Ah, spring—the season when nature comes alive again after the dead of winter, when flowers burst into color and bees are filling the air with their cheerful buzzing. As someone who suffers from seasonal depression, I get so excited for spring once February hits. Only to then remember in horror that I have very bad seasonal allergies and spring actually is a pretty exhausting time for me.
Hay fever, or “allergic rhinitis,” affects more and more people each year. We can thank global warming for that, bringing earlier, longer, and warmer spring and summer seasons with it. I started to get symptoms from my early 30s onwards and can definitely tell that it gets worse each year. Especially those darn tree pollen that makes early spring a living hell, as I have all of the symptoms: a runny nose, blocked sinuses, headaches and fatigue, red and teary eyes—you get the picture.
A lesser known side effect of seasonal allergies is that our skin basically runs amok thanks to pollen bombarding its surface. If our skin barrier is compromised, pollen can even enter our bodies through our skin, increasing our symptoms. It actually took me a while until I made the connection between my hay fever and those weird nighttime hives and itchy skin flare-ups, especially in late summer (grass pollen, ugh!).
A lesser known side effect of seasonal allergies is that our skin runs amok thanks to pollen bombarding its surface, especially if our skin barrier is compromised.
I also usually develop odd intolerances to skincare ingredients that I usually don’t have a problem with outside of allergy season. Only recently did I learn why this sudden flare-up of other sensitivities (certain foods are another culprit) happens to people with seasonal allergies: Since your immune system is doing overtime to fight off what it perceives to be a threat, you may experience a flare-up of other, usually dormant skin sensitivities. A common one that I myself battle is a sensitivity to fragrance—I am absolutely fine with fragranced skincare most of the year, but when certain types of pollen hit the air, especially the darn grass pollen, I suddenly get asthma-like symptoms when I smell certain fragrances. So, early March (tree pollen! My nemesis!) and July to September are low- to no-fragrance months for me.
Over the years, I have developed a few skincare strategies when it comes to surviving allergy season and maintaining healthier skin throughout. So, if you are a fellow seasonal allergy sufferer, here are six essential skincare and beauty routine hacks that will help keep your skin healthy enough to fight off that pesky pollen!
Support Your Skin Barrier
The main culprit for pollen entering our system via our skin is a damaged or weakened skin barrier. A compromised skin barrier becomes “leaky,” like a porous or crumbly wall, and thus lets in more of the allergens that cause a reaction. So it is extra important to repair a damaged skin barrier and maintain its health with the right skincare during allergy season.
Firstly, you may need to reevaluate your cleansing routine: Harsher cleansers with strong surfactants may strip your skin barrier too much, causing it to feel dry. Choose gentle, non-foaming cleansers with a milky or balmy texture.
Another important core principle of a skin barrier-friendly routine is to make sure your skin stays hydrated and moisturized. So choose a serum and/or hydrating toner with humectants, i.e., “water-grabbing” or plumping ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, for your AM and PM routine.
Your skin barrier also needs nourishing emollients and occlusives—ingredients that help lock in moisture and form a protective layer on the skin’s surface. A gentle moisturizer with ceramides, squalene, or jojoba oil can aid in preventing transepidermal water loss, which is the main cause for skin dehydration.
And don’t be afraid of petroleum-derived occlusives, as they are better than their undeservedly bad reputation may make you believe. In fact, using a petroleum jelly-based sleeping cream or mask at night can be a great way to shield your skin from pollen.
2. Don’t Forget That Sunscreen!
Sunscreen should be applied all day, every day, but I know many people struggle with a consistent reapplication schedule. I’m not one to make people feel bad about not being “perfect” in their skincare habits, but at least during hay fever season, I would strongly advise to be extra diligent about consistently using sunscreen. Not only can sun damage cause further skin issues, it can also further weaken an already damaged and overtaxed skin barrier.
3. Take a Break From Exfoliation
Now, this may be a bit controversial, but I would also suggest that you go easy on any active treatments during your worst hay fever months, i.e., chemical exfoliants such as BHAs, AHAs, and similar. If you want to keep exfoliating your skin, make triple sure that you are using a high protection sunscreen and that you do not overexfoliate. Cut down exfoliation to once a week, and use lower concentrations than you would during autumn and winter.
4. Depuff Your Eyes With This Easy DIY Hack
My eyes are an absolute mess during hay fever season: red, puffy, and constantly tearing up. And the itching, ugh! One of the things that helps, especially in the mornings when the eyes tend to be the most swollen due to retaining fluid while lying down, is my trusty green tea ice cube hack. I actually learned this trick from makeup artist to the stars Lisa Eldridge a long time ago, and it’s so simple and effective.
Brew a cup of very strong green tea, then let it cool down and pour the tea into an ice cube tray to freeze. In the mornings, take out one of those green tea ice cubes and wrap it up in a bit of gauze or similar. It is very important that you do this, as using the ice directly on your face may cause damage! With your ice cube wrapped up nicely, you can now gently massage the eye area in a circular motion. The tannins and antioxidants in the green tea help soothe any redness, while the cold aids in depuffing your skin. Basically, you have created your very own DIY eye massage roller!
5. Shower and Lotion Up Before Bed
I don’t know about you, but I’m a morning shower kind of person—I just need that clean feeling in the morning for my brain to understand that it should wake up now. During hay fever times, however, an additional quick rinse-off in the evenings has made a massive difference to how much wheezing and snoring (sigh) I need to deal with at night. Again, pollen gets trapped all over our bodies and can enter via a compromised skin barrier wherever it touches our skin. Washing off pollen at night thus will help to reduce the risk of inflammatory responses, especially if you also use a body moisturizer every day.
Just as with your facial skincare during allergy season, working on maintaining a healthy skin barrier is important all over your body. So the same rules apply: Choose gentle body washes, go for minimal exfoliation, and use a gentle, deeply hydrating body lotion or cream in the evenings. If you lack the time or patience for a daily lotion routine, a moisturizing shower oil and/or body spray can help speed up the nightly moisturizing ritual.
6. Brush Your Hair!
I realize that this is a hard one to hear if you have curly hair, and I get it— brushing your hair every morning and evening may not be practical for everyone. However, our hair actually traps a particularly high amount of pollen throughout the day, and if you happen to also suffer from dust mite allergy, the scalp buildup furthermore attracts mites while you sleep. Since hair touches your skin—and of course you also have exposed skin on your scalp—removing the entangled pollen every day, preferably twice a day, is one of the best things you can do as an allergy sufferer.
I also tend to wash my hair more often during pollen season, and it is crazy what a massive difference this makes. Since I have only lightly curly hair, this sadly means that during allergy season, my curls become pretty much nonexistent, but that is a small sacrifice to pay for having a healthier life. If you absolutely cannot wash your hair more often due to your hair texture, try to mist it with water or a conditioning spray every evening, gently massaging the scalp with your fingertips to loosen the pollen. Carefully running a baby wipe over your hair can also help remove pollen, though for me this doesn’t work quite as well as a regular brush routine. Clean your brushes and combs regularly to avoid spreading the removed pollen. Also, it is best not to brush your hair where you sleep!
What are your best skincare tips during allergy season?