Fall Skincare Checklist: Get Your Skin Autumn-Ready


When transitioning from summer to fall, various factors come into play: a decrease in air humidity, cooler temperatures, and variations in UV exposure, among others. Here’s a detailed checklist to help you adjust your skincare routine for the fall weather.

Cleanser

You don’t necessarily have to change your face wash from summer to fall unless you’re running into skin issues. In summer, between all the sweating and layers of sunscreen, you might have needed a heavy-duty cleanser to get the grime off. But come fall, it’s a whole different ballgame. The air gets drier and can drain the moisture out of your skin. That’s when a milder cleanser can be your best friend, one that cleans without removing all the natural oils your skin needs to stay hydrated.

Recommendation:

  • Look for a sulfate-free cleanser with hydrating and nourishing ingredients like ceramides, bisabolol, allantion, and amino acids.
  • Unless your skin is excessively oily or you’ve slept with sunscreen or foundation on, you might be better off just rinsing your face with lukewarm water in the morning instead of using a cleanser. This is true in the cooler fall months when we naturally sweat less at night. Skipping the morning cleanser can help your skin stay less stressed and give it more time to rebuild its natural protective layer.

Toner

Fall air is usually drier than what we’re used to in the summer. This can lead to what skincare experts call “transepidermal water loss,” or TEWL for short. It’s basically a fancy term for saying that your skin loses moisture to the air faster than it can pull moisture back in. The outermost layer of your skin, known as the stratum corneum, acts as a protective barrier against TWEL. Sadly, toners are common culprits that can deplete this natural barrier. That’s because most of them contain irritants like astringents and alcohol.

Recommendation:

  • Opt for an alcohol-free toner rich in antioxidants like flavonoids and polyphenols to provide your skin with an extra layer of defense against free radicals.

Serum

If you’re counting on a hyaluronic acid serum to hydrate your skin this fall, hear this. Humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin can sometimes pull moisture out of the skin into the dry air, thus doing the opposite and actually causing dehydration in low-humidity conditions. 

Recommendation:

  • Consider using a serum rich in peptides and growth factors that will stimulate collagen production and cell regeneration, particularly since lower UV exposure can be a good time to focus on repair.
  • Use humectants in conjunction with occlusive agents in low-humidity environments. Occlusive agents like beeswax, shea butter, or certain oils create a physical barrier on the surface of the skin, which seals in moisture and makes sure it doesn’t evaporate back into the air. Skin flooding is a common skincare technique that involves using occlusives and humectants to receive maximum hydration, so you should give it a try this season.
  • Apply a vitamin C serum in the morning and a peptide/retinol serum at night to optimize your fall skincare routine. Vitamin C is good for protection, while peptides and retinol work on regeneration.

Moisturizer

As long as your skin is moist, you shouldn’t worry about switching your moisturizing products. However, the cooler climate and reduced humidity of fall might require a transition from a lighter, gel-based moisturizer to a regenerative night cream for some. You should still use a lightweight moisturizer during the day to provide your skin hydration without weighing it down. However, your evening routine is the best time to include a barrier-strengthening cream, especially if you’re experiencing dry skin.

Recommendation:

  • Switch to a night cream containing occlusive agents like squalane and shea butter and emollients like ceramide and fatty acids to lock in moisture and form a protective barrier against TEWL. If your skin is oily, make sure to use a non-comedogenic product to avoid breakouts.

Exfoliation

Skin cell turnover doesn’t necessarily align with seasonal changes, but the reduced UV exposure in fall provides a good opportunity for chemical exfoliation without risking photoaging and sun damage.

Recommendation:

  • Use a mild AHA like lactic acid or a BHA like salicylic acid.

Sunscreen

Although the angle of the sun changes and days become shorter, UVA radiation is still present and can contribute to accelerated aging and hyperpigmentation. Photoaging is a cumulative process, so you should give your skin year-round protection regardless of season.

Recommendation:

  • Continue using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, but you don’t need to reapply as often as in the summer.

Masks and treatments

Reduced humidity and colder wind can cause the stratum corneum to lose moisture, leading to potential conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

Recommendation:

  • Use a hydrating mask fortified with ceramides and fatty acids at least once a week to rebuild the skin’s natural barrier.

Diet

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to improve the skin’s ability to hold onto moisture, so they should be high on your list of considerations this autumn. On the other hand, foods and beverages high in salt, sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can dehydrate your skin from within.

Recommendation:

  • Incorporate more fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts into your diet to boost your skin’s natural ability to maintain hydration.

Humidifiers

Reduced air humidity can lead to excessive transepidermal water loss, which compromises the skin’s barrier function. A humidifier can mitigate this by maintaining a balanced level of moisture in your home.

Recommendation:

  • Use a home humidifier to sustain a 40-60% relative humidity.

Hydration

Dry skin is already a common issue in cooler weather due to a variety of factors, such as low humidity, harsh winds, and increased use of indoor heating systems, so why make it worse by not drinking enough water?

Recommendation:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking at least two liters of water a day to help maintain intracellular fluid balance in skin cells.

Rest

When we snooze, our body releases growth hormones that help our cells, including skin cells, renew and repair themselves. But as the seasons change and we get less daylight, our internal body clock—known as our circadian rhythm—can get thrown off. This can mess with our sleep, and as a result, our skin might not repair itself as well as it usually does.

Recommendation:

  • Aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. 

Clothing

Abrasive fabrics like wool can exacerbate skin dryness by creating micro-tears in the skin, further compromising the skin’s barrier function.

Recommendation:

  • Opt for soft, breathable fabrics such as cotton or moisture-wicking synthetics.

Hot showers

We tend to get hotter and hotter showers as the temperatures lower in autumn. However, these steaming showers can strip our skin of natural oils, disrupting the lipid barriers that help retain moisture.

Recommendation:

  • Opt for lukewarm water rather than hot water.

Did you know?

Here are some interesting things that happen to your skin in autumn.

The science of “fall glow”

Did you know that the “fall glow” is actually a thing? As the air becomes less humid, there’s a decrease in sweat and oil production, making your skin less shiny but more evenly matte, giving the appearance of a ‘glow.’

The skin’s pH changes with season

Did you know that the skin’s pH can be affected by seasonal weather changes? Cooler, drier air may cause the skin to become slightly more acidic, which can affect how well your products work. Remember to do a patch test when introducing new products to your fall routine!

Sunscreen isn’t just for summer

Most people think sunscreen is just for the sunny season. However, did you know that 80% of UV radiation can pass through clouds? During the fall, you’re still exposed to sun damage, which is consistent year-round.

The wind is harsh on the skin barrier

The wind can physically strip the surface of your skin. This is why windy fall months can lead to increased skin sensitivity.

Fall comes with more free radicals

Believe it or not, fall leaves aren’t the only thing turning colors. Did you know that lower humidity levels can lead to an increase in the concentration of ozone at ground level? This can be a source of free radicals, which contribute to skin aging and inflammation.

Read next: Daytime vs. Nighttime Skincare Routine


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