The Summer Skincare Bootcamp

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Summer’s been a long time coming. A long face-burning, red-flushing, dry-flaking, please-can-it-get-warm-already time coming. It’s May, and most days here in New York are still sweater appropriate, coat optional. And then, every so often, a rare day pushes through the clouds and rain, or you pass a bush of hydrangeas flowering in front of your bodega, and—ah, yes! Summer! It should be here so soon.

But then you’re reminded: summer is coming, and you’re not ready. You still need to dredge out your sandals from under your bed, book those holiday flights, and sort out the last place you saw your bug spray. (The bathroom? A tote bag? It must be somewhere.) You already have your beach body—your body, the beach, easy enough. But if you’re looking to get your skincare routine back in shape for summer, you’ll need more tools in your arsenal than just sunshine and seawater. Hey, it’s still spring, you have time—you can start with these essentials.

Last-call retinol

If you’ve been thinking about trying it all year, now’s the time to take the leap. For starters, in the warmer months you're less likely to experience the flaky skin that can happen as your skin adapts to the ingredient. And beyond that, it’s one of the best ways to treat dark marks and superficial acne scars, soften fine lines, smooth texture, and reverse sun damage. Plus, it’s more potent than other exfoliating ingredients, because it works on a cellular level to encourage turnover. But a word of caution: while retinol-related skin thinning has , the ingredient can still make you more sensitive to the sun. So remember to cleanse and use SPF in the morning, and save your retinol for the night.

Try: , or prescription tretinoin from your dermatologist

Your perfect SPF

Remember the sun? You haven’t seen it much in the past year (apparently it spends its winters elsewhere) but now that it’s back, it wants to spend every day together. You two have a lot of catching up to do! And while that’s nice, sun exposure has . If you don’t already have a sunscreen you love, now is the time to find one. For sensitive or acne-prone skin, look for a zinc-based mineral sunscreen. In addition to protecting skin from UV rays, zinc also regulates oil production and soothes inflammation. It also comes in handy for summer travel—applying a layer of zinc sunscreen before a flight creates a physical block between your skin and the bacteria circulating (and re-circulating) within the airplane cabin. The other option is a chemical sunscreen, which absorbs and neutralizes UV rays through a chemical reaction. These guys are often clear, and don’t leave a white cast. To make sure you're getting enough protection, make sure to choose a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF—anything much higher than 50 probably isn't giving any extra benefits.

Try: for a mineral sunscreen, or

A vitamin C that actually works

Once you find your perfect SPF, pair it with a brightening vitamin C. The two have a symbiotic relationship: because vitamin C is an antioxidant, it supports SPF by neutralizing the free radicals that cause photodamage. Then, the SPF protects you from new dark marks, and the vitamin C can work on lightening the ones you already have. Because most vitamin C skincare products lose effectiveness when exposed to light and air, it’s important to use one that comes in a tinted bottle, or in powdered form. Look for more stable forms of vitamin C like magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium ascorbyl phosphate, and ascorbyl glucoside. Or try tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate—it’s oil soluble, and a good summer option for the face-oil obsessed.

Try: , or if your skin is more sensitive

Humidity-friendly moisturizer

All winter, protecting and sealing in moisture was the name of the game. But once summer hits, your favorite winter cream starts to feel like wearing a turtleneck to the beach. Instead, opt for some light layers—transitional dressing for your face, if you will. But maybe you're wondering, why moisturize at all? It all comes down to the difference between dry and dehydrated. Dry skin is a type—it lacks oil. But even though you can pile on cream all winter and sweat through packs of blotting pads in the summer, your skin may still be dehydrated, or lack water. Trade in a rich moisturizer for something more hydrating—look for humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and aloe that hold onto water and attract moisture to the skin. Gel moisturizers can feel nice and light for summer, but even a hydrating serum may be enough.

Try: For dry skin, , and for oily skin,

Bonus: self-tanner

If you need to get rid of dull winter skin in a pinch, self tanner does the job. Just a couple drops in your moisturizer each morning will gradually help you regain a glow. Once you’re a summer color, you can switch to your summer blush, your summer foundation, and then, would you look at that? It’s summer. You did it. And your skin looks damn good.

Try: Self tanning drops like from Isle of Paradise

Photos via ITG