Your skincare routine could be making your pigmentation way worse

Skin expert Stella Shenouda shares the ingredients to leave out of your routine, and the treatments that are making you more prone to sunburn. These are the summer skincare swaps to make, stat. 

Sure, seasonal skincare can be pretty boring and basic. In winter you up your hydration with a heavier moisturiser and experiment with hard core active ingredients and treatments like retinol and chemical peels. But when it comes to looking after our complexions in warmer weather, aside from sun protection (that you’ll actually wear), there doesn’t seem to be many rules – and there should be.

Ever wondered why your pigmentation, freckles and discolouration peaks in summer – despite all the resurfacing, fading and evening ingredients and treatments you’re doing? Well, it’s those exact treatments and products that could be making them worse.

Summer means our skin is exposed to more incidental and accidental UV exposure. Upping your sun protection is one thing, but being aware of how the ingredients and treatments in your routine can impact your skin’s reaction to the sun is another. Stella Shenouda founder of Sydney skin clinic By Stella explains what switch ups you should make to your summer skincare routine and why your sun protection might not be doing enough.

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Turn down the treatments

“Most UV damage is done in summer. If you can, avoid treatments that impair the skin’s barrier or are photosensitising,” says Shenouda. Photosensitivity is when your skin reacts to UV rays, its common in those with certain medical conditions, those who use certain medication and from using certain skin care products and treatments. This reaction makes your skin more prone to being damaged by the sun.

“Treatments like ablative and non-ablative laser resurfacing treatments, laser hair removal and chemical peels [are the most likely to cause photosensitivity and make your skin more sensitive to sun exposure]. While these treatments are sometimes required, it’s best to stay well out of the sun to ensure the skin is properly protected to prevent further damage from occurring,” explains Shenouda.

“These advanced treatments penetrate the skin at a deeper level making it more sensitised and temporarily impairing the skin barrier by opening up micro channels in the skin and exposing it to more potential UVA and UVB damage,” she says. “During this time as the skin heals we need to prevent it from further sun damage which can potentially lead to hyper and hypo-pigmentation, scarring and burning.”

Take note of ingredients

The same goes for your at-home regimen. Common skincare ingredients and products like AHAs, retinol and hydroquinone can all make your complexion more sensitive to the sun.

While it’s true that some chemical exfoliants and retinol can sensitise the skin, you shouldn’t stop using them in summer,” explains Shenouda. However, if you’re lax with wearing sunscreen and don’t protect yourself from the sun or spend lots of time outdoors you should probably avoid using them.

“Chemical exfoliants and retinol strip the skin to remove the dead skin and expose younger smoother skin underneath. By stripping the skin of its natural oils we need to ensure we’re replenishing and nourishing it with hydrating moisturisers and ingredients to strengthen the skin barrier,” she adds.

“Either avoid products that are photosensitising, or ensure you are protecting your skin if you’re using them in summer – that means the exposed areas are properly covered and protected from sun exposure with both SPF50+, a hat and clothing. Only use retinol at night and use repairing serums like vitamin C and E during the day, as well as a nourishing moisturiser.”

Peak-summer skincare

Before you freak out and throw your whole routine out the window, there are ways you can get the best of both skincare worlds. “Following the advice of your skin specialist is really important, treatments need to be planned according to treatment guidelines to ensure there are minimal to no adverse reactions but also ensure you’re getting results without compromising on skin health,” explains Shenouda.

If you’re concerned about sun damage and sensitivity or are prone to pigmentation, sun burn and sun spots it could be worth leaving some active ingredients and treatments for the cooler seasons. “Switching treatments for advanced home care products is an option,” says Shenouda. “For example, stopping laser in summer but continuing with an advanced active-care routine at home that still caters to correcting pigmentation and targeting fine lines.”

If your dermatologist or skin expert advises to keep with your current routine, or you won’t give up the retinol for anything be sure to keep sun protection at the top of your priority list. Wearing it every day (even when you’re inside), reapplying, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing will all do their bit – especially when you’re spending precious time and money on rewinding the damage already done.

Post-summer skin care

A little sun exposure here and there can bring out existing pigmentation, discolouration and sun spots even if you’ve been protecting your skin. Luckily, there’s a tonne of post-summer treatments and products that can repair your complexion. “Pico Genesis and Pico FX are advanced laser skin treatments that target stubborn pigmentation, age spots, actinic bronzing and textural concerns. There is about one week down time, but skin looks radiant, fresh and pigment free within one to three sessions,” says Shenouda. “Peels will resurface skin, help remove unwanted pigmentation, address scarring and textural concerns, too.”