Picture this: It’s the morning of the beach day you’ve been looking forward to all summer, but you look in the mirror to discover that your face is covered in irritated, red pimples!
If you’ve heard the myth that sprinting out the door and tanning in the backyard sunlight will zap away those zits, you might be tempted to pull on a bathing suit and go out into the sun, but maybe you should wait before grabbing your towel and swimsuit.
Instead of curing breakouts, sunlight can actually intensify acne and cause additional skin problems.
10 Impacts of Too Much Sunlight on Acne
Acne is a fact of life for most people, and everyone these days seems to be looking for a cure. On the surface, a nice, relaxing afternoon bathed in natural light might sound like the perfect cure-all for breakouts. However, the opposite is actually true- sunlight is much more likely to damage skin than to help get rid of those pimples. There are several reasons for this.
- Sunlight reduces oil production. While sunlight feels amazing when you’re sunbathing, it also means that sunlight quickly dries up the oils on your skin. In the short term, this may appear to be a good thing as the reduced oil production certainly doesn’t make acne worse, but it doesn’t last. What’s really going on is that the sun’s light is temporarily stopping your body’s oil production. As soon as you get back into the shade, your skin starts producing oil again, and the zits come back.
- Sunlight dries your skin. Dry, flaky skin is almost as bad as oily, pimply skin. It’s itchy and annoying and uncomfortable, which is why it’s important to not stay out in the sun too long. Basically, you’re zapping your oil-producing skin glands and when they turn back on, they come back with a vengeance! Going from super oily to dry to oily again isn’t a pleasant experience for anyone.
- Sunlight dehydrates you. Staying out in the sun for too long causes people to start to sweat and lose body fluids. This can cause two problems for acne. First, your skin may dry out and start to peel. Peeling can clog up pores even more, which just makes things worse. Second, your body’s oil glands start to produce even more oil to help your skin repair itself and make up for the lost fluids, which can cause even more breakouts.
- Sunburn is a Risk. It’s easy to lose track of the time and stay outside for too long. If this happens, you could risk burning your already inflamed skin. This causes even more irritation and is quite painful.
- Peeling. After a sunburn, your skin will often peel away to make way for new skin. If all that excess skin has trouble peeling off of your body and instead gets caught, it can clog your new skin, irritating and inflaming it into creating more zits.
- Tanning. If you’re lucky and escape a sunburn with a beautiful tan, it may seem like your acne has disappeared, but tanning does not actually solve the acne trouble. While tanned skin can mask signs of acne and give your skin a more uniform, healthy color, it doesn’t actually cure the source of the acne under the skin. Once the tan fades away, your skin will look the same as it did before, pimples and all.
- Sunlight can impact your immune system. Your immune system is responsible for fighting the bacteria in your pores, which is where acne inflammation comes from. (It’s also why acne has that distinctive red coloring- just think of it as evidence that your body is doing its job.) Sunlight prevents your immune system from fighting the bacteria. At first this causes a decrease in inflammation, which may seem like a good thing, but actually the inflammation isn’t going away. Your body just isn’t fighting the bacteria anymore, which means even more bacteria can grow and cause more breakouts.
- Sunlight impacts your skin’s elasticity. Too much time in the sun is one of the main causes of wrinkles and early aging. Sunlight dries your body and stops your skin from being so elastic. Over time, this causes wrinkles as the skin can’t rebound like it used to. Dry skin and wrinkles aren’t things you want to deal with on top of your acne.
- Sunlight can cause skin cancer. Some people are more sensitive to sunlight than others and are more susceptible to getting skin cancer. Your skin is already fighting against acne, so why make it fight sunlight too? Make sure you know your body’s tolerance to sunlight and don’t risk spending too much time in the sun to keep your skin safe.
- Sunlight and acne scars. With acne often comes acne scars. If you’re trying to heal these scars or get rid of them entirely, sunlight is not your friend. When you stay out in the sun, your melanin levels rise (that’s the pigment that gives your skin its color), especially on the scarred areas, making them stand out even more and slowing their healing process.
Whew! That’s a lot of reasons to be careful during the summer when it comes to acne. But don’t worry about spending your summer inside, afraid of the sun. Your summer days can be full of sun & fun & no more zits, so long as you play it safe and smart.
Here are two ways you can get the treatment you need for your acne and still enjoy a beautiful summer day!
If you’ve done any research on acne cures, you’ve probably stumbled across light treatment. This may be where some of the myth that sunlight helps acne originated, since sunlight is just another form of light, right? Wrong.
Light treatment for acne isn’t the same as exposing your skin to sunlight. Instead of exposing your skin directly to UV rays, light treatment uses visible red, blue, or a combination of red/blue light to battle your acne. These lights penetrate your skin and can have positive effects.
Red light stops your body from producing so much oil or sebum, without zapping your sebum glands the way direct sunlight does. Since too much sebum is one of the main reasons for acne, this can help reduce acne.
Blue light is good at destroying the bacteria in your pores that cause acne inflammation. It’s basically like a poison for bacteria, and helps immobilize it. This, in turn, helps your immune system fight the rest of the bacteria and brings your skin go one step closer to being clear and smooth.
While light treatment can be helpful, it’s not a cure all. However, it can help remove some of the main physical factors that cause acne, overproduction of oil and bacteria, which is more than sunlight can do. Light treatment ranges from relatively inexpensive to costly, so make sure to do your research before choosing a treatment, and check with your doctor to make sure it’s a safe option for you.
What about Sunscreen?
Sunscreen can get tricky when it comes to acne. On one hand, slathering your skin with a greasy paste can clog up your skin, but on the other, a good sunscreen can stop your skin from burning and protect your pores. And you should never go out in the sunlight without it.
There are a ton of sunscreen varieties in the market, some of which may or may not irritate your acne. If you’re worried about choosing the right sunscreen for you or don’t like the one you have now, do some research and shop around for one that you think will work best. Keep trying until you find the right one for you. That way, you can still go out in the sun with your friends but don’t have to worry about damaging your skin.
Sunlight and Acne
What you learned in middle school science class is true- some sunlight is good for you, full of replenishing Vitamin D. But too much sunlight can damage your skin at the least and cause cancer at the worst. It definitely won’t cure your acne, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend your summer inside your house.
Be smart when you go out for a tan or spend a day at the beach. Don’t stay out too long and wear a powerful, irritant-free sunscreen, and odds are you’ll come back feeling great and ready for the next beach day.
How to Have a Worry-Free Summer Day
There are lots of ways to enjoy your summer without worrying about damaging your skin. Some ways you can stay safe and have fun are listed here.
- Stay hydrated! Getting dehydrated won’t help your skin keep working to fight off acne. Take a break every hour to drink some water before going back to join the fun!
- Wear sunscreen, but make sure it will protect your skin and won’t irritate your pores. It’s a good idea to put some research into getting the right kind of sunscreen for you.
- Wear clothing that covers your skin. No, we’re not saying you have to go swimming in jeans and a T-shirt. These don’t have to be special clothes, just something to protect your skin. Bring a cute coverup to go over your bathing suit when you’re not splashing in the pool, or a huge floppy sun hat to shield your face and shoulders from the sun. Acne is no reason not to be stylish!
- Stay in the shade as much as possible. You can relax under your favorite tree, read under a beach umbrella, or laugh with friends in a camping tent. Wherever you’re spending your summer, take some time to cool off in the shade.
- Take a shower after a day outside to wash off any excess dirt and oils you’ve collected. This is important to maintain healthy skin, and besides helping to get rid of acne, a cleansing shower feels great!
- Stick with your skincare routine. Whether you spend the summer inside or outside, keep up with your daily routine. Daily consistent, impactful skincare is what will help keep your skin healthy and glowing.
As long as you make sure to pay attention to what your body is telling you and don’t take unnecessary risks, your summer can be everything you planned!