I DON'T KNOW about you, but I always get the end-of-summer blues when I start to see the change in the sun’s intensity and feel a winter chill in the evening air. Maybe we are all eternally affected by the “back-to-school” vibe that comes with the shift in seasons, or maybe I’m just a summer-loving Leo at heart. Whatever the cause, as a working esthetician, I always try to make fall/winter skin care feel like an exciting moment for my clients to change up their routine and work toward some major new skin goals.
Hallmarks of fall weather include unpredictable temperatures along with the resulting immunity challenges, and an abrupt lack of any humidity in the environment. Through all of this change, the body strives to maintain homeostasis, or stability, in order to thrive. The skin is responsible for preventing the loss of water, maintaining the ideal body temperature, and protecting against toxicity in the environment. When you combine the stress from the change of season with the effects of too much sun over summer, the skin can actually become inflamed, red, dehydrated, and dull. Here, I’m going to share with you my best tips for making your skin feel stable during this generally unstable time.
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Think of the fall as your season to repair. Most of us have had a summer filled with outdoor activities — from going to the beach to eating meals outside. The skin is generally showing a bit of wear and tear by the time fall hits, so we need to address this in the right way before the deep freeze of winter hits.
First, let’s address your home care, and then we can dive into my favorite professional treatments for this time of year.
Please avoid taking a hot shower. I know during summer you may have been taking cooler showers. The water temperature was nice and refreshing for you and your skin. While a warmer shower might make you feel more cozy in the fall, hot water makes the skin feel dry, dehydrated, and sensitized. There is less moisture in the air, thus there is less moisture in your skin. Using water that is too hot will upset the delicate balance of your skin, and you’ll likely wind up itchy, inflamed, and red as a result. Also, please keep in mind that face washing should only occur at the bathroom sink with tepid water.
The lack of humidity in the air means your whole body will need some extra love.
While we are discussing the shower/cleansing step of your routine, let’s talk about cleansers. If you have ever wondered what cream cleansers do, or what a cleansing balm is used for, let me enlighten you. They are specifically designed to make washing the skin soothing, less traumatic, and even hydrating. The skin needs to be washed morning and night. But when the humidity drops, cleansing can be a nightmare, making the dryness to your skin worse, or making the skin more red. Simply using a cleanser with coconut and chamomile — like my Cloud Bar — might be enough of a switch for the skin on the face and body. But for the face specifically, you might want to invest in that perfect balm or cream cleanser, like Paula’s Choice Softening Cream Cleanser or the ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Cleansing Balm.
Once you get out of the shower, increasing the moisture content of the skin should be your full-time job. First, I would try and add into your morning routine an oil-based serum. Oils tend to help soothe the skin, calm redness, and restore the skin’s barrier layer quite nicely. They also help prevent the loss of moisture throughout the day. I would look for an oil-based serum that contains squalane because it is the most similar to our own sebum, so it tends not to clog the pores. Plus, it is light and really hydrates the skin well. My favorite is one of my own products, the Rescue Serum.
Next, I would follow my oil-based serum with a moisturizer containing collagen. Collagen helps calm, heal, and nourish sensitized skin, which is perfect for fall weather when your skin lacks moisture and needs comforting. I would try something like SkinCeuticals Triple Lipid Restore 242 or Paula’s Choice Skin Recovery Replenishing Moisturizer. Using a great collagen moisturizer for daytime will help hold hydration in the skin while you are at work too.
And while we are increasing hydration in the face, we need to do the same for the skin on the body. The lack of humidity in the air means your whole body will need some extra love. I highly recommend applying something like the CeraVe Moisturizing Cream for Normal to Dry Skin with Ceramides. The fact that this one contains ceramides means it’s great to massage into your body, hands, and feet before bed and again when you wake up. I love a good bedtime ritual to unwind so I can get enough sleep at night, which, not surprisingly, is another key ingredient for great skin.
One big seasonal transition in the routine that you can start to think about immediately is in the way you exfoliate. Typically, people like to exfoliate more in summer months. This addresses blackheads, skin texture, and keeps the face looking and feeling cleaner. In the fall and winter months, I highly recommend that your exfoliation changes to only once a week. Over-exfoliating during the fall, when we are already feeling dehydrated and sensitized, can really damage the skin’s surface. Redness, micro-tears in the skin, or inflammation can occur very easily when you exfoliate too vigorously. Meanwhile, I would also recommend cutting back on the use of acids in all of your steps. As an esthetician, I see that acid overuse is still rampant with people trying to do the most for their skin. Remember, skin likes balance. As I said earlier, it helps the body maintain homeostasis. If you continually throw acids and scrubs onto the skin in many of your daily skin-care steps, the result will be dull, dehydrated skin that is inflamed or breaking out because it has become sensitized to everything. I recommend the Youth To The People Mandelic Acid + Superfood Unity Exfoliant or my own Dawn Brightening Mask. Also, generally speaking, mandelic acid is known as the gentle AHA, so typically it is an acid I highly recommend for even the most sensitive of skin types.
In addition to the aforementioned ingredients, I have one more hero to add to your routine — niacinamide. Niacinamide is great as a fall ingredient because it soothes sensitized skin while reducing the uneven pigment you may see in the mirror from too much sun exposure. I love having it in my arsenal. Paula's Choice Ultra-Light Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum is a great one, combining the powers of niacinamide with Vitamin C. It is favored among skin care professionals because of its brightening effects.
Over-exfoliating during the fall, when we are already feeling dehydrated and sensitized, can really damage the skin’s surface.
Another fall essential that I never leave home without is a great lip balm. I recommend carrying lip balm with you all day for ease in reapplying, but I also recommend using a lip mask for sleeping at night. Your lips are special. Not only do we use them to express love and care, but the skin on the lips is super sensitive, so it needs your love too. Your lips do not contain oil glands like the rest of the skin, so applying the right products is essential to making sure your lips don’t get cracked and sensitive due to the lack of hydration in the air. I have two essentials here — Sara Happ's Lip Slip Balm and The Dream Slip. I honestly could not live without them. Fun fact: I finish every single facial I perform in my salons in New York City and Los Angeles with the Sara Happ Lip Slip. I have one on my desk at work, one in my purse, and one in my car. I am not kidding. I don’t think I could even fall asleep without The Dream Slip on my lips.
I want to mention here the best tool for skin hydration during the fall and winter — a bedside humidifier. Keeping the skin hydrated as we sleep is the best way to ensure that your skin remains routinely soothed. Using one nightly will help you wake up to calm, de-puffed, glowing skin. I love these: the Canopy Humidifier and the Carepod One - Stainless Steel Humidifier. I love the combination of function and aesthetics.
Lastly, let me take you back into the treatment room for some of my favorite things to get done to the skin in the fall. First, let’s talk about lasers. Most skin care professionals will tell you that fall is a great time to get a little laser treatment to resurface the skin and address any uneven pigment you may have developed from getting too much sun. My favorite is Clear + Brilliant, which is a non-ablative laser. This means that it improves texture, and addresses melasma, fine lines, and acne scars without requiring much downtime afterwards. But if you are not a fan of minimally invasive procedures, then I would highly recommend a series of LED light treatments. LED is great because it is completely noninvasive. It increases collagen production, reduces inflammation, and speeds the healing of the skin dramatically. When done after a peel or microdermabrasion, I can ensure that you walk out red-carpet ready. A series of LED light treatments can make a big difference to the texture, health, and vitality of the skin. It is also a fan favorite for people who love a good glow for the fall. Remember, though: a noninvasive treatment means that you will often need to do many sessions before you see a result. I usually recommend 12 sessions in my spa in the full body LED bed so you get the most results for your skin. If that sounds like too much of a time investment, then a nice at-home LED mask is a great way to keep your face glowing. The CurrentBody Skin LED Light Therapy Mask is one I love because it covers the face, neck, and décolleté.
Even though summer is over, the coming of winter offers the opportunity to change your routine and welcome an entirely new version of yourself. With the right tools in your arsenal, as well as a thoughtfully edited skin care routine and treatment plan, you can make sure you’ll be glowing through the entire season.
Joanna Vargas Writer
Joanna Vargas is a facialist and skin-care expert. Known for her powerfully refining and reshaping facials offered at her signature New York City and Los Angeles salons, she also has a line of products that reflect her unique combination of technique, technology, and all-natural ingredients formulated to beautify.
Vicki Ling Illustrator
Vicki Ling is a freelance illustrator currently based in New Orleans. Her clients include the New York Times, AFAR magazine, Morningstar Magazine, Trix Magazine, Warner Music, and the Swatch Group, among others.