Going to college is stressful. These derm-approved skincare tips will help keep your skin in the clear.
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Shower caddies
Credit: Emily Kinni

Chances are, you’ve raided the aisles at Target and Best Buy and now have cute bedding and one expensive laptop. But before you pack up and peace out to your first semester of college, grab a few skincare basics that’ll keep your complexion clear despite late nights, higher calorie meals, and increased stress levels. Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, breaks down his best advice for college students.

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Shower caddies
Credit: Emily Kinni

1 Wear sunscreen everyday—even if you’re oily.

Now that you are on your own (and Mom won’t be chasing you around with a bottle), you’re responsible for protecting yourself from the sun’s relentless rays. Although sun protection might not be top of mind, it’s crucial for protecting your face from brown spots, lines, wrinkles, and, most importantly, skin cancer (your older self will thank you). Applying a daily facial moisturizer with SPF 30 or higher makes it easy to get the job done in one simple step. The number 30 is important because, although it may seem high, you are most likely not putting on as much as you should be or reapplying it properly (this will help to make up for the occasional SPF laziness). Try CeraVé Facial Moisturizing Lotion AM with SPF 30 ($16, amazon.com), which protects without feeling greasy or thick.

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, look for a primer with sunscreen to use as your base. A good one: Laura Mercier Foundation Primer Protect Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen ($34, sephora.com), which is a lightweight, gel-cream formula that offers SPF protection, plus helps set makeup in place for hours.

For touch-ups throughout the day, try a setting spray with sunscreen, like Supergoop! Defense Refresh Setting Mist SPF 50 ($28, sephora.com), which helps tamp down shine and add sun protection without messing up your makeup. If you’re showing a little skin (chest, arms, legs, etc.), mist on a sunscreen spray—SPF 30 or higher (you know the spiel).

2 Pack an anti-breakout arsenal.

During times of stress (read: college midterms) acne can flare up. Reduce zits using these two skin-clearing ingredients: salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. The first is best for fighting blackheads and whiteheads. It removes excess oil and dead cells that clog pores. If you’re prone to breakouts, use a face wash that contains it daily. If you get occasional stress-related pimples, use one before midterms as a preventive measure. Pair the wash with a spot treatment, which can be dabbed on a blemish or used on large areas, like the full face, chest, and back.

Good to know: Salicylic acid won’t bleach your towels and sheets (benzoyl peroxide does) so it is the better option for treating your chest and back. Stash a glycolic and/or salicylic acid-laced body wash in your shower caddy to keep the skin on your body clear. Try Murad Complex Acne Body Wash ($40, murad.com) or Neutrogena Body Clear Body Wash in Pink Grapefruit ($8, drugstore.com).

The second hero ingredient when it comes to pimples is benzoyl peroxide. It works by killing the acne-causing bacteria and helps open up blocked pores. If you use a cleanser that contains it, leave it sit on your skin for a few minutes to get the maximum benefits. When using it in a lotion, choose reliable brands with specialized formulations to minimize the risk of skin reactions. Some good ones: Neutrogena On the Spot Acne Treatment ($7, amazon.com) and La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment ($37, ulta.com). And for those big, inflamed honkers, take a two-prong approach by using a salicylic acid cleanser, along with an over the counter cortisone cream and a spot treatment containing benzoyl peroxide.

3 Use a flake-fighting moisturizer.

It may be difficult to control the heat in your dorm room. Typically, heaters give off dry heat that can disrupt the skin barrier function and lead to dryness (and even itchiness and flakes). Moisturizers that contain ceramides, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, petrolatum, and oat extracts hydrate and protect your skin, plus help it repair itself. We like Simple Nourishing 24HR Day/Night Cream ($10, amazon.com).