Warm-weather routines can make skin just as prone to dryness as harsh winter air. Prevent—or treat—rough patches with these expert tips.
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Hydrating your skin from heels to T-zone is just as important in the summer as it is during the winter, since dry skin can happen whatever the temperature. "We often link dry skin with cold, dry, wintery weather and harsh indoor heating," explains Whitney Bowe, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. "But dry skin in the summer is not only possible, it's a fairly common issue."

Along with the season's drier air, your summer routines—dips in the pool, trips to the beach, extra sunscreen applications, and long showers to scrub off all the sand, chlorine, and SPF—can lead to coarse, flaky, and dull skin. "It is the perfect recipe for visibly dry skin that will feel rough to the touch," says Heather Rogers, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist with Modern Dermatology in Seattle, Wash.

The Causes of Dry Skin in the Summer

When the air around you is moist or humid, your skin won't dry out as quickly, explains Dr. Rogers. But not every region experiences humidity come June—and there are other seasonal aggressors that can lead to excess skin dryness.

Air Conditioning and Low Humidity Levels

In the summer, artificially cooled indoor air and sun-saturated outdoor air are often so low in humidity that they impact your skin's moisture levels. "Hot, dry air, like the desert, or cold, dry air from an air conditioner will suck water from your skin, leaving it dried out," says Dr. Rogers.

Swimming, Sunscreen, and Scrubbing

Another common cause of summer dry skin: The increase in swimming, sunscreen-ing, and showering that goes along with afternoons at the pool and weekends at the beach. "Swimming in chlorine and long days in the sun can dry out our skin," says Dr. Bowe. "Furthermore, for those of us who spend the day at the beach or pool, we often lather up more aggressively at the end of the day in an effort to remove all of that grimy sunscreen, sweat, and sand. That aggressive cleansing routine alone can dramatically strip our skin of its natural oils and damage the skin barrier."

Self-Tanner

A regular self-tanning routine can also contribute to dry skin. "People who use self-tanner often exfoliate to prep skin and then exfoliate again to remove that uneven tan that appears just days after application," says Dr. Bowe. "That process can also contribute to dry, irritated patches of skin."

How to Choose the Right Moisturizer for Summer

If you find yourself prone to dry skin in the summer—whether due to the environment or plain old genetics—adjusting your face or body moisturizer is a simple first step. Using the right moisturizer for your skin type helps rebuild collagen, brighten skin, and reduce the signs of aging. "Your skin often looks instantly healthier when you apply a hydrating product," says Dr. Bowe. "When your skin is hydrated and the barrier is intact, your skin can redirect its energy toward repairing your healthy collagen and elastic fibers, rather than fighting inflammation. It goes from defense mode into repair mode—and that's setting you up for skin health."

Decide If You Need a Light or Heavy Moisturizer

Choosing a moisturizer—in any season—means deciding between a thicker product, like petroleum jelly or an emollient cream, or a lighter, water-based lotion or gel. The formula that's right for you depends on a variety of factors, including your skin's baseline moisture level; the humidity of the climate where you live; how much time you spend in the water; and which part of your body you're treating, says Nada Elbuluk, a board-certified dermatologist and the associate professor of dermatology at Keck Medicine of USC (she is also the director of the school's Skin of Color and Pigmentary Disorders Program).

"In general, many people are able to get away with using lotions in the summer—people in drier climates, especially if they are prone to eczema or dry skin, may need something a little bit thicker," says Dr. Elbuluk.

Check for Hydrating Ingredients

Regardless of your moisturizer's weight, look for hydrating, nourishing ingredients like ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and squalene. "You want to use things that are going to help repair the skin barrier," says Dr. Elbuluk, "and lock in the moisture after a bath, or shower, or swim."

smiling woman outdoors in sun wearing sunglasses
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How to Create a Summer Skin Care Routine for Dry Skin

An effective summer skin care routine protects your face and body from UV rays and extreme dryness—and can heal skin that already feels tight and dry.

Morning Regimen

Skip your usual morning cleanse ("You do not need to wash your face in the morning unless you feel really oily, which will help prevent over-drying," says Dr. Rogers) and tweak your regimen to account for additional daily sun exposure by applying two key products: a vitamin C antioxidant—like Skinceuticals C E Ferulic, Hyper Skin Brightening Dark Spot Vitamin C Serum, and Skinbetter Alto Defense Serum—and, after you use your moisturizer of choice, sunscreen, says Dr. Rogers.

"Use an antioxidant on naked skin, then moisturizer, then sunscreen—I prefer zinc-based [formulas for dry skin]," she says. Try Dermaquest Sheerzinc or Supergoop Zincscreen on your face, and Tizo Ultra Zinc SPF 40 or Supergoop Play on your body. Ultimately, Dr. Rogers suggests following this exact morning protocol for dry summer skin:

  1. Skip your morning cleanse
  2. Apply a vitamin C moisturizer
  3. Apply a moisturizer
  4. Apply a zinc-based sunscreen

Evening Regimen

In the evening, cleanse your face to remove the day's makeup, sweat, and dirt, and then "use your treatment of choice—if your skin is happy," says Dr. Rogers, pointing to actives like retinol or a chemical exfoliant (including alpha- and beta-hydroxy or glycolic acids). "Skip this step if your skin feels dry or irritated." Finish your pre-bedtime skincare routine by applying a heavier moisturizer to your face, neck, and décolletage. "Your skin will appreciate the extra moisture as you sleep," says Dr. Rogers.

  1. Wash your face
  2. Apply products with active ingredients, like retinol or glycolic acid; skip if skin is particularly dry
  3. Apply a heavy moisturizer

Don't Forget About Your Body

A moisturizing summer skin care routine should also include treatments for your body—not just for your face. "The rest of the body does not have such a concentration of oil glands and therefore does [make a lot of] excess oil," says Dr. Rogers; this lack of oil often leads to dry skin on the limbs and trunk. "To keep your body soft and smooth, I recommend alternating a hydrating body cream and an alpha-hydroxy acid lotion after each shower—but skip the AHA on days you shave. It can burn!"

Lifestyle Changes That Prevent Dry Skin in the Summer

Along with warm-weather skin care treatments, three other small lifestyle changes can help keep your skin from drying out when temperatures soar.

Drink More Water

Drinking water alone isn't enough to keep your skin moisturized, but your diet and water intake do affect your skin's hydration levels. "I tell my patients that hydrated skin is a perfect example of an inside-out, outside-in job," says Dr. Bowe. "What you put on your skin and what you drink (and eat) throughout the day are both critical in terms of keeping skin properly hydrated. Hydrating the skin from the outside-in—through drinking water and nourishing skin care—and from the inside-out, via nutrition, is the most effective way to tackle dryness and compromised barrier function."

Choose Gentle Bath Products

It's tempting to use exfoliating products in the summer to scrub off dead, dry skin, sweat, salt water, and chlorine, but you might be making the problem worse. "There is such a thing as over-exfoliating," says Dr. Elbuluk. "Too much can lead to dryness and irritation." Choose a gentle soap or body wash—and avoid antibacterial soaps, which can also sap moisture from your skin—to cleanse and moisturize without removing your skin's natural oils.

Reapply Sunscreen

Whether you're spending your afternoon at a winery, on a sailboat, or at a family picnic, keeping your skin protected with SPF is critical, says Dr. Rogers; getting sunburned is a skin-drying mistake you could be regretting for the rest of the summer. "When your skin is sunburned, it loses even more of the water it needs to stay hydrated," she says, "and it can take weeks for your skin to not feel dry."

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