With fall approaching, it’s time to tune up your skincare routine. It’s not just about adding a moisturizer as the weather turns (sweater weather, finally!). It’s also about addressing sun damage from the summer, which can leave skin looking tired and result in common “post-summer” concerns like hyperpigmentation (dark spots), dull skin tone, rough skin texture, breakouts, and dry skin.
So, when you think about Fall skincare, think “Repair, Replenish & Rejuvenate.” Repair sun damage and restore your skin & moisture barrier in preparation for drier months. Replenish essential nutrients and antioxidants that were depleted by the sun. Rejuvenate your skin by incorporating targeted treatments that address your most important skin concerns and frustrations.
1. Don’t Jump Directly to a Heavy Moisturizer. First, Repair the Skin Barrier.
You’ll often hear editors recommend adding or using a heavier moisturizer as the air becomes drier. This shouldn’t be your first step, though, as it can cover-up and prolong a common post-summer issue. Sun exposure can damage your skin’s moisture barrier, creating very small cracks in the surface of your skin – invisible to the naked eye – that allow moisture to escape from your skin.
Most moisturizers just cover up this issue (see How Moisturizers Work) with emollients, ceramides, lipids, and humectants, and your skin becomes dependent upon continual use of moisturizers to stay hydrated.
There is a simple and healthy solution, though. Use products rich in Retinol, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Niacinamide and Omega 3’s, Omega 6’s and Omega 9’s (fruit seed extracts). These nutrients help restore the skin barrier. After 3-4 weeks, your skin barrier should be restored. Then, add a moisturizer if you need additional moisturization.
2. If You Do Need to Add a Moisturizer, Look for Nutrient Dense Moisturizers
Most moisturizers are filled with thickening agents, humectants (that draw moisture from the air), fats (ceramides, squalene) and/or waxy materials that fill and coat your skin’s surface. Some of these ingredients are ok, but they can get in the way of your more nutritious and hard-working active ingredients – literally blocking them from being absorbed into the skin and doing their work! (see Your Skin Is Like a Sponge).
Look for more concentrated, nutrient-rich moisturizers – Vitamin B’s (Panthenol, Niacinamide), Vitamin C (ascorbates), Vitamin E (fruit seed extracts, Tocopherols, Tocotrienols), Omega 3’s, Omega 6’s, Omega 9’s, etc. Ironically, these highly concentrated moisturizers will likely be lighter weight, more lotion than a cream, than traditional department store products.
3. Eat Brightly Colored Fruits & Vegetables
Recent research has shown that eating brightly colored fruits and vegetables can boost your skin’s radiance and provide an important source of antioxidants. These benefits trace to a special class of nutrients called Carotenoids. Carotenoids are nutrients that give fruits and vegetables their bright colors. Research shows that these carotenoids accumulate in your skin – visibly boosting your skin’s radiance and natural warmth. You’re going to hear a lot more about carotenoids in the future, and more research unravels their important role in healthy nutrition and skin care.
4. Take an Omega-3’s Supplement
Omega-3’s are to oral nutrition what retinol is to skincare – a “must have” nutrient that should be included in your daily regimen. Both are highly researched. Both offer a broad array of multifunctional benefits. Both are the first nutrient you should add to any regimen.
Oral Omega-3’s nourish your skin in a number of different ways. They support a healthy moisture barrier – it’s always preferable to strengthen the moisture barrier rather than use moisturizers to compensate for a damaged or compromised skin barrier. They can also boost your skin’s natural radiance. They also appear to have a synergistic effect when combined with naturally derived carotenoids.
5. Use a Creamy Non-Foaming Cleanser
Ok, we recommend this for any season. But, it’s particularly important in the fall when you’re trying to restore your skin barrier after summer sun exposure and the humidity drops. Foaming cleansers contain surfactants (like those used in laundry detergents) and ingredients that act like surfactants that tend to damage and break down the skin barrier – that’s true even of 100% all-nature cleansers. So, give your skin a break, and use a non-foaming cleanser.
6. To Exfoliate or Not Exfoliate
This is an interesting and often controversial question. Some dermatologists argue you shouldn’t exfoliate in the fall because you need to restore your skin barrier. Others argue you should. Here’s our take. Exfoliate, but in a very limited and controlled way. We recommend a “progressive exfoliation program” – three consecutive days of exfoliation or peeling, increasing the depth or level of exfoliation each day by leaving the exfoliant on your skin progressively longer each day. Then, stop! No more exfoliating for the rest of the fall.
A progressive exfoliation will help turnover dead skin cells, even out inconsistent skin tones and push some of the dark spots to the surface where they can be removed. Then, stopping will enable your skin to settle down and rebuild its moisture barrier as the weather becomes drier and more challenging.
To get even better results, use a high potency, nutrient-rich serum after washing off your peel or exfoliant. This will restore your skin’s antioxidants, likely reduce any irritation, and your skin will feel great.
7. Add Nutrient-Rich Serum, Preferably Oil-Based
This is the time to restore the nutrient content in your skin. Serums are great because they are more concentrated and don’t include all the fillers, emulsifiers, stabilizers and other ingredients that are required to ‘hold’ moisturizers and other products together. Well formulated serums should provide just rich nutrients. We recommend using oil-based serums because they absorb and penetrate your skin much more effectively. Your skin is, by design, water soluble. It blocks or significantly hinders penetration of water-based serums. The other advantage of oil-based serums is that they tend to be much more stable – meaning that they don’t break down and become inactive once you open the bottle.
8. Clear Dark Spots As Dermatologists Do
Dark spots (hyperpigmentation) are drawn out by sun exposure. It’s common to find that your skin tone is much more uneven after the summer and dark spots appear darker and more well-defined. Take a page from a dermatologists’ playbook. Use a hydroquinone-based treatment to clear away these spots. Hydroquinone is the gold standard ingredient for dark spot reduction. It has been used safely for over fifty years by dermatologists, and it absolutely works! But it does take time. You should begin to see improvements within a few weeks, but the full benefit typically takes up to 3-4 months.
9. Keep It Simple
Remember, regardless of the season, use the fewest possible products to achieve the best results. For most people, this means 2-3 products in the AM and 2-3 products in the PM (potentially using different products in the morning and evening to get more multitasking benefits – see Building Your Anti-Aging Regimen). In both our clinical and consumer experience, we have observed that results decline as you add more products to your cupboard and regimen. This makes sense from both a skin physiological and psychological perspective. First, your skin can only absorb a limited amount of product in one sitting (see Your Skin Is Like a Sponge). The rest just sits on the surface, often causing irritation, clogging pores and preventing important nutrients from being absorbed into the skin. Also, having a lot of products on hand tends to lead to inconsistent use. People will rotate products in and out of their regimen, which significantly hinders results! Consistent daily use is the key to achieving the best results. If you’re using effective and well-formulated products, you should see continued improvements over time with consistent use.