9 Essentials Tips To Level Up Your Skincare Routine In Summer I Wish I Knew Earlier

Updated by Rebecca Byrne. Fact-checked by Ana Vasilescu.

Every part of the year comes with different challenges for the skin. And while most of us experience more dramatic changes in the skin during winter months, that doesn’t mean the summer doesn’t usher in its own threats as well. Sun damage, pollution, and sweating are more accentuated in the hot season and put our skin to various tests that will leave a mark on its appearance. Before running off to the beach and spending all your time outdoors, take the time to evaluate your summer skincare routine. Because yes, you have to adapt your strategy if you want to sail through the warm weather without having your skin suffer. A skincare routine is ever-evolving, and by sticking to the same old thing, you may be selling yourself short.

The good news is that I found the best tweaks to make to your beauty regimen to minimize the seasonal side effects. As a cosmetologist, I made a lot of trial and error to find the perfect recipe for a flawless summer complexion. And now I’m sharing with you the most essential summer skincare tips to keep your skin protected and feeling its best all season long:

Level up your sun protection

Given that 80% of facial wrinkles are caused by excessive UV exposure and the sun is most intense in summer, it’s a no-brainer to apply sunscreen every day.[1] And while we may be able to skimp on using a higher SPF in the winter since we’re more likely to be indoors, using sunscreen with a higher SPF is non-negotiable during the summer.

Oil-free and water-resistant sunscreens made specifically for the face are a good investment during the hot and humid months. These lighter formulas won’t make your skin feel heavy or greasy and will stay put even if you engage in activities that cause sweating.

For the summer, head towards sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection. I recommend these sunscreens without oxybenzone for a skin- and environmental-friendly approach. Reapply it every two hours when you’re spending a lot of time in the sun or after excessive sweating or swimming to ensure your skin is fully protected. And don’t forget to use sunscreen on your hands, ears, and chest. 

Vitamin C summer skincare essential
Source: Klairs

Arm your skin with antioxidants and invest in a vitamin C serum

Do you know that sunscreens block only 55% of the free radicals produced by UV and that you need extra help to reach that 100% protection?[2]This is where antioxidants come to the rescue.

Antioxidants are your best allies in summer because they protect your skin from oxidative damage caused by free radicals from UV exposure and pollution—which, by the way, are at their peak during the hot months.

They work well under sunscreen since they boost photoprotection and mitigate external damage we encounter throughout the day. 

My favorite antioxidant that is never missing from my vanity countertop is vitamin C. If you’re a skincare aficionado, you’re probably already using it in some form. If you don’t, I highly encourage you to invest in a good vitamin C serum and apply it every morning under your moisturizer and sunscreen. It’s essential to use antioxidants before you go out since they enhance sun protection when applied before exposure. 

Moreover, it would be best if your serum contains other antioxidants along with vitamin C, like green tea, vitamin E, and resveratrol.

Take full advantage of hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a skincare essential for good reasons. It’s a naturally occurring substance in our body and an integral ingredient for skin hydration. That’s because hyaluronic acid is a humectant that attracts moisture into the skin to plump, fill in fine lines, and reduce puffiness. It’s wonderful in the summer as it’s a lightweight compound that binds moisture to the skin without feeling heavy or sticky.

The more hyaluronic acid you give your skin, the more it will stay moist during the humid days of summer. You can literally have it in all your products, including serum, moisturizer, and eye cream. It’s perfect for keeping your complexion hydrated without weighing it down.

Use hyaluronic acid in summer
Source: Neutrogena

Switch to a lighter and oil-free moisturizer

Your skin will naturally lean towards being more oily during summer. This means the amount of moisture it needs to stay sufficiently hydrated decreases. But even if the humid weather may leave your complexion feeling moisturized, that doesn’t mean you can skip out on moisturizing altogether. You actually have to moisturize like there’s no tomorrow, but you have to ensure you use a suitable formula for the season.

Pick an oil-free and lightweight moisturizer instead of heavy cream and apply it at least once a day. Oil-free moisturizers are available in the form of gels and lotions and are formulated to hydrate the skin without using oils that can feel greasy or clog the pores. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel is my go-to daytime moisturizer for summer, and it never fails to keep my skin hydrated and balanced even in the scorching months.

Watch out for how you exfoliate your skin

Exfoliation removes the buildup of dead cells, sebum, and impurities accumulated on the skin. Hence, doing it once or twice a week is helpful for preventing breakouts and dull skin. While this is true in the grand scheme of things, exfoliating during summer is a bit tricker than in other seasons. This is because chemical acids like glycolic and lactic acids—the most used exfoliants—temporarily make the skin more sensitive to UV. For this reason, you should only exfoliate at night and avoid prolonged sun exposure the next day. Also, apply sunscreen the next morning even if you stay at home to protect your newly exfoliated skin.

You may also use a salicylic acid exfoliant in summer, which doesn’t increase skin photosensitivity but actually provides photoprotection and improves sun-damaged skin. Or try enzymatic peels, which use fruit enzymes to delicately exfoliate the skin. And don’t use scrubs on your face because they are too abrasive. 

self-tanners for summer
Source: +Lux Unfiltered

Resort to self-tanners

Resorting to self-tanner is one of my favorite summer skincare advice that saved my skin countless times already. 

Not everyone can tan safely, and some of us who are prone to sunburns shouldn’t be tanning at all. That’s where self-tanner comes in. With different formulas intended to give you anywhere from a subtle glow to a completely new skin tone, self-tanners, and bronzers are your new best friends when you want to add a touch of sun to your skin without risking UV damage. One of the newest types of self-tanners on the market is self-tanning drops. They’re lightweight and can be used as a serum or mixed in with your moisturizer for a gradual glow. One to try is Drunk Elephant D-Bronzi Anti-Pollution Sunshine Drops.

If you want something that packs more of a punch, then self-tanning mousses, lotions, and sprays are going to be your best option. They’re available in plenty of shades and can be used just once or layered until you’ve reached the desired intensity.

Look out for your under-eye skin

Puffy eyes and under-eye dark circles are skin concerns that follow us throughout the seasons and can be more visible in the summer. Whatever the reason, you can do a couple of things to combat them, such as using an eye serum. While an under-eye cream is wonderful during the winter, opt for a light serum during the summer. Serums have ingredients like aloe vera and hyaluronic acid that bind water to the skin.

Stay in the shade and avoid getting out between 3 and 4 PM

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is one of the golden skincare rules. As a preventive measure against sun damage and dark spots, staying indoors from 3 to 4 PM when the burning sunbeams are strongest is the best thing to do. You should also avoid directly exposing your skin to the sun as much as possible. This means staying in the shade and wearing protective clothing and sunglasses whenever you can.

Use a night cream to strengthen your skin’s moisture barrier

I know I said to use a light moisturizer, but that rule only applies for the day. At night, it’s best to use a richer cream formulated to rebuild your epidermal barrier—basically the outermost layer of your skin that keeps moisture in and external aggressors out. By strengthening this barrier, your skin will be better at retaining water, recovering from sun damage, and fighting pollution—right what you need in summer. 

Drunk Elephant Lala Retro Whipped Cream and Cosrx Balancium Comfort Ceramide Cream are great for repairing and strengthening the skin because they contain ceramides—naturally occurring lipids that make up about half of the epidermal barrier. Use the cream after your serum as the last step of your nighttime routine to wake up to more resilient skin.

Other skincare essentials for summer

  • Stay cool, avoid sweating, and drink eight glasses of water per day.
  • Use a humidifier and air purifier to increase humidity and remove pollutants from the air in your home.
  • Use a facial mist for an instant boost of hydration on a hot day.
  • Make a yogurt mask. Yogurt contains lactic acid, which can help exfoliate your skin and improve its texture. Mix plain yogurt with a little bit of honey and apply it to your face for 10-15 minutes for a DIY summer skin treat.
  • Use a cool compress if you have sunburned or irritated skin (pretty common during summer months) to help it cool down.
  • Apply retinol at night to firm and plump your skin.

Should you change your skincare routine in the summer?

Changing our skincare routines with the seasons should be standard practice—after all, different types of weather demand different kinds of protection and nurturing. In winter, we know we need to prevent dry, flaky skin with richer and heavier products. But summer comes with completely new challenges and we must adjust our beauty routines to fight them.

The hotter temperatures, humid air, and extra sun exposure can result in sweat-induced clogged pores, sunburns, and dark spots, so preventing these common summer skin problems should be your top priority. Also, pollution affects the skin more drastically during summer. This is because when air pollutants interact with heat and light they create grand-level ozone that is detrimental to skin health.

Adapting your skincare routine for the summer by including more lightweight products that help prevent sun damage and protect the skin from free radicals without clogging pores is the best approach.

However, if you’re under the care of a dermatologist and using specific prescriptions for your skin, you’ll probably want to avoid any unnecessary changes without speaking to them first.

Skincare routine for summer

My preferred skincare routine for summer is to use a vitamin C serum each morning (before cleansing and following up with a moisturizer and SPF, of course) and retinol one night, and an AHA/BHA exfoliant the next night. In most cases, it’s better to simplify your routine during summer so you don’t overload your skin with unnecessary heavy products. I keep stressing the idea of using a vitamin C serum because it’s literally the king in protecting skin from free radicals and brightening dark spots.

Because I have normal to dry skin I don’t have to worry about sweat-induced clogged pores. But if you have oily skin prone to congestion, enlarged pores, and acne, you’re more likely to face breakouts in summer. In this case, head towards a detoxifying face mask with charcoal to purify your pores, and use a salicylic acid cleanser daily to keep them clear.

Common skin problems in summer

Summer can bring a whole host of skin problems due to the combination of hot weather, increased sun exposure, and higher humidity levels. Here are the most common skin issues that people experience during the summer:

  • Acne: Excessive sweat and sebum production may clog the pores and trigger acne breakouts, especially in people with oily skin.
  • Sunburn: Extra sun exposure can cause dark spots, redness, and sunburn if you don’t protect your skin with sunscreen.
  • Eczema flare-ups: Increased heat and humidity can lead to more sweating and worsen eczema-prone skin and trigger flare-ups.
  • Heat rash: Heat rash, also known as prickly heat, is a skin condition that occurs when sweat glands become clogged and cause a rash.
  • Melasma: Sun exposure can cause or worsen melasma, a skin condition that causes dark patches on the skin.
  • Dry and irritated skin: Despite the humid weather, this is a common summer skin problem caused by exposure to the sun, pool water, and air conditioning.

Start your summer off right

With these summer skincare tips in mind, you’ll be ready to bask in the summer sun ­while protecting your skin and keeping a youthful glow. You know your skin the best. Whether you incorporate new products or not, the best changes to make to your skincare routine during the summer are the ones you can commit to—especially wearing sunscreen.

Who wrote this?
Rebecca Byrne
Rebecca Byrne
Rebecca Byrne is a licensed master cosmetologist who has held her license since 2015. She has worked in several areas of the beauty and skincare industry, where she consulted one-on-one with clients and treated different skin conditions. Rebecca now writes beauty and cosmetology content to help others achieve their best selves and make them feel better in their own skin.
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