Summer Skin Repair

Skin careAs the sun wanes and beach vacations end, it’s time to evaluate summertime skin damage. Of course you used sunscreen diligently and faithfully wore your wide-brimmed hat to protect your face, but if you enjoyed a lot of time outdoors this summer, you might see evidence of damage anyway.

Now is the time to establish a fresh skin care regimen in preparation for cooler – and often drier – months ahead. A good place to start is to understand more about the benefits of exfoliation and hydration. Exfoliation “buffs and sloughs” dead skin cells with abrasive methods that expose fresh skin cells for a fresher, more radiant glow. Hydration moisturizes those fresh skin cells to keep them plump and glowing.

Your skin constantly creates new cells, and in the process, older cells rise to the surface and gradually die. These uppermost skin cells play an important role in protecting our skin, but aging can slow cell regeneration and sloughing, resulting in a build-up of rough, dry patches or a dull appearance. That layer is what we aim to remove with exfoliation, either through mechanical or chemical methods.

In mechanical exfoliation treatments, dead cells are physically rubbed off with an abrasive such as salt, sugar, tiny plastic beads, or ground kernels and seeds mixed with an oil or cream base. There are many effective over-the-counter exfoliating products to try. I prefer those with brown sugar rather than salt because brown sugar is less drying. Read product labels carefully, and don’t use a “body scrub” product on your face – they are too harsh for the delicate skin on the face.

Use exfoliation treatments sparingly – 2 or 3 times a week at most – unless otherwise instructed by your dermatologist. If you overdo it, you may harm new skin and cause irritation, darkening, and even infection. Most exfoliants are not meant for everyday use. If you exfoliate regularly, you must be diligent with sun block protection. Those fresh skin cells are easily damaged by UV exposure.

The most aggressive mechanical exfoliation is microdermabrasion, a process generally administered by an aesthetician under the guidance of a physician. The microdermabrasion device polishes the skin with small abrasive particles, removing dead cells, stimulating fresh growth, improving skin tone, and reversing mild sun damage. There may be some redness and slight irritation after microdermabrasion, but the procedure generally does not require post-treatment healing time.

Chemical exfoliation methods are different, using topically applied enzymes and mild acids to remove dead skin cells. The most common exfoliation acids are salicylic (such as beta hydroxy), fruits, glycolic (sugar), lactic (milk), and tartaric (grapes). When applied to the skin, these acids dissolve substances that bind the dead cells and then melt them away.

Most over-the-counter chemical exfoliants are mild, but it may be a good idea to experiment with a few to see how you tolerate different formulations. While glycolic acids are the most commonly available, I prefer lactic acid exfoliants because they help put moisture back into the skin.
If your sun damage is more extensive, your dermatologist may recommend frequent or daily applications of prescription retinoids or vitamin A (such as tretinoin, or Retin-A®), along with serums containing vitamin C in the form of L-ascorbic acid. Both vitamin A and C topical therapies work to stabilize collagen, thus improving the appearance of fine lines and overall skin texture. In addition, vitamin A provides safe – yet intense – exfoliation, uncovering and nourishing fresh skin cells. As a nice complement to these changes, vitamin C provides a natural option for lightening sunspots and hyperpigmentation brought on by increased exposure to sun during those fun summer months.

While you may consider a series of chemical exfoliation peels with your dermatologist to achieve a quick freshening of the skin, keep in mind that these chemicals are stronger than topical therapies and often require a week or two of healing. And because darker skin tones scar more readily and visibly, people of color should carefully consider exfoliation options because even further darkening of the skin (hyperpigmentation) can result. 
After exfoliation, the next step is nourishing and rich hydration, to keep new skin cells supple and moist. Look for products with hyaluronic acid, a humectant that attracts and binds water from air, essentially providing a blanket of moisture without an increase in oiliness.

Aside from topically applied moisturizers, it’s important to hydrate from the inside out by drinking a lot of fresh water every day. Our skin reflects very well what we put into our body. A moist, glowing complexion thrives on plenty of water, so drink it up!

And because hair is a natural extension of skin, it, too, needs a summer recovery plan to treat the drying effects of chlorine, sun, and salt water. To revive your summer-stressed hair, you may need to switch to richer shampoos and conditioners, or specialty cleansers, like those designed for chlorine removal.

With the addition of these few components to your skin care regimen, along with continued use of your sunscreen and sun protection, you can leave the summer behind while maintaining a beautiful, healthy, sun-kissed glow!

Published on 10/15/2009 | Last updated on 10/18/2018