For some, summer is synonymous with swimsuits, salty air and glowing, sun-kissed skin. And as we shed the layers from winter and spring, we want the skin we show out in the world to not only look healthy but actually be healthy too.
From sun protection and hyperpigmentation, managing breakouts and getting your bikini zone prepped, we spoke with dermatologists to round up all the products you’ll need to take care of your skin ahead of the summer season.
Sure, you know that for most people summer means warmer temperatures and more humidity, but how does that affect our skin?
During the summer, you’re likely wearing less clothes and exposing more skin to UV radiation. Increased heat can drive up oil production or spark eczema flare-ups. Chlorinated pool water or sea water can strip your skin of natural oils. Plus, new blooms lingering from spring could trigger allergies that result in more itching and scratching.
Basically, there’s a lot going on. So, if you live somewhere where the seasons actively change, you’ll want to match your skin care products to the weather and how your skin is reacting to it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you have to completely overhaul your current routine.
“If you have ingredients that are working really well for you, you don’t want to mess with those active ingredients,” explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ranella Hirsch. “The thing that you want to change is what we call the vehicle or the delivery method by which you get that ingredient to the skin.”
If you were using a rich, moisturizing cream to combat dry skin in the winter, you might instead opt for a lighter gel or serum moisturizer that doesn’t feel as heavy for the summer. You could even find a moisturizing sunscreen if you’re looking to keep things ultralightweight.
Once you’ve figured out what product swaps work best for your skin care routine, you’ll want to make sure you’re applying them to the skin in the correct order in order to maximize the benefit of each product.
- After cleansing, go in with the thinnest-consistency product first like your toner (if you use one), essences and serums.
- Follow up with thicker but still water-like products, such as lotions and creams.
- Finish with your heavier products like balms and face oils. If it’s for your daytime routine, apply SPF after moisturizing.
- If you use ointments like Aquaphor or petroleum jelly to seal everything in, make sure these are the very last step of your routine.
Since the heavier products are more occlusive, such as rich creams rather than light serums, they create a barrier that helps protect the skin. That’s why things like healing ointment and Vaseline are great for slugging your skin, since they keep moisture in.
If you want to add an exfoliant to your routine, use it wherever the product type falls in the layering of your skin care — so if it’s a cleanser, use that first, and if it’s a serum or cream, use it later. But be wary of doing too much when it comes to exfoliating.
“If you use an exfoliative cleanser already, then consider skipping out on including other exfoliative products in other steps in your routine to avoid overexfoliating,” advises Kikam.
Let’s be clear: Sunscreens are not a summer-only skin care item. They’re a year-round essential, and when we say essential, we mean it.
Ultraviolet, or UV, radiation can be particularly intense during the summer, making sunscreen all the more important for protecting your skin from damage. Spending more time outside and exposing a greater area of skin to these elements means that conditions like rosacea, sunburns, redness, irregular pigmentation like melasma and others can get even more aggravated.
The best sunscreen is the one you will actually wear, so consider investing in one that’s in line with your preferences and lifestyle needs.
Dr. Joyce Park, a Seattle-based dermatologist, recommends that, for your body, you may want to choose a gel-like sunscreen that spreads easily, while a more elegant formulation like a tinted hydrating sunscreen serum is suitable for the face.
When shopping for sunscreen, you want to look for the words UVA and UVB or broad spectrum with a minimum of at least SPF 30. Apply your sunscreen in an even layer 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure and allow it to dry. For your face, the recommended amount of sunscreen is 2 milligrams per square centimeter, or about a quarter teaspoon.
But sunscreen is not a one-and-done kind of thing.
“You have to reapply every two hours,” says Park. “I like to use tinted sunscreen as my coverage during the summer, so I use that directly on my face to reapply.”
In addition to applying sunscreen on your skin, you can also consider wearing sun-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses for extra protection. If you’re going to be outside for long periods, check the UV index for your area and look for shaded spots where you’re not directly exposed, especially during hours of peak sun.
Prevention is key when it comes to good skin care, so don’t leave the house, or even the bathroom, without putting on sunscreen. Here are some of the derms’ recommended sunscreen picks:
This spray sunscreen from EltaMD is a great overall body sunscreen and perfect if there’s not a friend around to help reach your back. Just don’t forget to gently rub it in after you spray.
If you’re a person of color, finding sunscreen that doesn’t leave an unflattering white cast can be a challenge. This tinted mineral sunscreen virtually disappears on most skin tones, leaving skin with a soft and natural-looking finish.
Another good choice without a white cast, Kikam likes this Tizo tinted sunscreen. Formulated with vitamin C and E antioxidants and ceramides, this sunscreen has a lightweight feel that leaves skin feeling moisturized.
Kikam loves this sunscreen from the brand EleVen, created by tennis superstar Venus Williams, and even used it during past summer vacations. “I like it because it’s sunscreen, but it’s a serum, so it’s very lightweight,” says Kikam. “People, they tend not to like creams during the summer because everything is just hot, humid and they want lighter products.”
One of Park’s recommended picks for sunscreen, this SPF 40 sunscreen from Supergoop! is suitable for all skin types and is oil-free, perfect for layering under makeup and for everyday coverage.
Stick sunscreens like this CeraVe one also offer good protection but can be harder to use when covering larger areas or getting hard-to-reach places. You also might need to do multiple passes over one area to ensure you’re getting maximum protection and coverage.
The high heat and humidity of summer can send your sebaceous glands — the glands that produce oil on the top of your skin — into overdrive. This can cause oilier skin, breakouts and even ingrown hairs from clogged pores.
And if you’re out in the summer heat, you’re probably breaking more of a sweat than usual. Whether you’ve just finished a workout or you can feel your favorite athleisure sticking to your skin, if you want to avoid breakouts, get out of your sweaty clothes and into a shower as soon as possible. And while you’re in there, maybe give some of these products a go:
Chemical exfoliators with BHA or AHA like products with 1.5% to 2% salicylic acid or 5% to 15% glycolic acid can be great for targeting breakouts, but be careful not to strip the skin by using them too frequently. Kikam recommends exfoliating no more than three times per week. If you have sensitive skin, you should exfoliate even less and look into gentler enzyme-based cleansers.
A nice, gentle exfoliating wash, this body scrub from Neutrogeona has 2% salicylic acid acne medication, so it helps treat any current breakouts you have and helps prevent new ones from forming.
Among Hirsch’s favorites is this PanOxyl foaming wash, which you can find pretty much anywhere at a decent price point. “Put that on in the shower lathered up, let it sit for a couple of minutes. The point is not to just put it on and wash it right off,” says Hirsch. ”That’s enough to kind of fight the bacteria that tends to contribute to those breakouts.”
Kikam recommends niacinamide for oil control during the summer and for addressing discoloration to the skin. Niacinamide products generally range anywhere from having 2% to 20% concentration, so this Inkey List serum is a great choice at 10%.
Best summer skin care for hyperpigmentation and melasma
For those who struggle with hyperpigmentation and/or melasma, where spots or areas of skin appear darker than the rest of your natural skin tone, there is nothing better than sunscreen to help prevent further darkening.
“Look for the ingredient iron oxide, which is found in all tinted sunscreens,” explains Park. “This ingredient helps to block blue light, which has been found to worsen hyperpigmentation.”
Kikam also recommends mineral sunscreens with iron oxide for hyperpigmentation prevention since they not only protect against exposure from UV rays but also provide visible light protection, which early studies show worsens hyperpigmentation, especially in darker skin tones.
For helping reduce the appearance of any hyperpigmentation you may already have, Park recommends trying products with skin brighteners like vitamin C, arbutin, hydroquinone, kojic acid and tranexamic acid.
Adding products with ingredients that target correcting dark spots like niacinamide and tranexamic acid can help fade discoloration. Kikam likes this anti-discoloration defense treatment from Good Molecules. Topical retinoids can also aid in dispersing excess melanin and combating discoloration.
If your skin care routine is hyperpigmentation-focused, Kikam recommends adding in an exfoliating product with a blend of AHAs and BHAs to promote faster turnover of dark spots.
This Naturium Glycolic Acid Wash is a more affordable alternative to Ren’s body serum and has 5% glycolic acid, making it a gentler option too.
Beloved for helping to treat keratosis pilaris, this AmLactin moisturizer has 12% lactic acid, which is also great for body blemishes and dark spots.
Both Park and Kikam recommend making vitamin C a staple in your routine, especially in partnership with a good sunscreen, since it helps prevent sun damage and lighten discoloration.
CeraVe is a brand that’s great for sensitive skin. This vitamin C serum is the perfect starting point if you’re looking to add a vitamin C product into your routine.
When it comes to shaving any area, management is prevention. Knowing how to prep and care for your skin can help reduce signs of irritation like razor burns, caused by the mechanical friction of your razor, and razor bumps, which occur when the hair is trying to make its way back through the skin post-shave.
You’ll want to do all your shaving at the end of your shower, not as soon as or before you get in. So, finish your shampooing, conditioning, washing and exfoliating before you even touch your razor.
“The moisture from your shower is going to actually help soften the hair,” explains Kikam, “making it more suitable for shaving.”
For more sensitive areas like the bikini zone, Kikam recommends cutting down any hair to 1/4 inch using grooming shears. This will also help prevent you from having to make multiple shaving passes in one area, which can be irritating to the skin.
Grab your fresh and clean razor, apply a light layer of shave gel and shave in the direction of your hair growth, not against it. As much as you can, try to shave each section in one pass, since multiple passes at different angles increases the likelihood of irritation.
Be sure to rinse off your razor in between strokes to get rid of hair and cream stuck in the blades. Hirsch recommends replacing your razor blades every five or six shaves, but sooner if you see any rust or discoloration or if you’ve cut yourself.
For extra comfort post-shave, Kikam recommends applying a nice moisturizing cream and wearing loose-fitting undergarments to prevent further friction or abrasion to sensitive areas.
Kikam prefers shave creams with a colloidal oatmeal or vitamin E ceramides like this one, which is good for sensitive skin. You can also apply a light body oil the day of your shave to help soften hairs before you even get in the shower.
While having more blades on a razor will get you a closer shave, Kikam prefers single-blade razors like these Bic Silky Touch Twin Blade Women’s Disposable Razors for shaving. “When you have a closer shave you’re more prone to initiate an ingrown hair, so the single blades come with less risk of initiating an ingrown hair,” says Kikam.
Hirsch prefers razors with multiple blades since they generally prevent the need to do multiple passes — and the more you can make shaving a one-pass event, the better. Ones with a hydrating strip, such as this one from Billie, will help decrease the chance of frictional razor burn. We even named it the best razor of the year.
If you don’t love all the plastic of disposable razors, you can also invest in a refillable single-blade razor like this one by Oui the People, which is a little more environmentally friendly. We named it the best luxury women’s razor.
If you don’t already own a pair of grooming shears, you can snag this two-pack on Amazon. Use one to trim up your eyebrows and facial hairs, and leave the other reserved for work on the lower bodily regions.
Even in humidity and heat, skin still needs moisture. “Summer heat can trigger eczema flare-ups, so it’s important to moisturize more often with products containing ceramides to replenish skin’s moisture barrier,” says Kikam.
Applying hydrocortisone cream like this Vanicream 1% Hydrocortisone after shaving can help with any post-shaving irritation. Hirsch recommends applying a small amount of cream on particularly irritable areas but cautions that you shouldn’t apply it repeatedly
For the bikini zone, “zinc oxide ointment can be applied to the area as well to seal in moisture,” says Kikam. While it’s often used for diaper rashes, it’s equally effective at soothing skin and preventing and treating razor bumps.
We know it’s not exactly shaving, but no one wants irritation from chafing either.
To help with chafing, Kikam recommends decreasing sweat and humidity on your body by wearing looser garments as well as using products to help with moisture absorption and skin barrier-protecting products with zinc oxide.