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Why do I always get more acne in the summer?

June 30, 2022 • read

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Why do I always get more acne in the summer?

Summer is a time for baring more skin and socializing, but for many, it also means dealing with annoying acne breakouts. If acne is ruining your summertime plans, you’re in good company — summer triggers more breakouts in a number of people. But warm weather pimples don’t have to be a given. Here’s why they happen and what you can do about them.

Is acne more common in the summer?

This really depends on your skin. While some find that winter intensifies their acne, others experience worse breakouts once the summer months roll around. It’s likely that your skin responds to its unique factors making certain times of year worse for your acne than others.

When it comes to summertime breakouts, the big cause is likely perspiration. Dripping sweat can cause makeup and whatever else is on your face to run and make its way into your pores. Since acne is the result of clogged hair follicles, this is a surefire recipe for breakouts.

Given that laser and light therapy are proven acne treatment options, you’d be forgiven for thinking that a healthy dose of sunlight is the answer to your acne woes. But the truth is that the sun can do more harm than good.

While tanning might improve your acne initially, it also dries out your skin, prompting it to increase its oil production. Since increased oil production plays a role in acne formation, tanning can actually make your acne worse over the long run. Plus, it increases your risk of skin cancer.

Not only that, but if you’re already taking medication for your acne, you might be more sensitive to the sun’s rays than usual. Many acne medications cause photosensitivity, which means they make you more likely to burn.

Acne medications aren’t the only culprit when it comes to increasing your sun sensitivity or irritating your skin. Many creams and serums contain ingredients like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) or retinoids, which also increase photosensitivity. This makes checking your skincare labels imperative. If you’re having trouble navigating what to use on your skin or how to combine different products, a skincare specialist can help you streamline your skincare routine.

How can I tell if I have acne-prone skin?

Everyone gets pimples, and you can get them at any age, even as an adult. Acne is a skin condition where your pores become blocked by oil, dead skin cells, and dirt. It can range from moderate to severe acne, such as the occasional pimple to chronic breakouts.

Individuals with more severe acne have oilier skin because they produce more sebum — the substance that’s responsible for hydrating your skin. Your face can get greasy from all of the oil, however, it isn’t the only culprit. Hormones, genetics, and environmental factors — like not changing your pillowcase frequently enough — also contribute.

If you notice that you break out regularly, especially on your upper back and shoulders, your forehead, or your cheeks, and you often have multiple pimples at once, you likely have acne-prone skin.

How long could your acne breakout last?

How long your breakouts last largely depends on what kind of acne you have. A papule, which is a red, inflamed blemish on your skin, is the least severe form of acne. It’s likely to run its course within a week or so — faster if you use a topical treatment on it.

Cystic acne, however, is large pus-filled nodules that develop deep in the skin. Because they’re not at the skin surface, they don’t respond to topical treatments. While it can be tempting to try to extract these ones yourself, that’s not a good idea. Not only are you unlikely to actually be able to remove it, but there’s also a high chance of scarring with cystic acne.

When it comes to more severe acne like cystic acne, at-home and over-the-counter (OTC) medications aren’t going to cut it. In this case, it’s best to see a dermatologist for your acne treatment. Without treatment, it can take weeks and sometimes months to heal.

Acne skin care for the summertime

Summer might have you sweating, but there are plenty of things you can do to help prevent summer breakouts.

  • Change up your skincare routine. A moisturizing cleanser and heavier face creams might be suitable for the cooler months, but they’re likely too thick once the weather warms up. Opt for a foaming cleanser to wash your face with and lighter day and night creams as temperatures rise.
  • Don’t let sweat linger. Sweat collects dirt and oil and can move them into your pores causing clogs. It’s basically impossible to avoid sweating once the hot weather’s in full force, but try to shower it off as soon as possible.
  • Don’t over-cleanse. While you don’t want to sit around in your sweat all day, avoid the opposite swing of the pendulum — over-cleansing. Limit showers or any kind of face washing to twice a day. Any more than that and you’ll irritate your skin, possibly spurring more acne. As for which types of products to cleanse with, look for ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Both of these can help to reduce clogged pores by getting rid of dead skin cells.
  • Find the right sunscreen. Choosing a sunscreen that won’t trigger a breakout can take some work, but it’s imperative to protect your skin during summer. Look for an oil-free sunscreen, or one billing itself as non-comedogenic, which means it won’t block pores.
  • Go makeup-free more often. Summer isn’t a great time for makeup — it’s hard to get it to stay put in the heat and humidity and it doesn’t always look natural in the harsh sunlight. On top of that, summer sweat makes it way more likely to clog your pores. This makes the hottest months the best time to bare your face. If you’re not prepared to do that, try scaling back your cosmetic routine a little and opt for sheerer coverage than usual to help prevent skin problems in summer.
  • Watch your hair product use. The heat and humidity can wreak havoc on your hair too and it’s tempting to tame that frizz or tighten those curls by upping the amount of product you use. But all that hair product doesn’t always stay put. A good portion of it migrates to your face, especially on your forehead and along your hairline. This can increase the number of clogged pores in those areas. If you do need to use hair products, try to keep them and your hair off your face as much as possible.
  • Be mindful of what you put next to your face. Dirt and oil can get trapped in fabrics and transfer to your face. Make sure your masks are fresh, your baseball caps are clean, and change your pillowcases frequently to avoid transferring oil, dirt, and bacteria to your face.

Can the right diet help with acne breakouts during summer?

Changing your diet isn’t proven to cure acne, and more research on this subject is still needed. Despite this, emerging studies seem to support the idea that what you eat matters to the health of your skin.

The research isn’t perfect, but a review of several studies does suggest that those who consume more dairy products may be more likely to get acne. It’s not totally clear why, but it may have something to do with the hormones which are naturally found in milk.

Sugar is another substance that’s a likely culprit when it comes to acne. Consuming sugar causes your blood sugar to spike. To counteract the sugar, your body produces the hormone insulin.

Since hormones are implicated in acne production, increasing your insulin output may contribute to more breakouts. One study found that individuals who ate a high-sugar, high-fat diet were more likely to develop acne than those who didn’t.

A diet that’s increasingly gaining popularity with individuals who experience acne is the low glycemic diet. The glycemic index (GI) measures how much a given food will increase your blood sugar. Things like soda and baked goods, for example, are quite high on the GI scale, while most veggies and many fruits tend to get lower scores.

Because of its focus on vegetables and fruits, the low GI diet is also high in fibre. Whether its effectiveness in addressing acne is due to this, its low sugar content, or a combination of the two is unclear. Whatever the case, it does seem to have a positive effect when it comes to reducing acne.

A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids may also be good for your skin. Omega-3s, which are found in certain fish and seafood as well as some nuts and seeds, help to overcome inflammation in the body. This may have a therapeutic effect on your skin too, especially as inflammation likely plays a role in acne development. If you’re not a fan of fish, a number of brands make omega-3 supplements which are a great alternative.

When to seek treatment for your acne

Severe cases of acne usually require more help than diet and lifestyle changes can offer. Depending on your type of acne, over-the-counter remedies might not be enough either.
Dermatologists are adept at determining what acne treatment is best for you, after all, acne is the most common skin condition they see. If needed, they can prescribe medication like isotretinoin (Accutane) or doxycycline (Apprilon). Alternatively, they might suggest corticosteroid shots, or in very rare cases, incision and drainage.

If you’re having trouble getting your moderate to severe acne under control, reach out to speak with a dermatologist today — your skin will thank you.

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