How to Transition Your Skincare Routine From Summer to Fall

As summer’s scorching temps and steamy humidity slowly turn to earlier sunsets and cooler, drier air, the seasonal change in weather has a larger impact on our skin than you might think.

“Our skin is our first and most important barrier between our bodies and the outside world,” says Stanford-educated dermatologist Dr. Laurel Geraghty. “As temperatures and humidity levels drop, skin is one of the first organs to feel the effects, as it becomes dryer, more fragile, flakier, and itchier.”

Fall and winter are also when recurring skin conditions, like eczema, dandruff, and psoriasis rashes, tend to flare up, she cautions. 

To keep skin radiant and healthy — and dry skin freak outs far, far away — follow these dermatologist-approved skincare swaps and tweaks to make the seasonal shift seamless. 

Why Does My Skin Get So Dry in the Fall?

“In the fall and especially in the winter, the dip in humidity, cooler weather, hot showers, and indoor heaters all dry out the skin and damage the skin barrier,” explains Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified NYC dermatologist and founder of Entière Dermatology. “When the skin barrier is compromised, skin becomes sensitized, leading to cracks in the outer layer of the skin, loss of hydration, and eventually, inflammation.” 

To soothe these negative seasonal effects on skin, a hydration-boosting skincare routine is critical and should also work to keep the skin barrier healthy. To help combat these changes, Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin recommends using products rich in cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides.

When Should I Change My Skincare Routine? 

It’s a subtle, delicate dance between summer and fall — one day it’s toasty enough for a tank top and the next you’re reaching for a hoodie — but there are a few seasonal red flags to nudge you to begin the transition.

A good rule of thumb is how often you’re reaching for a light jacket before going outside, says Houston-based dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon, Dr. DiAnne Davis. If you’re grabbing another layer of clothing more days than not, that’s a sign to re-evaluate your routine. 

A slightly more playful seasonal sign, according to Dr. Geraghty, is when it’s cold enough to see your breath. 

But most importantly, you have to listen to your own body. “Some patients with sensitive skin or extremely dry skin may have to make adjustments sooner than patients with oilier skin,” Dr. Davis explains.  

Skincare Swap 1: Cleansers

Foaming cleansers or gels that help to control oil and do a nightly deep clean are a godsend when summer temps hit the 90s. But in the winter, when there’s less moisture in the air to begin with and the skin produces less oil, it’s a double dry skin whammy. Cleansers that strip skin of its natural oils will accelerate and intensify dry skin. 

Tread lightly with acne-focused skincare made with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, cautions Davis, as these harsh ingredients can exacerbate dry skin. Bottom line: shelve the clarifying, acne-focused and super foamy cleansers until next summer. 

Instead, opt for a gentle, creamy formulation, like dermatologist favorite CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser or the High Performance Cleanser from Macrene Actives. For an extra shot of moisture to the skin, try a cream-to-oil cleanser like Laneige’s Cream Skin Milk Oil Cleanser, to ensure a hydrated and healthy skin barrier.

Skincare Swap 2: Moisturizers

During the dog days of summer, a light lotion or tinted cream may be enough to keep skin moisturized and supple, but as soon as the temperature drops, all bets are off. There’s no way around it: Keeping skin hydrated in the cooler months is the cardinal rule of wintertime skincare.

To build a defense against dry skin, choose a rich, creamy moisturizer with humectants and occlusive ingredients. “Not only to draw water into the skin but also to seal the hydration into the skin,” says Dr. Kanchanapoomi Levin, who recommends the moisture-packed StriVectin Re-Quench Water Cream to her patients. “Overall, ingredients like glycerin, ceramides and Niacin ensure well hydrated skin as well as a robust and intact skin barrier.”

For the driest skin types, and those with eczema and psoriasis rashes, heavier creams and ointments containing petrolatum, like shelfie staple Aquaphor, quench and heal skin better than anything else, says Dr. Geraghty, even if it leaves a slightly messy, gooey feeling on the skin. And really, what’s a little stickiness compared to a lot of relief? 

To really amp up the skin’s absorption, follow the technique that dermatologists often call the ‘soak and smear’: apply your serum or moisturizer after cleansing your face and patting dry, but while the skin is still damp for maximum hydration.

Skincare Swap 3: Serums

To go the extra mile to combat skin dehydration, layer on a nourishing serum, like the popular cult classic Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum, that will help replenish lost moisture, giving you long-term hydration and smoother, plumper skin.

Pat the serum onto damp skin after cleansing but before a moisturizer. 

Skincare Swap 4: Sunscreen

“Unless you’re out skiing, exercising, or golfing on a bright winter day, or unless you live in a southern state, there’s not much need for a high SPF sunscreen, that being SPF 50 or higher, since UVB rays are at a minimum,” says Dr. Geraghty. 

On the flip side, UVA rays — the long wavelengths of sunlight that penetrate into the skin’s dermis, breaking down collagen and elastin, which contributes to sun spots, sagging,  and wrinkling — dominate the winter months. And even worse: because of the cooler temps, it’s harder to feel the ray’s effects on your skin, which can lead to serious sun damage without even noticing.

“During the cool months, it’s important to choose a sunscreen labelled ‘broad spectrum,’ since the SPF rating refers only to protection against UVB and not UVA light,” explains Dr. Geraghty, who favors Elta MD UV Daily and Supergoop! Superscreen Daily Moisturizer SPF 40. “The ingredients available in the US that most effectively protect against UVA light are zinc oxide and avobenzone.”

Skincare Swap 5: Actives and Exfoliants

For sensitive skin types, tread lightly with potentially irritating ingredients, like alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids, retinoids, and toners, says Dr. Geraghty, who scales back her own topical retinoid cream during the winter to three to four times per week versus her nearly daily summertime use. 

Because it’s easier for the skin to become inflamed during the drier months, Davis also recommends cutting back on exfoliating. Chemical or physical exfoliation once or twice a week should be plenty, unless you have visible flakiness, as it can perpetuate the dehydration cycle by stripping the skin’s oils. And when you do exfoliate, go for a lighter, less intense exfoliant, like Skinceuticals Glycolic 10 Renew Overnight.

When in doubt with wintertime actives, follow Dr. Geraghty’s words of wisdom: If anything makes the complexion stingy, burning, or pink, that could be a sign it’s too irritating for the season.   

Skincare Swap #6: Lip Balm

If you think a thin swipe of flavored tinted lip balm will save your lips from getting chapped or cracked, think again. Load up on tiny tubes of Aquaphor — Dr. Geraghty keeps hers in several highly trafficked areas — or Vaseline to layer on throughout the day to proactively protect the skin.

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The Best The Ordinary Products Worth Your Money

Few brands have revolutionized the way we shop for skin care the way The Ordinary has. Before the Canadian brand burst onto the scene, accessibility to cheap high-quality products had mostly been restricted to makeup. Even with so much innovation among drugstore skin-care brands, few affordable options really rival what luxury serums and moisturizers have to offer.

That’s why buzz for the best The Ordinary products refuses to die down. The brand takes a clinical, science-based approach to skin care and specializes in single-ingredient-driven products that deliver targeted results. The best part? Nothing costs more than $20. In fact, the majority of it clocks in for less than $10. This is largely in part thanks to The Ordinary’s dedication to transparency, resulting in prices that aren’t significantly marked up.

But despite its low price point, the brand can be intimidating. Because the names of the products refer to skin-care ingredients–not results—they all sound like something out of an advanced medical textbook. Meaning you’re left trying to decipher what the hell ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (a vitamin C derivative) or epigallocatechin gallatyl glucoside (an anti-inflammatory compound in green tea) does.

GLAMOUR editors went through hundreds of dollars of The Ordinary skin-care products to help explain the cryptic descriptions of each and narrow down what’s actually worth adding to our medicine cabinets. 

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5

For true, deep moisture, you’re supposed to use a serum or acid that can penetrate deeper than your standard emollient. Enter hyaluronic acid. It provides a healthy glow, leaves the skin dewy but not oily.

$7 at Sephora

The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution

Yes, part of this product’s appeal is that it looks like you’re doing an at-home blood facial, but the results are just as Instagrammable. The mix of AHAs and BHAs deeply exfoliates to clear up congestion, dead skin, and hyperpigmentation. The skin looks brighter and smoother after one use—with no irritation to sensitive skin.

$7.50 at SkinStore

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

Apply a pea-size dollop once every day for a week after washing the face. The moisturizer comes out with a sunscreen-like consistency, but it blends in with the skin in seconds. After a week of using it, the cheeks would be plump and flake-free, probably because it has hyaluronic acid, which helps skin cells retain moisture. With such noticeable results for a low-maintenance moisturizer, we can count on this for the winter months.

$7.70 at Sephora

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2%

The mornings after use (preferably three times a week), the skin is brighter, glowier, and a smidge bouncier.

$6.80 at ULTA

The Ordinary High-Adherence Silicone Primer 

The first noticeable thing about The Ordinary’s High-Adherence Silicone Primer is its texture, which feels just like a creamy moisturizing lotion. Once applied, it makes the skin feel so soft that you almost don’t want to put on makeup for fear of losing the silkiness. The makeup goes on smooth and stays matte throughout the day.

$4.90 at Sephora

The Ordinary Pycnogenol 5%

Pycnogenol is an extract derived from pine trees that has the ability to boost collagen and elastin production in your skin. Plus, it’s a great hydrator. The skin looks and feels healthier after using it.

$11.90 at LookFantastic

The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil 

It’s great for moisturizing and nourishing the skin, yet it still feels lightweight. Using it in tandem with a retinol can significantly fade post-acne hyperpigmentation, and it definitely makes a difference in the glow factor. It has a slightly earthy smell.

$9.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution 

In reality, chemical exfoliants are much gentler and better than physical exfoliants, like face scrubs or loofas. This glycolic acid visibly resurfaces the skin, and it’s pretty gentle—though you shouldn’t use it more than every other night. Plus it’s affordable and lasts forever.

$8.70 at Sephora

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 

I’ve always been curious about azelaic acid, since I’ve heard it can treat both acne and dark spots while being safe enough to use even during pregnancy. The texture is super luxe and absorbs nicely, can provide an improvement on a stubborn breakout, and make post-acne dark spots look less opaque.

 $8.20 at LookFantastic

The Ordinary Caffeine Solution 5% + EGCG

While it doesn’t help with dark circles (sadly, not much will), the lightweight serum instantly de-puffs and smooths out any baggage. It brightens the eyes in seconds, and makes it look like you got a full eight hours of sleep.

$6.70 at Sephora

The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid* 2% Emulsion

This is an incredibly gentle retinol option. The serum is an almost milky consistency, and after a month of using it, users report that they’ve started to see a few lines on their foreheads fade. It’s also a wonder for smoothing out the texture of the skin.

$9.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%

Perfect for a pre-bedtime ritual, it’s is only $5; plus, it can be mixed with your other favourite serums to reduce its somewhat gritty texture. If you’re looking to fight wrinkles and even out your skin tone, this one is a great bet.

$5.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

Squalane is a fantastic hydrator—it’s nonsticky, fast-absorbing, and has humectant (meaning, moisture-drawing) properties that work in tandem to make your skin look crazy plump. The downside is that it’s traditionally derived from animals. But that’s not the case with this serum. Instead, it’s powered by plants, so you feel even better about using it when you see dewy, bouncy skin.

$8.20 at LookFantastic

The Ordinary Ascorbyl Tetraisopalmitate Solution 20% in Vitamin F

The name of this sounds insane (and impossible to pronounce), and I’ll admit that, going in, I had no idea what it did. After a little research and a test-drive, though, I’m sold. It’s basically a form of vitamin C (which helps brighten and even out your skin tone), while vitamin F is a fatty acid rich in omega-6 that helps maintain your skin barrier (when it’s disrupted, all kinds of things like acne and redness occur). You notice a major difference in the condition of the skin after just one use—it is noticeably smoother, firmer, and overall much brighter and more radiant.

$17.80 at Sephora

The Ordinary Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

It’s lower-strength and delivered with squalane, so it’s a bit less irritating than other ones out there. Start by using it one to three times per week, use it only at night, and know that if you don’t wear sunscreen after using it, it will damage your skin.

$5.80 at ULTA

The Ordinary Mandelic Acid 10% + HA

Mandelic acid is really slept on—and hard to find—so it’s exciting to see this hyperpigmentation-fighting superstar available at a lower price point. It’s super gentle yet has helped reduce some of the acne as well as the scars it leaves behind.

$6.80 at ULTA

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

This pocket-sized, super-affordable charcoal-colored mask is the only thing that’s been helping with my quarantine breakouts. I rate it highly for both skintertainment and effectiveness. It gives me a bright, exfoliated glow without irritating my skin. There is simply nothing more I want from a product.

$12 at ULTA

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Skincare Mistakes to Avoid

  • Please seek expert advise from a dermatologist or a skincare expert if you feel conflicted with all of the different product reviews, or have specific skin needs/concerns.
  • Give a new product enough time to see results – sometimes it might take from 1-3 months to see the results of a new product in your skincare routine.

    Cleanser – should see results immediately – up to 4 weeks, pay attention to skin texture and moisture levels.

    Toner – should see results immediately – 2/3 weeks, pay attention to skin texture and hydration benefits.

    Serums – should see results in 3-5 weeks if it’s a hydrating/anti-aging product, 2-3 months if it’s a skin brightening/hyperpigmentation product, 1-3 months if it’s an acne-targeted but not prescription product.

    Eye creams & Sunscreens – should see and feel immediate results. Pay attention to improvements in fine lines and texture.
  • Don’t overuse physical exfoliants – rubbing in the beads can cause irritation and skin sensitivity, make sure you’re gently gliding the product over your skin or use a chemical exfoliator on a cotton round instead.
  • Don’t remove clay masks with a cloth – the skin will look red and feel irritated when removing a dried-out clay mask. Instead, keep removing it with water until it’s gone.
  • Rinse off the micellar water – especially cheaper products are formulated in a way that can cause dryness and clog pores. Also, make sure the micellar water is not your only makeup-removing step.
  • Don’t rely on popular skincare websites to check skincare product ingredients – they’re not a trustworthy source, they list all of the ingredients and give them a rating. But we have to look at the formulation as a whole with dominant and recessive percentages, “it’s the dose that makes the poison” (referring to alcohol in products being seen as a drying agent). Also, the ingridients are mostly uploaded by users, not companies, which can be misleading.
  • You might not need to use a specific product at all – understand what all active ingredients are doing for your skin and whether you need it or not. Figure out what you need for your personal skin concerns and benefits you want to see.
  • Remember that skincare can only do so much – don’t rely on skincare alone to fix your concerns, take into account your diet, exercise, water intake, genetic conditions, and always seek professional help if you feel the need to.

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