Yes, Your Acne Is Worse in the Summer—but Here’s How You Can Get Rid of It

Summertime and the living is *not* easy.

shutterstockMost of us tend to reflect upon summer in a fond light: lazy beach days, a bounty of festivals, and endless sunshine. But with higher temperatures also comes Mother Nature’s side effect—an overwhelming aggrandization of acne. Whoever started the supposedly comforting advice that you’ll grow out of acne after those awkward teenage years is pretty misinformed. Adult acne is a very common issue, and although there is a profusion of reasons why acne may appear, the season is oftentimes the biggest miscreant. (Here are seven other sneaky reasons you're having an acne breakout). There are a variety of reasons why acne does tend to worsen in the summer. According to a recent survey from Differin, 56 percent of women ages 25-34 admit to wearing makeup to the beach or pool in the summer to cover up their acne. But you shouldn’t have to shy away from the water because of your skin, which means it’s important to understand why we get acne in the first place. According to Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, “The pore gets clogged with dead skin cells, and those with acne have “stickier” skin cells which promotes clogging. The body makes oil on the skin called sebum. Interestingly, those who are acne-prone have more viscous sebum compared to non-acne folks (think honey consistency compared to olive oil), which promotes further occlusion to the pore.” Thanks to the glorious heat, sweat, and humidity that our body produces excessively during those hotter months, the skin cells become especially stickier; that awful conglomeration of dead skin cells and sebum becomes trapped inside the pore, creating an oxygen-free environment where a naturally occurring bacteria, called P. Acnes, multiplies rapidly and results in inflammation. Although we can’t teach you how to control the weather, there are ways to regulate summer acne and thwart its pesky persistence. We spoke with several dermatologists throughout the country to compile the best methods to keep those summertime pimples at bayread on for their hottest tips and tricks.

Use oil-free sunscreen.

popcorner/shutterstockIn the summer months, people tend to cake on SPF, and rightfully so. However, the slabs of opaque lotion that we smear all over our face is often overly oily, meaning your skin can suffocate from dead skin cells and clogged pores. That doesn’t mean you have to walk around looking like a tomato all summer long; if you want to bypass the acne and sunburn simultaneously, opt for sunscreens without the oil. “I’d recommend always using mineral-based sunscreens, such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide, for the best protection against the sun. Luckily, there are many new mineral formulas that are super light and also oil-free, so they will still provide broad-spectrum protection without causing acne,” said Dr. Christina L. Chung, director of the Drexel Dermatology Center for Transplant Patients. “Washing your face after sweating can help take off the layer of grease that clogs pores, but acne can also be triggered by mechanical trauma, so avoid washing your face too often or scrubbing too hard.” (Here are 13 face-washing mistakes you don't realize you're making).

Watch out for classic “summertime” foods.

aliasemma/shutterstockWe’re all guilty of this one; people often tend to increase the intake of sugary drinks, alcoholic beverages, and snack foods during the summer months. A big (and not commonly known) reason people break out in the summer is actually because of their diet. These sugary or high-glycemic foods cause a spike in insulin levels, which in turn increase sebum production and further clogging of pores. According to Susan Ciminelli, celebrity facialist and specialist in holistic health and beauty, “It’s very common for people to start eating barbecue foods, fried foods, and corned foods. This type of diet can bog down your colon. When your colon is congested your skin will break out. People also drink sugary sodas and alcohol as well as eating ice cream and fruits. While fruits are healthy, there are some fruits that are naturally high in sugar like stone fruits, cherries, and peaches. An alternative to stone fruits would be berries because they don’t spike your blood sugar levels. Taking berries, freezing them, and then pureeing them will turn it into the consistency of ice cream and can be a healthier alternative.” Here are nine foods you should never, ever eat at a barbecue.

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Gently experiment with acne-reducing chemicals.

TORWAISTUDIO/shutterstockMost of us are familiar with the classic salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide treatments scattered throughout the drugstore aisles, but don’t start tossing all of them into your cart right away. Some skin types are not compatible with these chemicals as it can incur further irritation and dry patches. The worst thing you can do is apply all of these at once. Instead, try experimenting with small dab of these over time to determine which solution works best for you. According to Dr. Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, board-certified NYC dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, “I recommend changing over to a light-based foaming cleanser with or without salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acids depending on your skin type. Benzoyl peroxide cleansers can also be helpful by minimizing bacterial overgrowth as well as acting as an antibacterial agent. In the office, I often start a series of gentle superficial salicylic acid or other chemical peels once to twice a month to clear up dull dead skins while also drawing out excess oil, clearing out pores, and slowing down oil production.” Here are the acne treatments dermatologists use on themselves when they have a flare up.

Always moisturize.

Juta/shutterstockIt might feel counter-intuitive to lather on moisturizer when your skin produces enough oil to fry an egg, but trust us on this. It’s important to keep in mind that maintaining a healthy skin barrier with good moisturizers are even more vital in the summer months. Melissa tells us, “Those with oily or acne prone skin may think that they can skip their moisturizers in the summer/humid months but this can actually cause worsening of oily skin. Pick a lightweight moisturizer that rely on ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and niacinamide.” (Here are nine natural moisturizers you can find in your home).

Try glycolic exfoliation.

Africa-Studio/shutterstockThere’s nothing worse than applying foundation on uneven, patchy skin, so don’t neglect the exfoliating cleanser in your summer routine. Doing so will eliminate the toxins and impurities that thrive in your pores and ensure accelerated healing of acne lesions. As an added bonus, it’ll help wipe off a few years from your face as it helps to reduce the appearance of enlarged pores. For best effects, scrub your face every few days to slough off dead skin and increase cell turnover, revealing radiant skin underneath. Dr. Neal Schultz, NYC dermatologist, founder of, and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz, promotes glycolic exfoliation as an essential routine. “To address all summer skin issues—including acne—I highly recommend daily glycolic exfoliation (every evening)! Glycolic exfoliation is the key to smoother skin because glycolic removes the dulling and clogging dead cells that causes skin to be rough,” advises Schultz. “Rough textured skin can’t glow because a rough surface scatters and absorbs light, making it appear dull, matte, and tired. Smooth skin reflects light, and that’s why glycolic is so successful at improving the appearance of your skin in every season, but especially during (and after) summer.”

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Don’t sit in damp clothes after swimming.

g_andrade/shutterstockWe understand the natural instinct of wanting to leisurely lounge around after a good swim, but neither saltwater nor chlorine should linger on your face for long. A thorough shower (with soap) is imperative to remove the mixture of perspiration, body oils, and even traces of urine and fecal matter that rest in those waters. Shooting those substances down the drain goes a long way toward expelling the impurities lingering on the bodies of swimmers combined with chlorine. According to  Bobby Buka MD, contributing Founder & Chief Science Officer of the First Aid Beauty skin care line, “As a preventative measure, make sure you don’t sit in damp clothes for long after swimming. Showering after a lot of sweating also helps to make the growing conditions less favorable for the P. acnes bacteria.”

Wear natural fibers.

Ekaterina_Minaeva/shutterstockThe surging temperatures, a more active outdoor lifestyle, and occlusive clothing can result in lingering sweat, dirt, and friction that accumulates all over your body. As a result, there are overwhelmingly higher cases of body acne during the summer months compared to any other season. For those with overly enthusiastic sweat glands, shameful amounts of salt water exiting the pores are the bane of summer’s existence. Luckily, superfluous perspiration can be outplayed if we curate our summer wardrobes accordingly. According to Debra Jaliman, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, “Some ways to prevent acne in the summer are to wear natural fibers like cotton to avoid breakouts caused by sweating in areas like your chest or back.” A high quality, lightweight cotton is one of the most breathable fabrics, allowing airflow for drying out the dampness. Because cotton is a natural fiber, it will absorb moisture rather than repelling it. Avoid clothing with a polyester base fabric; although the man-made fabric is popular due to its durability, this durability also equals water resistance, which means zero absorption of perspiration. If the sweat has nowhere to go, the smelly secretion will stay on your skin and seep into your pores.
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