Summer skincare is one of those topics that nobody really thinks much about until it’s a little too late! Keeping your skin healthy and protected in the hot weather requires a little extra effort…but it’s well worth it.
This post covers some key dos and don’ts for summer skincare, but it’s by no means an exhaustive list.
I first started thinking about this summer skincare post when I was in Mexico in April at the Villa del Palmar at the Islands of Loreto. With views like these, how could I not want to take advantage of the R & R time outdoors?
Though I live in San Diego – which isn’t that far away from Loreo – the sun was more intense and the air far drier than I was used to. The sunscreen I bought was goopy, terrible, and didn’t work well, especially on our snorkeling trip. It made me think that I should put together a go-to guide with everything you’d need to know for summer skincare. (Took me a few months, but better late than never.)
Toward the end of this article, I’m also sharing a great – totally simple – treatment for overexposed skin that I learned at Villa del Palmar’s Sábila Spa.
Skin Protection in Summer
First things first: Ya gotta take some extra steps to protect your skin in the intense summer sun. That much is clear. But it’s easy to get mega-confused about how to do it.
Should you avoid the sun entirely? Is all sun exposure bad? Which sunscreens are the best? Aren’t they all the same?
Suffice to say, if you know me, you’ll know that the answers aren’t always absolute or simple. There’s nuance to this stuff. Sometimes we overcomplicate things. Other times we simplify to the point that it’s not helping and may even be harming. (Ex: “All fats are bad.”)
For example, exposure to the summertime sun warrants caution and common sense, especially in very sensitive individuals. On the other hand, the sun isn’t “bad” across the board. And all sunscreen isn’t harmless. We’ve been lead to believe that it’s all the same, and it’s going to keep us safe. Turns out, it’s more complex than that.
Before we get to dos and don’ts I want to cover a few popular (and often misunderstood) summer skincare topics: vitamin D and sunscreen.
How are Vitamin D and the Sun Related?
Safe amounts of sun exposure (to UVB rays) cause your skin to manufacture Vitamin D3 from cholesterol. But it’s more than just a vitamin; Vitamin D a fat-soluble hormone that must be made by the body or obtained from food sources like egg yolks, fatty fish, and liver.
It has several important functions in your body. For example, Vitamin D – along with calcium and magnesium – is key for bone health. Suffice to say, I’m simplifying this, since the metabolism and players in healthy bone formation also involve phosphorus, parathyroid hormone, the gut, and the kidneys. There’s also evidence that Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression (1); the functioning of your immune system (2); and even cancer-prevention (3).
And unfortunately, Vitamin D deficiency appears to a widespread problem (4), with potentially 45% of light-skinned adults being deficient (5). It’s important to note that Vitamin D deficiency is likely even higher (69%+) in darker-skinned individuals.
Should you supplement with Vitamin D? If you spend a lot of time indoors, live far from the equator, have dark skin, and /or avoid animal foods, it might be necessary. Remember that Vitamin D is fat-soluble and excess amounts are stored by the body. It is possible to overdo it…Vitamin D toxicity is a thing! I usually recommend you get a baseline idea of where your levels are through blood testing before taking high-dose Vitamin D supplements.
(P.S. If you do opt for supplementation, this is the brand I recommend.)
How to Safely Get Vitamin D from the Sun
Burning in the sun is not okay, healthy, or safe. That being said, short doses of sun exposure can increase your skin’s natural production of Vitamin D.
Many factors go into how you personally can safely get Vitamin D from the sun such as:
- How fair or dark your skin is (darker skin tones make Vitamin D slower than lighter ones);
- How close to the equator you live (this affects how direct / overhead / powerful the sun’s rays are);
- How much of your body is exposed (wearing more or less clothing);
- The time of year (the sun’s rays are far less direct during winter, for example);
- If you’re wearing sunscreen or not;
- And so on.
In general, you may opt to work up 10 to 30 minutes of sun exposure a few times a week. Obviously, you’ll want to adapt this to your own personal skin sensitivity and where you live. It’s wise to avoid a lot of direct and prolonged summer sun during the hours of 10 am and 2 pm when the sun it at its strongest.
I generally start with low key exposure in the spring and build a base from there. Use your common sense! Set a timer when you go outdoors to remind you to get out of the sun, apply sunscreen, or cover up!
How To Choose a Sunscreen
Since we’re talking about summer skincare, it’s necessary to talk about sunscreen. Not all sunscreens are created equal or frankly, without concern. Here’s how it breaks down…
Sunscreen is grouped into two main categories by how it filters the sun and protects your skin: chemical or mineral.
About Chemical Sunscreens
Chemical sunscreens use synthetic compounds to filter out the sun’s UVA/UVB rays.
The most common ingredients are “oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.” (6) These chemical filters are made to penetrate into the skin, and you’re usually encouraged to reapply often and generously. These chemicals have been found in human breast milk, urine, and blood.
One of the most common, oxybenzone, is particularly troubling because there’s some evidence that it may disturb human hormones. These substances are called endocrine disruptors.
More studies need to be done on substances like oxybenzone and other sunscreen ingredients. That much is clear. Some of the evidence is correlative, not causative…or it was gathered from animal models.
However, “The Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed evidence of potential hazards of sunscreen filters – instead it grandfathered in ingredients used in the late 1970s when it began to consider sunscreen safety.” (7)
Translation: We don’t know how safe these things are.
As a health educator, that ambiguity and uncertainty concerns me. On a personal level, as a woman living with endometriosis, it definitely concerns me. I’ve taken steps over the last couple years to start removing potential endocrine disruptors – like these sunscreen ingredients – from my life. I’ve gone after the lower-hanging fruit like gradually swapping my skincare products, knowing that other things in the environment are harder to control. It’s never perfect, but I’m doing what I can.
Want to know how your sunscreen stacks up? Check out the EWG’s 2018 Guide to Sunscreens. You can search the brand you’re using right now.
About Mineral Sunscreens
Mineral sunscreens contain zinc or titanium particles to physically block the sun.
They may look white on the skin, though some of the newer formulations dry to transparent. From a health perspective, they penetrate into skin less and are generally considered to have less potential for toxicity (unless inhaled or – possibly – ingested) or endocrine (hormone) disruption.
Mineral sunscreens these days often use nano-particle technology to help balance the sun protection factor (SPF) with the blockage of UVA. While evidence supports that these nano-particles are relatively safe when used on the skin, they should not be inhaled. Steer clear of any spray-based mineral sunscreen that has nano-particles of zinc or titanium.
If you’ve got sunscreen lying around from last season or you just bought some, look it up using the EWG’s Guide to Sunscreens. (The drug store brand I always used to buy, Neutrogena, has some of the lowest scoring products overall!) If it doesn’t score favorably, consider replacing it.
My sunscreen pick:
Beautycounter’s new Countersun Mineral Sunscreen line uses non-nano zinc oxide as a barrier to UVA/UVB/blue light. It’s SPF 30 and reef-safe. It comes in Mist (no chemical propellants), Lotion, or Stick options.
I wish I’d had Countersun with me when I went to Mexico! The drug store zinc sunscreen I bought was so thick and goopy, making it hard to apply evenly.
As with all sunscreens, be sure you’re reapplying often enough, especially after sweating or swimming.
Summer Skincare Dos and Don’ts
Now that we’ve covered some details about Vitamin D, sunscreen, and the sun in general, let’s look at some specific summer skincare dos and don’ts.
Do: Avoid Prolonged Skin Exposure Without Protection
Common sense goes a long way, but sometimes, it’s easy to think the sun isn’t that intense or that you won’t be out too long. Then you get home and realize you look like a boiled Maine lobster.
I like to keep a lightweight long-sleeved shirt and some kind of hat in my car so I’m prepared for spontaneous or unexpected outdoor time. I also keep a travel sized zinc sunscreen in my pocketbook. (I like this one because it doesn’t leak.)
Don’t: Forget To Cover Sensitive Areas
Back of your neck, your ears, tops of your feet, lips, and back of your hands…cover them up or use sunscreen if you’ll be out for a while. Ask Z what happened to his hands that time we went kayaking in New Zealand!
My pick for sunscreen: Countersun from Beautycounter
My pick for lip care: Fatco Fat Stick (use my code TALLOW17 to save 10%), note: zinc oxide lip balms are popular but there is potential concern about ingesting zinc particles so I avoid it
Do: Stay Hydrated
Sweating can make sunscreen wear off quickly, and it can also dehydrate you in a blink. But staying hydrated requires more than just drinking fluids. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption when it’s really hot – alcohol is a diuretic – or at least compensate by drinking 1.5 ounces of water for every 1 ounce of alcohol you drink.
Aim for half your bodyweight in ounces of non-diuretic fluids daily as a general rule. However, exercise, your personal body chemistry, sweat rate, and environmental conditions can increase that demand. Add some kind of electrolyte to your water if you’re sweating a lot.
Don’t: Overcleanse Your Skin
It’s tempting to think that summer skincare means washing your face more because you may be sweating more than usual. However, cleansing too often can dry your skin and that can cause oil production to increase, making your skin greasier.
Check out my morning skincare routine. I do this even in summer when I’m sweating more.
And get my AM Skincare Cheatsheet while you’re at it.
Do: Keep Something on Hand for Accidental Overexposure
Shit happens, and you may get sunburned. Like a Polaroid picture, it may take a while to develop. Treating your skin as soon as it’s overexposed is better than waiting until the next day.
And while there are a bevy of after-sun products on the market, I like to reach out into my garden and go straight for the aloe vera. Avoid commercially prepared aloe gels that you buy from the drug store…they often contain unnecessary chemicals and fragrances that can further irritate your skin.
Aloe is dead easy to grow in pots, so have a plant or two around. Nature is pretty frickin’ rad, and the gel of aloe plant is cooling and soothing. For small areas or super quick treatments, cut off a leaf from the base of the plant, slice it crosswise into ovals, and apply directly onto the skin as a poultice.
For larger areas, check out this simple recipe I learned from the Sábila Spa at Villa del Palmar – Islands of Loreto:
Soothing Aloe Vera Treatment
Use one aloe leaf cut fresh from a plant if possible. If you don’t have an aloe plant at home, you can often find aloe leaves in health food markets.
- Using a sharp knife, remove the spines. Then, carefully filet the leaf in half, exposing the gel inside. Use a spoon to gently scrape the aloe gel into a blender. Discard the skin.
- Add an ice cube or two, and blend 10-15 seconds until smooth. The mixture will be gelatinous, thick, and mucilagenous.
- Spread the chilled aloe vera mixture onto red, irritated skin. It’s best when made fresh. However, the extra gel can be kept refrigerated in a covered container.
- Apply up to a few times a day. I usually apply for two to three days or until the main skin irritation has passed.
Short, cooling showers can also help soothe overexposed skin. If you’re burned, stay out of the sun until it heals.
Other soothing herbs for generally irritated skin: calendula, chamomile, lavender, witch hazel.
Do: Swap Out Your Facial Products
Switching to lighter facial products in the summer can help if your skin is a bit more on the oily side to begin with. In particular, choose a lighter-weight moisturizer for daytime use. And if you wear makeup, a tinted moisturizer with SPF may be a better option than full foundation.
My pick for daytime moisturizer: Dew Skin with SPF20 from Beautycounter
My pick for overnight moisturizer: Countermatch Adaptive Moisture Lotion from Beautycounter
To Conclude This Summer Skincare Guide…
When it comes to understanding how to keep your skin safe and healthy in the summer, it’s important to know some basics about the sun, hydration, and common skin products like sunscreen. Armed with some basic information and common sense, it’s possible to get out and enjoy all the fun of summer without ending up sunburned and regretful.
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