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 the surface of your skin, and dehydrates it.
Short-Term: A Very Dehydrating Environment
The summer season is surprisingly full of dehydrating environments:
Sun (UV) exposure
Over-use of drying products
Chlorine from swimming pools
You 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.
Sun damage stresses the skin, and has a detrimental effect on intracellular strength, strain, and cohesion of the skin's integrity; and can decrease its ability to protect against that stress (PNAS, 2012). Damage creates free-radicals, or oxidative stress (cellular 'rust').
If your body is lacking antioxidants, you may be further increasing the damage. (Clients: remember the black super-ball with pins analogy?)
Air conditioning and airplanes both cause dehydrate the skin because they create environments with low humidity. Your daily routine can wreak havoc. Think about a typical day: in an air-conditioned house to a hot car, to an air-conditioned office or store, back into a hot car, go home to an air-conditioned house, walk the dog in hot humid weather, back home again... 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 Technology, 2002). Oily skin can become over active when the skin LACKS HYDRATION. Sometimes, by simply keeping the skin hydrated makes a big improvement in lessening the production of sebum.
And remember, 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
Overtime, the sun seriously breaks down skin. Cumulative exposure causes DNA damage and creates destructive free-radicals, it breaks-down and decreases collagen and elastin, and slows cell turnover. It results in skin with deeper wrinkles, more pigment issues, and a dry/dehydrated look and feel, which also affects glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), which are water-binding polysaccharides found mostly in the dermis, or deepest layer of skin. They are very important to the skin's matrix - a combination of water, lipids, enzymes, and other pH balancing substances that maintain and protect the skin. It is important to supplement the skin with needed HYDRATION, especially when the sun is exposed to environmental stressors and excessive sun exposure.
In newborns, the skin feels very hydrated and supple. As our bodies age, we may need to supplement and protect the skin's surface as it is exposed to harsh environments and seasonal weather changes.
While aging naturally can cause 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 Dermatology, 2004).
What Can You Do?
Wear NATURAL MINERAL SUNSCREENS for prolonged sun exposure, especially if you burn easily, have any history of skin cancer, you hyperpigment, have rosacea and/or broken capillaries, or are taking OTC and prescription medications and hormones (these may dehydrate you, make you more photo-sensitive and reactive). You MUST use extra precaution if you have had any chemical peels, dermaplaning/dermafiling, enzyme peels, microdermabrasion, or high-frequency treatments.
Hormonal changes in pregnancy can increase pigmentation. This condition is called chloasma. BE VERY CAREFUL about using CHEMICAL SUNSCREENS on your body while pregnant - and when you're not, for that matter! See my blog posts on chemical sunscreens and harmful, bio-accumulative chemicals in skincare products.
Hydration of the skin is very important. If you are thirsty, your body is PAST needing water - never allow yourself to feel excessively thirsty - it's your body's warning mechanism. As we age, we LOSE our sense of thirst. Train ourself to always keep hydrated internally. Slathering on a moisturizer does not necessarily provide moisture (water/hydration) to the skin - especially if you are already dehydrated. In fact, it may further UNWANTED skin conditions by glomming-up the epidermis causing build-up which may make the skin look more sallow, matte and dull, while exacerbating the look of wrinkles and lines. Exfoliated skin must be hydrated first - then when a protective, emollient-rich, antioxidant moisturizer is applied on top, it creates a healthy environment to keep the skin hydrated. (Clients: remember the sponge analogy?)
Research and consider supplementation with natural antioxidants both internally and externally. Eat healthy foods, and DRINK lots of pure water. Sorry- tea, coffee, juice, alcohol, and soda DO NOT count.
Photos courtesy of futurederm.