The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration announced that El Niño has a 90 percent chance of lasting through this winter, and an 80 percent chance of persisting through early spring. Now that’s a wakeup call: This isn’t something you can shrug off as a “phase” that occurs every few years—in California, it’s basically an entire season (or two) of higher humidity, wind and rain. And trust us, your skin will notice.
Normally, as we transition into autumn, we begin preparing for cooler temperatures by switching to thicker, richer creams and undoing summer damage—fading brown spots and restoring skin after it’s been bombarded by UV rays. Now that El Niño is getting in the way of fall with its stickier air, your skin will react accordingly and be faced with additional issues that require attention. “Wind brings dust and dirt which can […] clog pores and cause skin irritation,” celebrity esthetician Kate Somerville, whose clients have included Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton and Sandra Oh, tells LivingHealthy.
The good news is you can combat the El Niño effects—and target your specific post-summer issues—by making adjustments to the types of products you use. According to Somerville, antioxidants will help protect your skin from the dust, dirt and other environmental aggressors that expedite the signs of aging. She also suggests looking for products that contain hyaluronic acid, which holds 1,000 times its weight in water, for weightless hydration. Ideally, you should use a serum that offers a variety of all these ingredients so you reap maximum benefits. Kate Somerville’s Age Arrest Anti-Wrinkle Serum contains hyaluronic acid as well as vitamin C and other potent antioxidants.
LivingHealthy expert Jessica Wu, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at USC Keck School of Medicine and author of Feed Your Face: Younger, Smoother Skin and a Beautiful Body in 28 Delicious Days, says the secret lies in water-based serums, which by definition contain less oil and won’t make your skin feel greasy. To combat discoloration, Wu also recommends vitamin C, as well as licorice or niacinamide (a form of vitamin B), all of which help lighten dark spots.
In addition to a serum, exfoliating and cleansing are especially important during El Niño because your complexion will be extra congested from air particles. “Oils and impurities become trapped under the skin, especially in windy, humid climates—exfoliation is key,” says Somerville, who recommends washing your face twice (cleanse, rinse, repeat) and exfoliating once or twice a week to slough off dead skin cells and help dislodge the pore-clogging debris. She also suggests using exfoliants that contain fruit enzymes (like pumpkin or papaya) to gently dissolve dead skin. For sensitive skin types, Somerville recommends lactic acid, which is a mild yet extremely effective acid-type exfoliator. Wu is a fan of dry scrubs, which are usually made of rice powder and ground into very fine, soft particles. “If your skin is extra-sensitive, you can add water to the powder to create a paste, or you can add it to your favorite cleanser or cleansing oil,” she says. Try Honest Beauty Powder Cleanser.
After cleansing and applying your serum, next is a face lotion or a cream. That's right—El Niño may be bringing on tropical weather, but you can’t take a vacation from your skincare regimen. Moisturizing seals in the water from your serum and locks in the hydration, says Somerville, but stick with something lightweight and oil-free (with the extra humidity in the air, a rich formula will make your skin feel sticky). Oily and acne-prone skin types should be especially cautious of avoiding oil since they’re inherently more vulnerable to breakouts. If you have dry skin, there’s a way to avoid the heavy feeling as you stew in the humidity: A few times each week, hydrate with a cloth facial mask soaked in hyaluronic acid, says Wu. Try Hada Labo Tokyo Ultimate Anti-Aging Facial Mask.
Regardless of how great your skincare routine is, your skin will probably feel sweaty throughout the day as it competes with the dampness of El Niño. Wu suggests using a facial mist (even a spray bottle filled with mineral water works) to refresh skin and cool down your body temperature. Somerville recommends carrying a mist with an oil-absorbing ingredient like montmorillonite clay, which is ideal for humid weather. You can find this clay in her Nourish Hydrating Firming Mist Mini.
Overwhelmed yet? Don’t be—El Niño doesn’t require extra skincare steps, just the right products. As Somerville summarizes, make sure you cleanse thoroughly, exfoliate regularly and switch to lightweight formulas. Finally, remember to protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen—rain or shine—every single day. And if you can, splurge on a facial for some extra TLC (especially if you tend to break out more often). With the right strategy, your skin shouldn’t even know El Niño happened.