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Summer Skin Issues, Solved

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The Violet Files

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Dealing with breakouts, bites, or burns? Our go-to dermatologists have tips for that.

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Summer, with its escalating humidity (or excessive dryness, depending on where you live), plus a sharp hike in temperature, brings with it a host of skin woes that may lay dormant in the surrounding seasons. Add to that frequent mask-wearing and the extreme stress and ensuing cortisol cascades we’ve experienced over the past few months, and you have the perfect storm for a complexion upheaval. But fear not: We asked four trusted experts for their best advice on how to contend with some of the season’s most common skin issues.

The factors that contribute to acne are many, says Shereene Idriss, MD, a dermatologist at New York’s Union Square Laser Dermatology, citing everything from hormones to fungus. But in the summer specifically, flare-ups are usually tied to a natural increase in oil production. “Summer heat causes you to sweat and your skin to produce even more sebum, causing pores to clog and leading to breakouts,” explains Sonia Batra, MD, an L.A.-based dermatologist and co-host of The Doctors. All that extra oil can lead many people to cleanse more, but “over-cleansing exacerbates acne,” says Idriss. What to do instead? “Avoid heavyweight moisturizers and look for anti-inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide to help calm redness and minimize oil production.”

To prevent flare-ups from happening in the first place, regularly exfoliate with retinol (you must wear sunscreen!) or exfoliating acids like AHAs and BHAs. Look for a non-comedogenic sunscreen with a physical block like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Another thing to be mindful of, according to Chicago-based dermatologist Caroline Robinson, MD, of TONE Dermatology? Diet triggers like dairy and high glycemic index foods (refined sugars, white bread, and pasta, for instance), which may contribute to breakouts. To counter any potential mask irritation, celebrity esthetician Shani Darden suggests stocking up and using them only once before laundering.

We’re constantly sweating in the summer months so cleansing your body thoroughly is your best bet against bacne. “Look for a targeted body product with ingredients like lactic acid, glycolic acid, and salicylic acid to exfoliate and prevent blemishes,” says Darden. Shower after excessive sweating and always change out of clothes immediately after exercising. Just as masks are breeding grounds for facial acne, so too are sports bras and very tight-fitting tops, which means round-the-clock athleisure wear should be avoided. But be aware, says Dr. Idriss, that sometimes what looks like bacne may actually be folliculitis, which is “ inflammation around your follicles due to an overgrowth of bacteria or fungus and can easily be confused with acne.” If you suspect that’s your issue, try washing the affected area two to three times a week with a benzoyl peroxide-based body cleanser.

Sunburns may be immediate evidence of UV damage, but their impact is more than skin deep and often surfaces years, even decades, later, says Darden. “Sun damage as a teen can show up later as pigmentation and it also breaks down the collagen in your skin leading to a loss of firmness, sagging, and wrinkles.” Daily sunscreen use (no matter what the season) is the most important thing you can do to offset all that. Compliance will be far easier if you find a sunscreen formula you love (one that’s at least SPF 30 with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredient like iS Clinical Extreme Protect).

If you end up with a sunburn, Dr. Batra advises taking an OTC pain reliever like ibuprofen, which will help reduce inflammation and decrease peeling. Apply aloe vera for additional soothing and remember to stay hydrated since a sunburn depletes the skin. For extra moisture, Darden recommends the iS Clinical Hydra-Cool Serum. “It’s a hyaluronic acid serum that deeply hydrates and calms. Plus, it has menthol in it which is great for soothing redness so it’s perfect after a little too much sun.”

Your face may be oily, but your hands and feet are likely parched. What gives? “Cracked dry skin on the feet comes from constant wearing of open-toed shoes and sandals, while cracked dry hands are common due to increased water immersion, which is especially severe now because of the additional handwashing to prevent infection,” explains Dr. Batra. She suggests washing hands with warm — never hot — water, avoiding overly fragranced or dyed soaps, and immediately following up with a light moisturizer like TenOverTen Hand Repair Serum. For feet, Dr. Robinson recommends looking for a product with glycolic or lactic acid to help soften rough patches, gently exfoliate, and deeply hydrate the skin. Dr. Idriss’s quick fix for summer-weary feet is to slather them in a thick, occlusive ointment, then wrap them in plastic for 15 minutes.

An ingrown happens when a hair grows at an irregular angle and curls back into the skin inflaming the skin around it, explains Dr. Batra. More frequent summertime grooming can cause ingrowns to rear their ugly head, but some people are also simply more prone than others. “If you are very physically active or if you tend to have coarser hair naturally then ingrowns will be a more likely occurrence,” explains Dr. Idriss.

She recommends regular dry brushing to exfoliate and help new hairs emerge with ease from beneath the skin. “Body lotions with lactic acid can also help smooth and minimize the buildup of dead skin cells,” she adds. Try to use a new blade every few shaves and follow the direction of hair growth. Swapping in a benzoyl peroxide wash for your usual shaving cream in sensitive areas can help, too. “It has anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties which can help with inflamed bumps in delicate areas,” says Dr. Robinson. “If you’ve got an ingrown, apply a warm wet compress to the area to soften the hair and help bring it to the surface, then use tweezers sterilized in alcohol to gently pull the end of it out,” says Dr. Batra. And if it looks infected or feels especially painful, call your derm.

In the summer, excess air conditioning and prolonged time in the pool or ocean can both dehydrate skin, explains Dr. Batra, exacerbating eczema, the dry, itchy rash indicative of a breakdown in the skin’s barrier. She suggests opting for gentle, non-foaming cleansers that don’t strip skin of precious moisture. Dr. Robinson often tells her eczema patients to layer petroleum jelly over their moisturizer on irritated areas. “Triple purified petrolatum jelly is one of the most hypoallergenic ingredients on the market,” she adds. Opting for light, breathable fabrics like cotton and skipping known triggers like hot water and certain foods (carbs, soy, grains, peanuts, citrus, and dairy have all been known to contribute) can help, says Darden. And Idriss’s best advice for eczema sufferers, no matter what the cause: less is more. “The more simplified your skincare products are, the better,” she says. “Avoid alcohol-based lotions or intense fragrances as they may further dry you out worsening your eczema.”

It seems a tall request come summertime, but the best thing for melasma — dark pigmented patches on the face — is to avoid sun and heat as much as possible. If you can’t steer clear of the sun completely, SPF and protective clothing (think very wide brim hats and long-sleeves) are non-negotiable, says Dr. Idriss, who also calls out the link between hormonal fluctuations and melasma. “If you’re on a birth control pill or have an IUD you may want to consider talking to your doctor about stopping.” As for your sunscreen, go for a mineral or physical block, suggests Dr. Batra. “Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide block UV rays that trigger melanocytes in the skin to produce discoloration and do not generate heat in the skin.”

Also, consider incorporating an antioxidant into your daily skin care routine. “Topical antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, and green tea alpha-lipoic acid flavonoids are particularly useful for skin discoloration,” says Dr. Robinson. “Vitamin C specifically can help block tyrosinase (the key enzyme in excess pigment production) and therefore has a corrective effect on melasma.”

Darden, who suffers from melasma herself, always totes around a small portable fan and water for spritzing to constantly keep her face cool. “I generally get laser treatments once a year to treat my melasma, but a couple of products I use to keep it under control are my Retinol Reform, iS Clinical Active Serum, and a chemical exfoliant like Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Daily Peel,” she says. “These can all help to maintain, but you have to take care when using active products in the summer.”

Like so many other things, summer heat and the ensuing uptick in oil production will likely make scalp issues worse. “Excess oil can result in inflammation of the hair follicles called folliculitis and can also trigger an overgrowth of a normal yeast that lives on the skin called pityrosporum, causing dandruff, redness, and scaling,” says Dr. Batra. Her advice to counteract it all? Wash hair directly after sweating or working out and use a targeted shampoo with dandruff reliever, pyrithione zinc, to calm inflammation a few times a week. “LivSo Moisturizing Shampoo is dermatologist developed and contains glycolic acid to gently cleanse and natural oils to moisturize,” says Dr. Robinson.

One more thing: Don’t go overboard with styling products and shelve that coconut oil. “I generally do not recommend coconut oil or oil-based balms for the hair or scalp as they can lead to buildup, lack of hydration (by preventing moisture from getting to the hair shaft), contact dermatitis, and yeast overgrowth, which results in dandruff,” Dr. Robinson explains. If your itchy scalp is persistent or feels more severe a prescription-strength anti-yeast shampoo can be helpful, while a low-strength topical cortisone cream can help settle an inflammatory rash quickly.