Anything from the weather to tiny bacteria can have a major effect on your skin's health—and appearance. Here's how to protect it.
Your biggest organ—your skin—is easily thrown out of whack. Even something as innocuous as a change of seasons can make you suddenly search for the best Insta filters to obscure breakouts or redness. And since fixing the problem can take weeks or even months, identifying the culprit is key to getting selfie-ready skin.
Here, dermatologist Adam Friedman, M.D., associate professor at George Washington University shares common problems that can throw your skin off balance—and how to combat them.
1. Mind your microbiome.
Gut bacteria is getting all the attention these days, but a similar microbiome is found on the surfaces of your body, including the face. Overusing certain products, especially cleansers that leave your face feeling squeaky clean, can actually induce what's known as dysbiosis, or the instability of the skin's microbiome, says Dr. Friedman, who compares the effect to deforestation on an already delicate ecosystem. The result is skin that's actually "too clean," which causes an imbalance of bacteria that can make you more prone to acne, rosacea, or even eczema and cirrhosis. Ultimately, a skin microbiome that's less diverse means it's more difficult for the skin to rebound from everyday stressors, he adds.
So what should you do? For one, keep the different strains of healthy skin bacteria in check by avoiding anything that can dry out skin, including antimicrobial soaps. "The idea is to provide support for the right bacteria to grow," he says. Products with prebiotics or postbiotics can be especially useful to allow healthy bacteria to flourish and live on the skin, he adds. Try La Roche Posay's Toleriane Double Repair Moisturizer ($19; target.com) which contains prebiotic thermal spring water to help balance skin.
2. Keep hormones in check.
Hormonal changes due to aging, stress, your monthly cycle, and even a new fitness routine are common occurrences. Unfortunately, these imbalances are quickly reflected on your skin—especially around your chin area where breakouts tend to occur. But even if hormone levels are within the normal range, your skin's reaction to any shift in hormones can make you reach for your concealer. Your skin actually becomes more sensitive to hormones over time, he adds.
Often times, women make the mistake of balancing hormonal skin by reaching for overly moisturizing creams, which can make matters worse. Rather than experimenting, Dr. Friedman recommends Differin Gel Acne Treatment ($13; walmart.com), a formerly prescription-only product that's now available over-the-counter and is especially useful for breakouts. Acupuncture sessions can also help balance hormones for long-term results, he says.
3. Combat seasonal changes.
Variations in temperature and humidity can throw skin off balance. People tend to get dry, flakey skin during the colder months and oily breakout-prone skin in the warmer months. To battle seasonal skin changes, choose products that balance the skin's pH levels such as Guinot's Macrobiotic Toning Lotion for oilier skin ($39; dermstore.com), or Bioeffect EGF Day Serum ($105; bioeffect.com), which brings back moisture to dry skin by activating cell regeneration. Ingredients including ammonium lactate and urea can also aid the skin in sloughing off old cells for a healthier look, says Dr. Friedman. Without cellular turnover, you will have "rigid skin that when you move will crack and break," he adds. (Related: 5 Things You Need to Know About Your Skin's pH Balance.)
4. Protect skin against invisible UV rays.
Ultraviolet rays that may never cause a sunburn are often the ones that can destabilize skin when you're not paying attention, says Dr. Friedman. Since oftentimes people can't actually feel the radiation (or warmth) from UV rays, it's difficult to understand that even exposure on cloudy days or through closed windows can impact skin health, says Dr. Friedman. The result is inflammation caused by radiation and damaged skin cells that can't rebound well from sun exposure.
To prevent damage, using an SPF daily—no matter the weather—is key. Opt for a sunscreen like Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture SPF 15 ($10; target.com), or a formula that combines anti-aging elements with SPF such as Regenica Renew SPF 15 ($150; lovelyskin.com). "Every single day should be a sunscreen day," he says.