How to choose a lightweight face moisturizer for summer

The heat is (about to be) on, and your skin might need something different.

The heat is (about to be) on, and your skin might need something different

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

This article was originally published June 6, 2019 and prices were updated June 25, 2020.

Canadian weather can take a real toll on your skin, and that's got a lot to do with how quickly (and drastically) the seasons change. That might mean you need to switch up your skincare routine, and move that heavy moisturizer to the back of your vanity. "In the winter, the ambient humidity in the air is less," says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki of Bay Dermatology Centre in Toronto. "But in the summer, the humidity is higher and your skin doesn't dry out as much." Read on to find out what makes a good moisturizer, what's best for your skin in the summer, and what formulas could work for your skin type.

What's in a moisturizer

Moisturizers are typically made up one or more of three components: a humectant, an emollient and an occlusive. "Humectants are things that draw water into the skin, emollients are things that help repair the skin's natural barrier, and occlusives are things that form [a] layer on the top of our skin." Ingredients like urea and alpha-hydroxy acids are examples of humectants, ceramides and coconut oil are emollients, and petrolatum and mineral oil are occlusives. If you have normal skin, you don't necessarily need all three, but dry skin can usually use a more stacked moisturizer.

Choosing a formula

Shopping for any skincare product can be a little overwhelming, since there is so much to choose from. But, the nice thing about all that choice is that you'll often find one brand that makes different moisturizers suited to different skin types, like a heavier cream, a medium-weight lotion, and a fluid or gel. Between each one, the formulators are likely tweaking the amount of emollient vs. humectant "to make it either lighter or heavier," explains Dr. Skotnicki. That means those watery lotions and gels are great for oily skin, especially in the summer when the warm weather kicks your skin's oil production into high gear.

Taking care of sensitive skin

"Less is more," says Dr. Skotnicki. Irritated skin might make you feel like you have to load up on the moisturizer, but if you're going to do that, try to choose something that's fragrance-free, with less than ten ingredients, she advises. Humectants like urea and glycolic acid that help draw water into the skin can also aggravate sensitive skin, so try to avoid moisturizers with those ingredients.

Fighting the signs of aging

The shift towards a lighter moisturizer in the summer doesn't have to mean foregoing those nourishing ingredients that help minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. If you want something that's more lightweight but works just as hard, Dr. Skotnicki recommends looking for a moisturizer with glycolic acid. "Glycolic acid [is a] good moisturizer, and it has been shown to help decrease photo-damaged skin and aged skin." And again, if you have a heavier cream you really love, make it your night cream.

Don't forget SPF

Dr. Skotnicki likes SPF BB creams, and she uses one every morning that contains titanium dioxide. "I'm moisturizing, I've got SPF protection, I've got pollution protection because it's a physical barrier, and I'm getting a little bit of coverage." While that's a great option for a city-dweller who's running from home to work and spending a limited amount of time in the sun, she recommends applying a separate sunscreen if you're going to be outside all day.

Try one of these:

This fluid moisturizer is ideal for skin that's both sensitive and oily, since it has an ultra-light texture and it's fragrance-free.

La Roche-Posay Toleraine Ultra Fluide, $35, La Roche-Posay

With glycolic acid and vitamin C, this lightweight gel-cream formula minimizes shine and gently resurfaces the skin's texture.

Vichy Normaderm Anti-Aging, $30.36, Vichy

This BB cream is both lightweight and buildable, so you can get exactly the amount of coverage you want. And its titanium dioxide–based formula will protect your skin from UV rays and pollution.

Kiehl's Skin Tone Correcting & Beautifying BB Cream SPF 50, $46, Kiehl's

Dry skin gets the hydration it needs with purified hyaluronic acid, and the fragrance-free and oil-free formula won't irritate skin or feel heavy.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream Extra-Dry Skin, $23.99, Shoppers Drug Mart

Perfect for both dry and sensitive skin, this weightless "water gel" melts into a fluid as you apply it,  boosting hydration with hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

Dermalogica Calm Water Gel, $70, Dermalogica

Rosewater, aloe water and kukui nut oil come together in this non-greasy formula to soothe skin and prevent moisture loss.

Herbivore Pink Cloud Rosewater Moisture Creme, $60, The Detox Market

This cream's water-burst technology releases as you apply it, adding a hit of hydration and unique ingredients, like Japanese wild rose extract that Tacha claims improves the appearance of pores.

Tatcha The Water Cream, $89, Sephora

Tara MacInnis is a Toronto-based writer and editor with a deep love for lipstick, jumpsuits and dogs. Follow her on Instagram @tara_macinnis.

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