Here’s why shifting weather calls for a new approach to your complexion…
When the mercury switches things up, we’re used to tweaking our wardrobes accordingly. In autumn and winter, the layers and wool come out. With the arrival of spring and summer, it’s time for linen and bare limbs. Yet, when it comes to your face, you’re probably sticking religiously to the same skincare routine all year round – that beloved bottle of serum taking you from New Year right through to next Christmas.
Yet, just like how our body’s response to seasonal weather requires a change of dress, the needs of your face evolve too. A 2018 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found that the shifting elements can influence your skin’s moisture levels and texture.
Take, right now, when we’re moving from summer to autumn, a warmer environment to a cooler one. You’ll probably have started to notice that your complexion is feeling more rough, flaky and irritated. Well, here’s what’s going on beneath the surface.
“Changes in weather have a direct impact on the outermost layer of the skin, which is also known as the skin barrier,” says Dr Timothy Clayton, consultant dermatologist at Pall Mall Medical. Indeed, the key factor impacting your complexion during seasonal transitions is whether the skin barrier is at an optimum level of hydration – and in cold weather it is usually battling to retain enough moisture.
But why is this? “When the air outside is cold and dry, your skin loses moisture much more rapidly,” explains Dr Clayton. “A sudden drop in temperature and humidity means that it [your skin] has to work twice as hard to maintain adequate hydration, particularly in extreme cold temperatures.” Cue cracks in the outer layer of skin and inflammation.
However, that’s not the only thing going on during these chillier months. While you’ll likely be more mindful of it this year, chances are you’ll be easing up the thermostat and enjoying a toastier shower at points. “Indoor heat can wreak havoc on your skin,” continues Dr Clayton. “It sucks moisture out of the air, leaving humidity low. This disrupts and weakens the skin barrier, causing dryness and irritation.”
Moving from the warmth of indoors to the cold outdoors can also exacerbate things. “It affects our capillary network – which are blood vessels in our body – causing them to become dilated,” he adds. Those with acne, rosacea and eczema are particularly susceptible.
With Christmas out the way, the weather usually starts becoming milder. “As the humidity rises, your skin has an easier time maintaining moisture levels,” notes Dr Qian Xu, co-founder and medical director at REDjuvenate Medical. “But it will take some time for your skin to transition to a warmer climate.”
It is during these months, when the skin barrier is now usually struggling with excess oils, that many people will be more prone to breakouts. “The filaggrin – a protein essential to the skin’s role as a barrier for protection – flattened your skin and made it thicker to protect you in winter,” explains Dr Xu. “But come summer this can lead to extra grease and heaviness, with oils getting trapped on the surface leading to a build-up of bacteria and clogged pores.” Eventually, acne sufferers may find that the sunshine starts to clear up their breakouts.
Being faced with more spots is not all that’s going on because, as hayfever sufferers will know, this time of year can come with its own more hidden hurdles.
“In spring, our complexion is subjected to a variety of allergens such as pollen, causing itchy skin and a runny nose,” notes Dr Clayton. “This can particularly lead to irritation of the delicate skin around the eyes, and also to dry patches around areas such as the nose.”
However, it’s not just the weather changes that impact how your complexion fares with factors like genetics also at play. Indeed, some skin types are more vulnerable than others. “If you are prone to dryness or sensitivity, then you may find you get very dehydrated in the cold,” says Dr Hasia Al Khubra, a GP specialising in skin and aesthetics, and founder of Doctors Dose.
“Similarly, eczema and rosacea are usually exacerbated when it’s chilly.” Then there’s skin pigmentation with fairer complexions tending to be more affected than darker ones, which contain more melanin.
Your diet is also at play – all those al fresco poke bowls you enjoyed through August are a sharp contrast to that stew you’re cosying up to by the fire come December. “The effect of changing weather on our skin can be even more pronounced because we often change our eating habits too,” notes nutritionist Eli Brecher.
“In winter, there’s a lack of hydrating fruit and an increase in inflammatory rich creamy sauces, indulgent desserts, and alcohol. Then, with temptations to get ‘in shape’ for summer, calorie restriction can lead to nutrient deficiencies which can promote collagen breakdown and a loss of elasticity.”
But the change of seasons doesn’t have to herald in a period of troublesome skin. “The key to a radiant winter complexion lies with hydration,” says Dr Clayton. “Avoid long, hot baths or showers which sap skin of moisture and focus on getting enough sleep so it can repair itself overnight.”
Similarly, one of the most important lifestyle tweaks should be nutrition. “Combat dryness in cold weather by consuming plenty of nourishing healthy fats, such as salmon, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds,” recommends Brecher.
Your skin will also be crying out for some extra TLC from your bathroom cabinet. Dr Clayton advises using a fragrance-free cleanser to remove dirt before bed without stripping skin of natural oils, which should be followed with a richer moisturiser than usual. In the morning, don’t forget to apply SPF since UVA rays are still present in the winter months.
While everyone’s skin is different, Dr Al Khubra notes that most people benefit from hyaluronic acid daily. “It is a naturally occurring sugar molecule in your skin that binds water molecules to collagen, which is why it is so hydrating,” she explains. “A brightening serum, like vitamin C, can also be helpful at this time of year to revive dull, tired-looking complexions.”
And when the weather forecast starts looking a little more rosy? You need to take extra steps to protect your skin during spring and summer. “Apply SPF regularly because an increase in sun exposure can lead to premature ageing – particularly if you are pale or have a family history of skin cancer,” says Dr Clayton. Just like during winter, what you eat can also help.
“When it’s warm, source antioxidants from colourful fruits and vegetables – like berries, sweet potato and beetroot – to help fight free radicals and protect the skin from sun damage,” adds Brecher.
What’s more, switch up your products to ward off breakouts. “Use a good cleanser twice a day to remove excess oil and sebum,” says Dr Al Khubra. “For this reason, switch to a lighter moisturiser too.”
You may also find it beneficial to gently exfoliate. “This will help remove skin debris that can congest the skin and promote a smoother, brighter complexion,” explains Dr Clayton. If your complexion struggles to settle, leaving you feeling embarrassed or upset, then he adds that it’s worth absorbing some expert help from a GP or dermatologist. After all, it’s important to feel good in your skin all year round.
Words: Lauren Clark
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