Three Common Summer Skin Issues—Plus, the Fixes for a Clearer Complexion
It's time to undo the damage of summer and prep your skin for fall.
Summer may be fading fast, but the souvenirs it leaves on your skin—from dark spots to dry patches to lingering blemishes—seem to be doing just the opposite. Now's the time to take action. With the right treatments and targeted routines, you can undo damage, and face fall with a smoother, clearer complexion.
Hyperpigmentation (otherwise known as brown patches) happens when the skin overproduces melanin. The most common culprit is UV exposure. "Light-skinned people can develop solar lentigines, or sun spots, as early as their mid-20s," says Connecticut-based dermatologist Mona Gohara. Darker skin can get them, too, but it's more prone to melasma (larger blotches around the eyes or on the forehead, brought out by sun or hormones) or post-inflammatory scars from irritations like bug bites. Topicals can treat sun spots and melasma; bug bites fade naturally, but more slowly (think weeks) as we age and skin-cell turnover slows.
For stubborn spots and melasma, derms prescribe the potent fading agent hydroquinone, which can visibly reduce pigment in four weeks and may be used for up to three months at a time; OTC versions can safely be used longer. The melanin-blocking mushroom extract kojic acid and vitamin B derivative niacinamide are also proven spot minimizers. Some products we like include: Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum, which contains hydroquinone, and niacinamide-powered Marmur Metamorphosis MMBalance Serum.
For a quick fix, hide imperfections with a lightweight tinted CC ("color correcting") cream. Pick one with protective antioxidants and SPF 30 (or higher), since "UV radiation can darken already discolored skin in a matter of minutes," says Adam Friedman, a Washington, D.C., dermatologist. We like It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream SPF 50+. For darker spots, apply a buildable concealer—ideally one that also contains a skin brightener, such as vitamin C. E.L.F. HD Lifting Concealer is an affordable option that contains both vitamin C and green tea.
This red, sometimes bumpy flushing is often accompanied by enlarged pores; broken capillaries; and sensitivity to sun, environmental irritants, and skin-care products. It can strike at any age, but typically emerges in your 40s and 50s. For many, the condition is exacerbated by hormonal shifts, temperature changes, spicy food, alcohol, or "anything that triggers your nerves or immune system," says New York City dermatologist, Ellen Marmur.
To keep the condition in check opt for an ultra-gentle cleanser, and "avoid scrubs, exfoliants, and peels, which can stoke the fire," Gohara says. Ava Shamban, a Beverly Hills dermatologist, prescribes Finacea for rosacea; its plant-derived azelaic acid eases swelling and redness. Pulsed-dye vascular lasers, such as V-Beam, can also help dial down redness by sealing the tiny blood vessels that cause it. For some at-home relief try Clinique Redness Solutions Soothing Cleanser, which contains calming lactobacillus and cucumber extracts.
Also key for rosacea sufferers: Know your triggers. For instance, a dietary swap (such as avoiding spicy dishes) can prevent flare-ups. When you do get one, defuse it with an anti-inflammatory moisturizer. Look for a formula with ceramides, prebiotics, chamomile, colloidal oatmeal, niacinamide, or polyphenols—all will help extinguish the irritation and bolster the skin barrier, says Friedman. A good product for your arsenal is La Roche-Posay Rosaliac Tinted Moisturizer CC Cream—it reduces inflammation with ambophenol.
Hormonal fluctuations and stress cause most adult breakouts by sending oil glands into overdrive. When that happens, Gohara says, "bacteria settle in to feed on the oil." That creates blackheads (when the hair follicle in the pore is open and dead skin cells react with oxygen in the air and darken) or whiteheads (when the pore closes over the debris, trapping it inside). Other potential suspects include sweat, pore-clogging makeup, and "constant pressure from a cell phone," says Friedman.
Repeat after us: Do. Not. Pop. Instead, dab on hydrocortisone cream for daytime, and a salicylic-acid treatment (for oily types) or benzoyl-peroxide treatment at night. Aid exfoliation with daily glycolic-acid-pad swipes. If you have recurrent breakouts, consider blue-light therapy to preemptively kill bacteria. At-home devices can be used daily; a derm will typically do two sessions a week for three months. For a topical treatment try Dermalogica Age Bright Spot Fader, which has salicylic acid plus niacinamide to diminish discoloration.
For a quick DIY solution, apply a cucumber slice for a few minutes to bring down the inflammation, Shamban says. Then put a little Visine on the blemish "to reduce redness," and follow with a tacky, opaque concealer like Jouer Essential High Coverage Liquid Concealer. Need to blitz it pronto? "The only real quick fix for an angry pimple," says Friedman, "is to go to your dermatologist for a steroid injection. That will do the trick in 12 to 24 hours."