Is your skin ready for summer?
As beach season approaches, anxiety is almost palpable with both women and men who will soon bare it all -- or close to it. After being bundled up all winter long, people will shed their sweaters and jeans and show some skin.
But "the problem with summer skin is winter skin," says Steve Fallek, MD, a plastic surgeon in New York City and Englewood, N.J. "Our skin is dry from the cold, harsh winter."
While some are concerned about looking odd on the beach, he says, "others are worried about being outside in less clothing than they are used to."
WebMD to the rescue: Our doctor-approved tips will help your skin get a healthy glow in time for Memorial Day -- and with results designed to last through Labor Day and beyond.
Exfoliate to Get Rid of Dry, Dull Skin
Experts say the best way to get your skin ready for summer is with regular exfoliation. This gets rid of dead, dry skin cells. "You can use a chemical or physical exfoliation to keep your skin looking fresher and to get rid of dry flaky winter skin," says Audrey Kunin MD, a dermatologist in Kansas City, Mo.
Use a washcloth, loofah, buff puff, or any number of the microdermabrasion creams or tools that are now on the market, Kunin says.
Wet your entire body in the bath or shower.
Apply exfoliating cleanser to your loofah or washcloth, and scrub, using gentle, circular motions.
"Don't go overboard, less is more when it comes to exfoliating," she says. Kunin recommends exfoliating no more than once a day or a couple of times a week.
Get started before Memorial Day and keep the regimen up throughout summer. "This is something everyone should think about now, so when you do have summer glow it will last even longer."
Added incentive: exfoliated skin will help self-tanners go on more smoothly, making them less likely to streak and prevent your glow from fading prematurely.
Moisturize to Hydrate Skin
After you exfoliate, moisturizing your winter dry skin is key. "If your skin is only a little dry, you can use a liquid moisturizer and if it's very dry, you can use a cream moisturizer," says Rhoda S. Narins, MD, a dermatological surgeon in New York City and president of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.
Use it after you exfoliate, shave, and shower. In particular, "moisturizing after you shave puts the skin barrier back until your own body can do it," Narins says.
This year, tinted moisturizers are popular, Kunin adds. "Everyone wants a bronze look and these products are like a foundation for the body," she says. They fall just short of a self-tanner because unlike self-tanners, which fade naturally, tinted moisturizers will typically wash off. "The color itself does not protect from sun so you may need sunscreen too," Kunin cautions.
She adds, "It's hot and humid during the summer, so you really want to make sure that whatever moisturizer or tinted moisturizer you choose it is noncomedogenic," meaning that it won't clog your pores and cause unsightly breakouts.
Apply Sunscreen -- and Use Enough
"There are lots of things you can do to make skin look good, but the most important thing is sun protection so you never get a burn," Narins says.
"How high a number of sun protection factor (SPF) you need depends on how fair you are," she says. People with fairer skin, lighter hair, and lighter eyes often need stronger sun block than their darker counterparts.
Everyone should wear a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher with a broad-spectrum agent that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Some moisturizers have an SPF, but not all do. Check the label.
Apply it generously. "You can't skimp," says Bruce E. Katz, MD, medical director of the JUVA Skin and Laser Center in New York City. "People tend to underapply sunscreen. Put on enough to cover your entire body, no matter how much it takes."
Apply it before you reach the beach or outdoors. "Sunscreen takes 15 to 20 minutes to kick into high gear, so apply it before you leave the house, not when you get to the beach," he says.
Reapply it frequently. Remember that it only lasts for about two hours. "So by six hours you have no protection if you have been out all day," he says. Sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours or after swimming or perspiring heavily.
And don't forget your scars. "The sun can lighten or darken scars so make sure to be extra careful and use an SPF of 30 or higher on those parts," Fallek says.
Shave Away Unwanted Hair
While there are no proven ways to make a shave last longer, Kunin suggests trying a shave-minimizing moisturizer after you shave. "If you start now, you may find that by summer you are growing less hair in all those areas that will be bare."
A good shaving strategy also helps. Shave in the opposite direction from which hair grows. In places where hair grows in different directions and in hard-to-reach areas such as underarms and the bikini area, try pulling the skin slightly, making it more taut and easier to shave.
Nothing can ruin the look of a clean shave like ingrown hairs.
"If you are prone to ingrown hairs, choose a specialized product that incorporates aspirin into its base," she says. Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory. When applied to the affected area, it decreases the likelihood of shaving bumps caused by ingrown hairs. Several treatments are available in drug stories to help eliminate bumps, ingrown hairs, and razor burns from waxing, shaving, and electrolysis.
You could also try waxing, Kunin says. "Waxing will buy you more time than shaving. But remember that when you go to rewax, you have to let hair grow to minimal length first," she cautions.
Treat the Skin on Your Feet
Don't forget your feet this summer, says New York City-based podiatric surgeon Suzanne Levine, DPM.
This starts with getting rid of "fugly" (fungal, ugly) toenails, she says. "For anybody who has fungus on their toenails or discoloration of nails, there are topical whitening and antifungal agents you can try. If you have major discoloration, we can even use a laser to whiten the nails similar to how we whiten teeth," she says.
Oral antifungals are also available but they take awhile to work and you may not have time with Memorial Day just several weeks away, she says.
"Many people complain of dermatitis, peeling, or callous on their heels," she says. "I use a peel on the skin to peel off all of the callous material for baby-soft skin," she says. Some exfoliating callous creams are available at drug stores.
When getting your presummer pedicure, make sure that your toenails are cut straight across. "Make sure the manicurist does not cut into the sides or you will get ingrown toenails," Levine says. To cut down on germs, make sure the manicurist cleans out the whirlpool with Clorox.
"Bring your own instruments if you can," she says. And "never let anyone use razor blades on your feet," she says.
As for polish, "Go with beiges and lighter-color polishes that don't stain nails such as light pink." The good news is that this is one of the trendy colors this year.