10 Essential Skincare Tips for Summer, According to a Hollywood Plastic Surgeon

Dr. Catherine Chang shares her essential products, go-to ingredients, and favorite treatments to protect, hydrate, and rejuvenate this season.

Marion Cotillard
Photographed by Juergen Teller, styled by Zoe Bedeaux.
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This year, consider a new golden rule for summer travel: it’s far more important to know where your hat and sunscreen are than your passport. How you protect your face and body will likely determine how many times you’re begging your dermatologist, plastic surgeon or aesthetician to help reverse your tired, dry, and sun-spotted skin come September.

There’s no better season to be hypervigilant about your skin—a fact that Dr. Catherine Chang, one of the most prominent plastic surgeons in the United States, knows well. The board-certified Harvard fellow works as a facial and plastic reconstructive surgeon, and is not only beloved by clients all over the world, she’s also kept on speed dial by top Hollywood publicists (many of whom freely admit they talk to Chang more than their own mothers). An American-born daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, Chang climbed the ranks with talent and artistry, rising to the top of the her profession despite the statistics working against her (only 20 percent of all plastic surgeons are women, and less than 10 percent specialize in facial plastic surgery specifically). Today, she’s become an expert in devising the latest surgical and facial innovations. Chang has also gained a reputation for never mincing words, especially when it comes to medical science vs. unsubstantiated beauty claims. “I for one am not a big fan of ‘natural” skincare,’” Chang tells me. “Plastic surgery in my opinion is the most effective way to look younger.” )So perhaps you’re safe to throw out that pricey bottle of Kazakhstan-sourced linseed oil, which was regurgitated several times over by a mountain goat for its skin-healing, enzymatic properties.)

As the temps warm and sun-seekers begin to partake in summer activities, Dr. Chang shares with W her skincare insights, as well as the regimens and products she thinks are worthy.

Sun Protection: Forgo the Heavy Makeup and Opt for Tinted Moisturizers

“Wanting to protect your skin while making sure your skin is flawless during extreme heat is a constant struggle,” Dr. Chang says. “During these situations, I usually do not recommend wearing any heavy foundation or makeup that will clog the pores. I instead opt for tinted sunscreens or tinted moisturizers. I prefer tinted sunscreens for better sun protection, and my favorites are: Supergoop Glowscreen, Skinbetter’s Sunbetter Tone Smart Sunscreen, and SkinCeuticals Physical UV Defense. For those who want more coverage with a tinted moisturizer with sunscreen, my go-to is the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer. I love the concept of sunscreen powders, but in action they can sometimes be difficult to use, as the powder doesn’t always consistently release. Still, two of my favorites are the Isdin and Tarte powder sunscreens.”

“It can be difficult to find the right sunscreen for you. For oily skin, I recommend the EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum sunscreen, as it is lightweight and doesn’t clog the pores. For dry skin, I recommend the La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair UV SPF, as it has ceramides and is more hydrating; there’s also Purito SPF, another hydrating sunscreen. For sensitive skin, I recommend Isdin’s Eryfotona Actinica sunscreen, as it is well-tolerated for sensitive skin and is mineral-based SPF.”

Sunscreen and Swimming

“During summertime, it is especially important to apply SPF and reapply throughout the day. Finding a moisturizing sunscreen that doesn’t feel tacky and which you can easily put on after sweating or coming out of the water isn’t easy. My go-to body sunscreen is Supergoop Play. I find that it is lightweight, has an SPF 50, is not sticky, and feels cooling on the skin.”

Exfoliation Is Important, Even During Summer

“During the summertime, you might notice your skin is oilier due to an increase in heat and humidity. Exfoliation is therefore key, and great for your skin—as it removes the dead skin cells in the stratum corneum, or top layer of the skin, leading to a more glowy finish,” Dr. Chang says. “Exfoliation also helps your other skincare products to penetrate better, unclog the pores, evens out skin tone, and can promote collagen production.

“I personally use both physical and chemical exfoliators—there are pros and cons to each. Some examples of a physical exfoliator are a sonic facial, or physical scrub/cloth. You’ll see immediate results and have lower chances of an unexpected allergic reaction. Cons include the ability to easily over-exfoliate by pressing too hard; plus, you’re only working on the topmost part of the skin. Chemical exfoliators work by increasing skin turnover or removing the top layers of skin, sometimes using alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids or retinols (which increase turnover). Chemical exfoliation tends to work more evenly than physical exfoliators, and can have antiaging properties and help with pigmentation. But chemical exfoliants can be slower to work than physical exfoliants, can cause allergic reactions, and can lead to photosensitivity. It is important, however, to ensure that you don’t over-exfoliate your skin and do not exfoliate damaged skin, as it can make such skin more sensitive to the sun.”

Summer Cleansing and PH

“Cleansers are extremely important to wash off dirt, grime, and toxins from the day. The ideal cleanser to prevent stripping of the skin is one whose pH is around 5.5 to 6. I personally have dry and sensitive skin and my favorite cleanser is the Fresh Soy Cleanser, as I never feel stripped or overly dry. Gel-based cleansers are good for those with oily skin. (My favorite gel cleanser is from Jordan Samuel.) For those with dry skin, cleansing lotion or cleansing oil would be more effective.F oaming cleansers are also good for those with oily skin or acne-prone skin. However, you have to be careful not to overly strip the skin. La Roche-Posay Purifying Foaming Cleanser has ceramides, so it is more hydrating and does not strip the skin.”

Sun Damage and the Power of Antioxidants

“To combat sun damage during the summertime, it’s important to utilize antioxidants not only during the day, but also at night,” Dr. Chang advises. “At nighttime, I recommend adding resveratrol, or something like SkinMedica Lumivive, which has a day and night antioxidant, to your skincare routine. Additionally, to help cool the skin, I love applying NakedBeauty MD hydrogel eye masks. They’re packed with antioxidants and formulated with a cooling agent that provides a chill sensation to the skin without refrigeration.”

Vitamin C

“Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that helps to protect the skin from free radical damage. It helps to prevent breakdown of collagen and elastin in your skin, leading to a healthier and more youthful look. It should be noted, however, that vitamin C is not a replacement for your sunblock. Instead, it helps to potentiate the effects of sunblock by strengthening your skin’s response to oxidative stress and sun. Vitamin C helps to improve discoloration of skin, too. L ascorbic acid, while it is an active form of vitamin C and more potent, can be unstable and irritating. I would recommend those who are sensitive, oily or acne-prone to avoid the active form of vitamin C called L ascorbic acid and look for ingredients that contain ‘ascorb’ such as aodium ascorbyl phosphate, tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate. Examples of vitamins Cs I like include Paula’s Choice Vitamin C and No. 7’s Protect and Perfect. The latter is great for those who have acne-prone skin but can’t handle ascorbic acid. It also has collagen-boosting benefits.”

Sun Spots on Hands

“I think when we are young, we don’t care about sun damage to our hands,” Dr. Chang says. “But as a plastic surgeon, I see many patients who want to improve their appearance and the quality/texture of their skin on both their face and hands. I always recommend applying sunblock to your hands. I also always apply extra skincare products to the tops of my hands. Additionally, living in L.A. and driving constantly I feel like the top of my hands are constantly in the line of fire of the sun. Now, in addition to applying sunblock, I always wear driving gloves. (I recommend ones by Solbari.) Using lasers such as CO2 and IPL are helpful to improve texture of the hands as well as improve sunspots. I also recommend adding filler or fat grafting to the hands to help increase the thickness of the top of the hand, so it doesn’t look as deflated. These changes. while subtle, can help achieve a more youthful appearance of the hands to better match the face.

“Also, I am not a big fan of holistic topicals as I like to prescribe treatments based on science and data. That is not to say that holistic treatments don’t work, but I find the variability of the results are wide, and reactions are more unpredictable.”

Summer Acne

“Acne is a difficult question to respond to generally, as there are different forms of acne: inflammatory, cystic, hormonal,” Dr. Chang says. “In the summertime, the skin tends to be more oily and acne-prone. It is important to wash your face at night and sleep on clean pillow cases. I recommend the Privé Diamond Facial, which is a medical facial that exfoliates, infuses, and extracts. For those with acne-prone skin, I recommend adding salicylic acid along with a growth factor to your regimen. This helps to clean out the pores and prevents oil and sebum buildup that can lead to acne. Additionally, using chemical exfoliants such as beta hydroxy acids will help (such as salicylic acid) or try an alpha hydroxy acid like glycolic acid.”

Overrated Ingredients and Vitamins

“In general, the question is: are someone’s expectations in line with the skincare ingredient’s claims? For instance, vitamin E—while it is an antioxidant—used alone doesn’t have long-term benefits, and it does not improve stretch marks, as I have heard many people say it does.

“I have also yet to see a microcurrent device that can achieve its claims. Immediately after use, mild inflammation of the skin and soft tissue can temporarily cause puffiness, thus making the face look lifted. However, if you are expecting a microcurrent device to save you from a future facelift, you will be disappointed.

“Jade rollers are another device that I think overpromise and underdeliver. While I like them for their soothing effect—they certainly can help temporarily relieve puffiness—a jade roller is not going to provide enough benefit to change the anatomic tissue and prevent the need for possible surgery down the road.

“Hyaluronic acid can be controversial. I personally use it in my skincare routine, and I think it is important to understand its role, but I think the promise and hype of HAs by some brands is just that: hype. HA molecules, whether low or high molecular weight, can’t penetrate the skin past the epidermis. I do think it makes my skin look plumper and more refreshed, so I incorporate it into my own regimen. But if you are expecting it to create significant changes in your skin quality, you will be disappointed.”

The Neck and Aging

“The neck tends to age faster, as neck skin is thinner than facial skin. I always recommend applying and extending all your facial products that you use on your face down to your neck and chest. Other than sunscreen to protect the skin, it’s important to use a retinol on the neck. Retinol helps to thicken the skin and increase collagen production. However, at some point, there is no avoiding a neck lift. No amount of skincare, energy devices, filler, Botox, face yoga, or neck exercises will prevent you from needing a neck lift.

“The neck ages at different paces for people, depending mostly on genetics and then, of course, environmental stressors (amount of sun/how well you take care of your skin/what you eat). By the time someone needs a neck lift, it is rare that they don’t also need a lower facelift. Internally, the skin from the face connects to the neck. I always counsel my patients on the importance of balance and ensuring that their results look natural. If you just lift the neck but don’t address the lower face, this will lead to a tight neck with obvious aging at the jawline. My ethos with facelifts and neck lifts are restorative, and I maintain the essence of somebody, which is what allows my patients to look so natural. I also perform a deep plane facelift and neck lift, which is a more technical facelift to perform, but I think leads to more natural and longer-lasting results.”