a cool compress using equal parts whole milk and water. (Soaking in a lukewarm milk bath may bring relief.) Or apply soothing botanicals and cooling gels – even yogurt – to help prevent peeling.
Inflammation from sun exposure negatively affects cell growth and stimulates collagen-destroying enzymes. Oral antioxidant formulations specifically designed for sun protection may also help; nutrients such as vitamins C and E help prevent damage from sun exposure. Green tea has the highest antioxidant level of all teas, so fill your cup and look for skin products that contain this. Lin also suggests exercising regularly and sleeping seven to eight hours each night to promote glowing, healthy skin.
Taking care of your skin inside and out is the best way to defend against summer-related damage. As Waldorf puts it, “The healthier you are, the healthier your skin will be.”