How to Treat Common Summer Skin Complaints
Try these smart solutions to the most common seasonal afflictions.
The issue: breakouts.
The solution: Keep those pores clear. “Avoid oil-based moisturizers and makeup,” which could potentially clog pores, says David E. Bank, a dermatologist and the director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic & Laser Surgery, in Mount Kisco, New York. Choose oil-free lotions and a powdered mineral foundation instead. Exfoliate three to four times a week with a mild scrub or a washcloth, and after exercising (or on especially sweaty days), use a glycolic face wash, such as Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid 3% Facial Wash ($33, amazon.com), to keep skin clean.
The issue: shine.
The solution: Add a salicylic acid toner to your morning routine, right after you cleanse. “It minimizes shine by removing the dead, sticky cells from the top of skin that hold on to oil,” says Amy Wechsler, a dermatologist in New York City. To keep oil under control without stripping skin, look for a toner that contains either 0.5 percent salicylic acid or salicylic acid that is naturally derived. Try Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Clarifying Toner ($10, drugstore.com); it has salicylic acid from willow bark. Midday, sop up excess shine with a powder-coated blotting paper ( just dab it over makeup).
The issue: a painful sunburn.
The solution: The best defense is a good offense—use your sunscreen! But if you wind up red despite diligent application, relieve the discomfort by taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, such as ibuprofen. You can also soothe the burn with a cool milk soak. Dilute a bowl of whole milk with some cold water, soak a washcloth in it, and apply for 10 minutes at a time. “The fat in the milk has anti-inflammatory properties,” says Wechsler. Applying pure aloe vera (from the plant or in a commercial gel) may also ease pain. Beyond that, treat your skin gently: Stop exposing it to the sun; apply multiple coats of a fragrance-free moisturizer (which won’t sting) daily; and when you start to peel, don’t pick. Expect your skin to heal in about 10 days.
The issue: brown spots.
The solution: Again, sunscreen is key as a preventive measure. If brown spots start to appear, the best way to fight them is to increase cell turnover by exfoliating regularly with a gentle scrub that contains alpha or beta hydroxy acids. Creams that contain soy, like Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF 30 ($17, drugstore.com), may also help lighten existing spots. If you’re still seeing them after using over-the-counter products, consider talking to your dermatologist about a prescription-strength preparation with a mix of hydroquinone and a vitamin A derivative, like tretinoin, that encourages exfoliation.
The issue: hard-to-protect parts.
The solution: No matter how careful you are, it’s difficult to keep some spots sufficiently doused with sunscreen. For your scalp, covering up with a hat is your best bet. Look for one with a wide brim to shield not just your scalp but also the tops of your ears, which are a common skin-cancer site, says Joel L. Cohen, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado. While it isn’t a substitute for sunscreen, sun-protective clothing can help shield your shoulders, back, and chest on long days spent outdoors. Look for a UPF rating on the tag, which measures how much UVA and UVB rays penetrate a fabric and reach the skin. (It’s more convenient than mummifying yourself in towels.)
The issue: heat rash.
The solution: To quickly calm those little pink bumps that pop up mostly on the chest, the neck, the back, or the abdomen in response to high temperatures, stand in front of an air conditioner or a fan. Cornstarch powder or a cool-water soak can also help alleviate the redness.
The issue: saggy skin.
The solution: For skin that has seen its share of the sun or that starts to look weathered halfway through summer, topical retinoids, such as prescription Retin A, are the best treatment, says Cohen. “Used regularly, they help stimulate collagen production,” he says, “which can degrade from free-radical damage induced by UV exposure.” And though topical retinoids can make skin more susceptible to burning, Cohen says that if you use them at night and wear sunscreen during the day, you shouldn’t have a problem. Over-the-counter–strength retinol products, such as RoC Multi-Correxion Skin-Renewing Serum ($28 at drugstores and amazon.com), may be less irritating than the prescription versions. If your skin is very sensitive or dry and you can’t tolerate retinoids or retinol, try a moisturizer that lists peptides as a primary ingredient, such as Olay Regenerist UV Defense Regenerating Lotion SPF 50 ($30 at drugstores) or L’OrÃ©al Paris Youth Code SPF 30 Day Lotion ($25 at drugstores). These amino acids may soften fine lines without irritation. Newer to the scene are products with growth factors (one to try: Neocutis Bio-Gel Bio-restorative Hydrogel, $98, amazon.com). These substances, sometimes listed as “growth peptides” on the label, “can trick your skin into acting like younger cells,” says Bank, and stimulate new collagen growth.
For sunscreen suggestions and other skin care advice, see The Best Sunscreens (and Summer Skin-Care Tips).