Humidity Doesn't Just Mess With Your Hair — Here's What It Does To Your Skin
Humidity is most often associated with hair—the water in the air lifts cuticles, separating the strands, and inducing frizz. Just walk down a hair care aisle and you'll see styling product after styling product marketed as "humidity shields" and "frizz fighters." And while humidity has perhaps a more obvious effect on the hair, it can be equally disastrous for the skin. Do you tend to get shinier during the summer months? Or does your skin just generally feel out of balance: dehydrated yet oil-slick? And do you have more clogged pores, blackheads, and zits? That's humidity doing its worst, folks.
"As a result from humidity, there can be an increase in sebum production, and skin issues can be triggered from there," says board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D.
And increased sweating during heat can actually leave you dehydrated overall, which can make your skin dry, and it can start overproducing oil. (Then, when you factor in dehydrating AC, it gets worse.) "You see people and they look dewy from the heat, but there is this underlying dryness there," says holistic esthetician Britta Plug. "We're losing water, so you become systemically more dehydrated."
As for those breakouts, that's because your pores open in heat and moisture. It's a similar reaction you might see after being in a sauna, or why a facialist might steam your face before applying products or doing extractions. In those cases, it's great: You want your pores to be open, as it can help skin detox faster, as well as get good ingredients to penetrate deeper. But in day-to-day life? Decidedly less so. Basically any SPF, makeup, dirt, or pollutants sitting on your skin can slide right in and get stuck.
"Our skin is responsible for regulating our internal temperature. so when it's too hot and humid, your skin is going to try to cool it down by sweating. So your pores are open from that. And then your sweat glands and oil secretions are connected, so you're producing more oil. Then you add in any grit, sunscreen, and makeup—it's a recipe for disaster," says Plug.
Gohara agrees: "The acne-causing bacteria goes into the sebaceous glands that are filled with lipids and fats, and it's a bacteria's dream come true. It settles in, causes inflammation, and that's how you get the acne."
So how are you supposed to deal? It's not as if the skin care market comes full of moisturizers labeled "humidity shields." The first thing is to evaluate your climate. If you live in a relatively aired environment—even if you get the occasional humid streak—you're probably fine. Drastically switching up your skin care routine will likely be more irritating to the skin than the temporary weather change. If, however, you live in humidity-prone zones (hey, Midwest, East Coast, and the South!), you'd likely benefit from lightening up your face washes and moisturizers come summer. "I have clients who live in these areas use much different products come summer because their skin has wildly different needs," says Plug. "Use fewer oils and balms, and use lighter-textured moisturizers to keep skin moisturized after sweating."