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It's no secret that the weather has a pretty big impact on our moods. What's less known, however, is the fact that the environment can also affect your skin. Sure, we know that hot, sunny days can lead to sunburn, but it goes deeper than that. To learn everything there is to know about the weather's impact on your skin, we chatted with a few professionals in the dermatological field. Thanks to their expertise, you'll soon understand how to best care for and protect your complexion, no matter where you live or what the weather is outside.
Seasonality and Your Skin
As the body's outermost shield, skin is the main organ that comes directly in contact with the environment each and every day. "As a result, it is subject to all the elements that Mother Nature can throw at us," says New York City-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brendan Camp. "For people living in areas with four seasons, each page turn on the calendar brings a different environmental change that can affect our skin." Where spring and summer's beating sun and subsequent heat makes us sweat and exposes our complexions to higher levels of UV damage, fall and winter's dropping temperatures and high wind speeds are known to dry out skin like no other.
It's important to note, however, that not everyone lives in a place where four seasons exist. With that being said, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Howard Sobel—the creator of Sobel Skin Rx—points out that ultimately, it all comes down to temperature. "Temperature especially has a direct correlation to the state of your skin, and most people have the best skin in moderate temperatures. When it gets especially hot or cold, your skin can definitely suffer," he says. And let's not forget about air pollution. Folks living in cities often find themselves with more breakouts and overall skin disruptions, thanks to the many free radicals in the air.
Hot days don't only occur during the summer. Depending on where you live, winter might be nearly as toasty as summer—which is why focusing on temperature, as opposed to seasons, is helpful. According to Dr. Camp, on hot days, sweat, oil, grime, and friction (from damp hair and clothing) work together to irritate skin and clog pores, both of which contribute to acne formation. Add thick sunscreens to the mix, and your skin is even more likely to break out. What's more, Dr. Camp points out that too much heat and sweat can lead to miliaria, or heat rash, which is another type of weather-related breakout. And let's not forget that high heat typically correlates to increased sun exposure, which ultimately means there's a greater chance for premature aging.
"The sun's rays not only damage cellular DNA, which can lead to the formation of skin cancers, but accelerate the process of skin aging by damaging structural proteins, like collagen and elastin, and triggering the formation of oxygen free radicals," Dr. Camp explains. "Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that affect cellular structures like DNA, protein, and lipids." As spring and summer approach, New York City-based cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Michele Green says that it's best to go lighter with your skincare—think gel- and water-based cleansers and moisturizers. "The warmer climate causes more sebum production and can cause breakouts," she explains, noting that by going lighter, you'll be less likely to clog your pores. And if you experience acne anyway? Work the skin-clearing Sobel Skin Rx 27% Glycolic Acid Facial Cleanser ($42, drsobelskinrx.com) into your skin when hot weather strikes—or integrate the product into your permanent routine if you experience high temperatures (and zits) regularly.
When temperatures are lower, your skin is less likely to break out, because there's a lower chance of sweat and grime getting trapped within pores. That said, other non-acne-related breakouts exist. "Cold is an environmental stress that can cause inflammation and flare skin conditions like rosacea," Dr. Camp explains, noting that the low humidity also makes the skin more prone to changes like redness, cracking, and tightening due to lack of moisture. "These changes can make eczema worse." Additionally, if you live somewhere where whipping winds are the norm on cold days, you could develop windburn, yet another type of weather-related skin irritation.
During these cooler months, Dr. Green says that your skin needs a ceramide-rich moisturizer that acts as a barrier to prevent moisture loss and keep your cells hydrated—try Cetaphil Daily Hydrating Lotion ($13, target.com). You'll also want to avoid washing your face too frequently, she says, as you don't want to rinse away the precious little oil it is producing.Speaking of washing, when it comes to showering when it's cold outside, Dr. Camp says not turn turn the nozzle past the lukewarm setting. Ultra-hot water can strip moisture from the skin.
Many people forget that air quality can impact your skin's vitality, too. "Environmental changes from industrialization, such as smog and air pollution, can also contribute to the formation of oxygen free radicals, which in addition to damaging cell structures, can contribute to the premature aging of the skin," Dr. Camp explains. If free radicals are of concern (if you live in a city, for example), your best bet is to stock your skincare routine with antioxidants, like vitamins C and E. By slathering your skin in these antioxidant-rich formulas, you'll be able to better block pollution's negative effect on the skin. Take a preemptive approach and start your routine with a cleanser like HoliFrog Shasta AHA Refining Acid Wash ($38, dermstore.com).
Last but not least, we have the sun. "A lot of people may not wear sunscreen year round, but it is one of the most important things to do and keep up with in terms of skincare," says Dr. Green. "It does not matter what your skin tone or color is: Wearing sunscreen year round will help you avoid sunburns and skin damage from those UV rays." Let's double down on that last bit. Whether it's spring, summer, fall, or winter—or hot or cold outside—you are at risk for sun damage. "The sun's rays can still pass through cloudy days, so make sure you do not skip on putting sunscreen during the wintertime as well," Dr. Green adds. "Other than protecting you from UV rays, applying sunscreen can help prevent premature aging, and it also helps you maintain an even skin tone."
Dr. Camp says that sunscreen and other forms of sun protection (like hats, sunglasses, scarves, driving gloves, and umbrellas) are important, no matter the weather. "When choosing a sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends selecting one that provides a minimum of SPF 30, offers broad coverage (UVA and UVB), and is water-resistant," he adds. Looking for an option that checks all of those boxes? Add Dr. Jart's Every Sun Day Sun Fluid SPF 50+ ($39, sephora.com) to your cart.