Why Summer Dries Out Your Skin and What to Do About It

Skin Care
Dried out Skin

It seems that when summer comes around, everyone talks a lot about avoiding shine and oil. When the heat and humidity go up, so too does the oil on your skin. But that can be deceptive. There are a number of short- and long-term ways that summer actually dries out your skin.

Short-Term: A Very Drying Environment

Why Summer Dries out Your Skin

The summer season is surprisingly full of drying environments (Skin Cancer Foundation):

  • Sun (UV) exposure
  • Airplanes
  • Air conditioning
  • Chlorine from swimming pools

You likely already know that short-term UV-exposure can cause a nasty sunburn (erythema) and also cumulatively cause photo-aging in the long-term. But it also compromises the integrity of skin.

Researchers exposed skin to the equivalent of 12, 24, and 60 days of UVB-exposure in the Floridian sun. They found that it had a detrimental effect of intercellular strength, strain, and cohesion. Essentially, it decreased cells ability to stick together and caused more stress in the skin. So, while the sun increases stress in the sun, it decreases its ability to protect against that stress (PNAS2012).

Air conditioning and airplanes both cause dry skin because they create environments with low humidity. Researchers have found that even short-term exposure caused significantly reduced moisture levels in the stratum corneum (outer level of skin), and altered the surface pattern of skin that researchers think could lead to fine wrinkles (Skin Research and Technology2002).

And you might know that chlorine can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and lungs, and levels are often especially high in public pools (Portland Press Herald, 2010).

Long-Term: The Cumulative Damage

Skin aging and sun damage

Overtime, the sun seriously breaks down skin. Cumulative exposure causes DNA damage, a decrease in collagen and elastin, and slowed cell turnover. It results in skin with deeper wrinkles, more pigment issues, and a dry look and feeling. And it affects glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are water-binding polysaccharides found mostly in the dermis, or deepest layer of skin.

In newborns, make skin feel very hydrated and supple, and the most dermatologist feel they decrease as we age. Oddly, researchers found an increase in GAGs in photodamaged skin when compared to healthy skin. But it’s the location of those GAGs that matters. In health skin, they appear between collagen and elastin fibers, but in photodamaged skin they’re in the elastotic material of the superficial dermis where they aren’t doing much good (British Journal of Dermatology1996).

While aging naturally causes skin dryness and fine lines, photoaging causes dry, sallow skin with deep furrows in addition to fine lines, dark spots, as well as a number of other skin issues, the most problematic of which is skin cancer (The Journal of Dermatology2004).

What Can You Do?


First and foremost, you need sunscreen. And with more outdoor activities and trips to more sun-soaked locales, you might want extra protection. Try layering a mineral sunscreen, which blocks UV rays, over a chemical sunscreen, which coverts UV-light into a different, non-damaging energy.


So, first use something like Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock Lotion with Helioplex ($19.20,amazon.com), which has SPFs up to 100.


Then layer something like Blue Lizard Australian Sensitive Sunscreen ($13, amazon.com) for extra protection.


The right moisturizer will help your skin from feeling too dry or getting too oily.


If you have dry skin, trying something like Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer ($43, amazon.com) with sunscreen overtop is a good bet.


If you have oilier skin, Hourglass Veil Mineral Makeup Primer ($18.98, amazon.com) with alumina and isododecane absorbs oil has mineral sun protection but it still layers well under sunscreen.


Since, the sun can make your skin feel dry in some places, but oily in others an exfoliator is a good idea.


I like Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Intensive Exfoliating Treatment ($85, amazon.com). With papaya fruit extract that aids skin after burning, likely by increasing cell turnover, bromelain that helps reduce inflammation, and lactic acid that gentle exfoliates and moisturizes, this is a great exfoliator for summertime.

[Read More: Product Review: Kate Somerville ExfoliKate]

Refresher On the Go:

From walking in and out of airconditioning to sitting for hours on an airplane, there are a number of environments that can sap your skin of moisture throughout the day. Keeping something on hand to refresh your skin can keep you feeling your best.


Tatcha Luminous Dewy Skin Mist ($48, tatcha.com) has antioxidant-rich red algae and moisturizing squalene that help to revive your skin throughout the day.

Bottom Line

The summer can seriously dry out skin. And that damage eventually leads to signs of visible aging, like dry, wrinkled skin. Sunscreen is the most important way to defend your skin from the sun in the short- and long-term. Picking the right moisturizers for your skin type and exfoliating will help keep skin glowing. And if you need a pick-me-up, keeping a hydrating mist with you to keep your skin fresh.

Contributing author: Natalie Bell

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