During the autumn months the kids head back to school, the temperatures finally get down to a comfortable level, the leaves change—and so does your skin. Fall is a time of transformation throughout nature, says Joshua L. Fox, MD, founder and medical director of NY and NJ-based Advanced Dermatology PC, so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that we humans go through transitions of our own this time of year. And just as fall, and then winter, brings a variety of changes in the natural world, it’s also a mixed bag for our skin. Dr. Fox offers a rundown of some of the changes you can expect to see in your skin, plus tips on how to manage them.
Welcome to the dry season. While lower humidity is great for anyone who battles frizzy hair and a shiny forehead all summer, it means drier skin for everybody, as less moisture in the air translates almost immediately to a corresponding drop in the moisture in us. What’s more, turning on the heat in your home also dries you out, no matter where the heat comes from, be it: electricity, gas, or firewood.
To keep your skin beautiful and properly nourished this fall and winter, Dr. Fox recommends switching moisturizers, trading in the lotion for a cream or something else that’s more emollient. This goes for the skin on your body as well as your face. Use products made with humectants (such as glycerine, sorbitol urea, and alpha-hydroxy acids), which attract moisture to your skin, and look for an oil-based moisturizer for the face, which will create a protective layer to hold moisture in.
To combat dryness from the inside, stay hydrated (drink plenty of water and keep alcohol and caffeine to a minimum). You should note, however, that the old saying about drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day to keep you beautiful is a myth, Dr. Fox says. “We know that water is essential to keep the body functioning. But unless you’re dangerously dehydrated, drinking extra water won’t show up in your skin.” What can help, he says, is adding a humidifier to the rooms where you spend the most time—probably where you sleep and work. “Humidifiers add moisture to the air, which helps keep your skin from drying out.”
Make a date to exfoliate. After a summer spent outdoors, most people have exposed their skin to sun and wind (hopefully with sunscreen). But regardless of the SPF you’ve been using, Dr. Fox says, your skin has probably gotten at least some damage and may well show the signs: a dull and uneven surface (thanks to built-up skin cells), dry texture and hyper-pigmented patches. “Fall is a great time to have an in-office exfoliation procedure, such as microdermabrasion or a chemical peel,” he says. “You also might consider photorejuvenation, which uses a laser technique known as IPL (intense pulsed light, Blue light or lasers) to improve the look of freckles, spots, and other sun damage.”
At home, Dr. Fox says, slough off dull skin and get your face and body springtime-smooth again with gentle exfoliants (try a hydrating mask on your face and an oil-based scrub on your body). Just don’t overdo it, especially if your face is already feeling irritated or extra dry.
Acne adjustments. The season’s cooler temperatures, coupled with drying acne treatments, can leave even oily and acne-prone skin feeling tight and flaky. Unless your dermatologist advises differently, keep up your regular acne treatments, but switch to a slightly heavier moisturizer (look for one that’s oil free and noncomedogenic) and cut back on cleansing.
Rosacea reinforcements. The stronger winds and cooler temperatures of autumn can leave some faces red and inflamed—especially those with rosacea. Other rosacea triggers, including indoor heat and hot beverages, can make things even worse. To keep your skin under control, use a humidifier and set indoor temps at the lowest comfortable setting, let the coffee (or cocoa) cool before drinking it, and protect your skin with a scarf when you go outside. Stick to your prescribed skincare routine, but consider switching to a heavier moisturizer if your skin feels especially dry. Sometimes an additional prescription may be required.
The attack of the chicken skin (aka keratosis pilaris). Autumn is also a time for flare-ups of the condition dermatologists call keratosis pilaris (KP) or lichen spinalosis, characterized by bumps on the backs of the upper arms and thighs (which are caused by a buildup of keratin in and around the hair follicles) and exacerbated by dry conditions. To fight it, exfoliate gently and bump up the moisturizer (you might even switch to an ultra-rich ointment for KP patches). If that is not helpful, dermatologists may have several prescriptions that can help clear up the condition.
Allergy alert! Changes in your skin during the fall months can also be triggered by increased exposure to allergens such as pollen, ragweed and mold. Allergic skin reactions can include itchiness, redness, puffiness, and flakiness (more severe symptoms include swelling, hives, rashes and blisters). If you’re allergic to pollen, wash your face and hands after you’ve been outside and keep the windows closed during peak pollen times (roughly 10 am to 4 pm). If ragweed or mold is your nemesis, use an air purifier with a HEPA filter. And moisturize often, with a hypoallergenic product.