Summer at last. Hooray. On the other hand, AC, salt, sand and sun can turn you into an old sea captain before your time if you're not careful. These cheap tricks and indispensable observations will help carry you beautifully through fall:

• Make water your new best friend. Drink lots of it - and douse it with lemon juice for the sake of maintaining your alkaline balance. Moisturize from the inside with at least 1000 mgs of vitamin C, plenty of Omega 3 friendly sushi (or just fish oil capsules) and 1200 mgs of vitamin E a day.

• Never leave the house without at least 30 SPF sunscreen on face, hands and feet. Whether you're beachbound or not, remember the sun still shines bright bouncing off a city's concrete reflectors.

• See if you can start your sun fun at 4PM, instead of baking though high noon, you'll have more fun (less crowded, less sunburn) and save your skin while you're at it. Shimmery skin texture can be found in a cheap tube from surf staple brand Banana Boat. 2.99 does a body pretty...all summer long.

• Test the waters before diving in. There's help on-line to see how friendly your ocean of choice is before you go dipping your bikini-clad self in it. The EPA and the Clean Water Network are ready to keep your summer fun clean. Still can't just dive in because you're feeling a bit hairy. "Everything you wanted to know about Brazilian bikini waxing but didn't know who to ask" is here.


Just when you thought you couldn't get any shiftier about free beauty products:

A recent visit to Barneys was a real study in Free Booty Finishing School. The crash course exposed several ladies who lunch as they scammed free props from the creme de la cremes of the most expensive facial cremes on the international market. With some weighing in at 195$ a jar, that leaves a lot left over for broccoli rabe crepes for the week. The tried and trued key phrase as you approach the counter girl (practice first) is "I've heard raves about (coveted product goes here). I'm dying to try it!" For fancy imports, the counter girl's usual reply is "We don't actually have samples. Would you like me to make you a batch?" To which you immediately respond, "Yes please, that would be delightful". Armed with the phrase, Sjal (Swiss name - NY based) was our first hit and has two amazing products: "Cella" exfoliates with fruit acids and hydrants and "Kura" that is strictly for "nourishment". The same phrase works universally across the sea of counters and can score pre-packaged samples from the likes of Remede Hydrating Treatment with creme complex (another big winner).

Kiehl's is super giveaway-friendly and now that they are owned by mega giant Loreal, are easier to come by. New products to live by are the "gentle foaming facing cleanser" and the "hydrating mask" that you leave on all night to cure post beachday dehydration.

Until your high falutin department store score - there are some solid products out there for dimes may hold you over. St. Ive's Age Defying hydroxy cleanser really, truly rocks on many beautifying levels. A super smooth cleanser with tingly alpha hydroxy exfoliates - it weighs in at 3.99 at Duane Reade - and even less with your local discount scan card.

Screw the fancy facial after you find your pores in a grimy state after a day of city summer living - and pick up a box of Swiss Kriss at your local health food store. Ignore the fact that it's marketed as a natural laxative, and toss a few tablespoons of the herbal blend into a big pot of boiling water. Turn off the heat, put your head under a towel over the steam and free your pores. Finish with a cool splash of water with a dab of apple cider vinegar (alkaline balance, again).