Transitional Skin Care Tips For Taking Your Glow From Summer To Fall

Derm-approved tips that’ll keep your complexion on point.

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For skin care loyalists, once you feel like you’ve got a beauty routine perfected, the last thing you want to do is switch things up. But, while your intuition may tell you to avoid making any sudden movements when it comes to your product lineup, a new season may require a new approach. What worked for your complexion during the hot and humid summer months may not be what your skin needs as the weather turns cooler and drier. Enter: transitional skin care.

As the temperatures slowly start to drop, you’ll likely notice your skin concerns change or that different complexion woes pop up (hello, dryness). “As the cold begins, skin and lips tend to be dryer at this time, especially with people running the heat this time of year,” makeup artist Kirin Bhatty previously told Bustle. And that newfound dryness — among other concerns like breakouts, flakiness, or inflammation — may call for different products.

Don’t fret: Bustle called on a handful of board-certified dermatologists for a few no-biggie transitional skin care tips that’ll seamlessly take your skin care regimen from the summer into fall. Scroll on for expert intel that’s sure to help you autumnize your routine.

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1. Protect Your Skin Barrier

This one’s up top for a reason. The experts that Bustle spoke to were clear: Nurturing the skin barrier is arguably the most important thing you can do when tailoring your skin care routine for fall. The skin barrier — or moisture barrier, as it’s sometimes called — is the outermost layer comprised of fats, proteins, and skin cells, and it acts as a shield to keep moisture locked in and potential pollutants out. This is key, because not only do the temperatures drop, but so does the humidity — and that, combined with the cranked heat indoors, can be especially drying and/or irritating to the skin, potentially compromising the skin barrier.

A compromised barrier increases what’s called transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which is when the water in your skin evaporates into the air, explains Dr. Whitney Bowe, M.D., New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, research scientist, and founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty. So, during the autumn months especially, it’s important to protect your skin’s outer layer by reaching for ingredients that trap and seal moisture like hyaluronic acid, beta glucan, or aloe vera. Also consider adding occlusive (ingredients that create a barrier on top of the skin to lock in moisture and prevent TEWL) like petrolatum, jojoba oil, and beeswax to your skin care routine. You’ll also want to look for products rich in antioxidants to protect against free radicals that can damage the skin barrier. That way, with a hydrated, protected top layer, your skin can focus on repairing your healthy collagen and elastic fibers rather than fighting irritation, Bowe explains.

2. Ease Up On Harsh Actives & Exfoliators

To combat potential irritation that can come with the fall season, the experts say you may want to pull back on chemical exfoliators like alpha and beta hydroxy acids as well as potentially harsh actives like retinol. As Bowe explains, when the weather cools, your skin may be more quick to show if you’ve overdone it — which you’ll know if you begin to experience dryness, flaking, or irritation.

“I tend to have my patients slow down the exfoliation in the colder months,” says NYC-based board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D. His advice? “Once a week is fine in the fall and winter.” Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., a Pittsburgh-based board-certified dermatologist, agrees, and recommends limiting the use of any products (or even in-office procedures) that further dry out or irritate the skin this time of year.

When you do exfoliate or slather on an active ingredient like retinol, make sure you reach for a balancing formula that offsets potential irritation with hydrating and calming ingredients — think hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and glycerin.

3. Opt For Thicker Moisturizers

While you may have fallen in love with your gel cream or hydrating mist during the humidity-rich summer months, now is the time to level up with a thick, creamy moisturizer, the experts say. “We tend to recommend light lotions or gel creams in the summer months, but as the weather gets colder, it may not be enough,” Bhanusali explains. “We may need to layer products to get the hydration needed or use thicker creams.”

Zubritsky suggests looking for moisturizers with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and glycerin “to really add hydration to your skin,” she notes.

4. Incorporate Soothing Skin Care

Alongside dehydration and mild irritation, dryer, cooler weather can lead to flare-ups of more serious skin conditions that may have your skin screaming for products that soothe and calm. Minneapolis-based board-certified Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D. says issues like eczema — which can cause dry, itchy, and inflamed skin and rashes — and rosacea — which can lead to affected areas on the face that feel hot and tender — are more common as the seasons transition.

To calm a complexion that’s feeling extra sensitive to the effects of fall, reach for ingredients that gently cleanse, hydrate, and repair the skin barrier without any drama. Some examples, courtesy of Liu: niacinamide, centella asiatica (aka cica), aloe, peptides, chamomile, and oat extract — all of which can help balance an irritable complexion.

5. Adjust Your Shower Habits

As the weather cools, it can be tempting to use your shower time as an opportunity to blast your body with super hot water. Sure, it can feel amazing in the moment, but Liu says that too-hot water can exacerbate irritation and further dehydrate your skin by removing healthy oils from the surface. Warm is great, but avoid spinning those dials with abandon. And if your skin is especially sensitive, Liu says to consider reserving the soap for pits and slits instead of lathering all over.

While you’re doing the job in that lukewarm water, incorporate a body wash that’s packed with extra gentle, moisturizing ingredients so that you can come out with baby-soft skin — and be sure to follow your shower with an all-over body lotion to keep in that hydration.

Studies referenced:

Del Russo, J. (2016). Understanding the Epidermal Barrier in Healthy and Compromised Skin: Clinically Relevant Information for the Dermatology Practitioner. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol.

Honari, G. (2014). Skin Structure and Function. Skin Aging Handbook.


Dr. Whitney Bowe, M.D., New York City-based board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Whitney Bowe Beauty

Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., New York City-based board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist

Dr. Jenny Liu, M.D., board-certified dermatologist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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