Pro tip: Breathable fabrics are your friend.
Whether or not you actually have acne-prone skin, summertime can still find a way to wreak havoc on your complexion, so it’s worth knowing how to prevent and heal summer breakouts. To hear why acne flareups can happen more frequently in the warmer months, and to learn how to keep those breakouts at bay, I reached out to Dr. Estee Williams, board-certified medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatologist; Amanda Hume, makeup artist and founder of Vert Beauty; and Lori Nestore, co-president at Tu’el, among other experts.
According to Dr. Williams, what really causes acne comes down to inflammation and hair follicles being plugged by dead skin. But this inflammation and clogged pores can be a result of "too much sebum in the skin, a friendly bacteria called P. acnes, hormonal imbalance, genetics, diet, and even poor choice of cosmetics," she says.
Because there are so many causes, different treatments and preventatives will have varying results. But if you only have flareups in the summer, or if your usual breakouts become significantly worse during the warmer months, it could be due to something that might be easier to prevent and treat. Ahead, eight things you can do to prevent and heal those hot-weather breakouts.
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1. Wear Breathable Fabrics
"The main challenge of treating acne in the summer has to do with the heat and humidity that often trigger acne on the chest and back," says Dr. Williams. To help avoid these body breakouts, she recommends wearing loose, breathable materials that won’t hold sweat against the skin. Natural fabrics like cotton, hemp, and silk are ideal.
2. Choose The Right SPF
Some types of sunscreen could actually make you break out more than usual due to pore-clogging ingredients like moisturizing oils (like coconut oil) and added fragrance. Dr. Annie Gonzalez, board-certified dermatologist at Riverchase Dermatology in Miami, says shoppers should look for a product that isn’t heavy or oily and won’t clog pores. "Sunscreens in serum or gel form are best for those with acne-prone skin," she tells Bustle.
Dr. Williams suggests opting for an SPF that has ingredients such as vitamin B3 that helps clear up acne while protecting against UV rays.
3. Skip Heavy Makeup
Hume says it’s better to stay away from heavy makeup during the summer. Because you tend to sweat more in the warmer months, heavy foundations and sweat mix and can work together to clog pores, resulting in breakouts. She recommends switching to a tinted moisturizer or BB cream that won’t clog your pores like a full-coverage foundation might.
4. Limit Your Dairy Intake
According to Nestore, "dairy products can and often lead to acne and breakouts." If you tend to frequent ice-cream parlors and fro-yo shops in the summer and notice an increase in breakouts, try cutting back on dairy to see if it helps. Only a few studies have connected dairy to acne breakouts, however, and they weren’t randomized — so take this advice with a grain of salt.
Dr. Alicia Zalka, associate clinical professor at the Yale University School of Medicine’s department of dermatology and founder of deodorant brand Surface Deep, recommends embracing summer’s abundance of fruits and vegetables. She tells Bustle that increased intake of fruits and veggies increases the body’s antioxidants, which then helps decrease inflammation and improve the complexion.
5. Shower Immediately After Exercising
Fun, summer activities can also leave you feeling totally sweaty. To avoid giving sweat a chance to sit for too long on your skin and cause breakouts on your face and body, Dr. Williams recommends showering immediately after exercising.
For those experiencing breakouts along the forehead, Dr. Gonzalez adds that you should make sure you’re washing your hair properly as well. If your hair type allows it, she recommends "washing the hair frequently with a gentle shampoo to prevent the extra oil on your scalp from clogging pores."
6. Wash Your Face Every Night
You don’t want excess oils on your face to have an opportunity to clog your pores and cause breakouts overnight, so Hume says it’s important to wash your face every evening before bed. Nestore adds that it helps to clean deeper than you normally might, because hot weather can send oil glands into overdrive and make it more difficult to keep your pores clear.
Dr. Gonzalez does caution, however, that you shouldn’t over-cleanse your skin. "Of course, you want to wash your face and wipe off the day’s grime, sweat, and pollution," she says. "Don’t be overzealous. Cleansing too often can break down the skin’s protective barrier, causing excessive dryness and worsening acne."
7. Use The Right Treatments
When treating breakouts, certain ingredients may work better than others. Of course, it helps to know your skin and only use products that react well. For example, Dr. Williams says hydrocortisone creams can "make things better in the short-term and then trigger an even worse rebound." This is due to hydrocortisone’s steroidal nature, which helps combat the inflammation caused by a pimple. However, acne from topical steroid use is common, especially with prolonged use over time.
Hume recommends trying "products that contain neem and willow bark that are anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal." And Nestore says, "If you have a tendency to sweat easily and break out, be sure not to use super acidic or alkaline products, as that will make your skin more oily and unbalanced."
Dr. Zalka adds that you should also look at the treatments you use in your skin care routine. She recommends chemical exfoliants, and suggests adding alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids to your daily skin care regimen. "Glycolic acid toners, for example, will help loosen dead skin cells and minimize sebum oils that can block pores and lead to blemishes," she says.
8. Talk To Your Dermatologist
If you’re having trouble keeping your summer breakouts under control, Dr. Williams says to talk to your dermatologist to find out what exactly is causing your acne and the best ways to treat it. Dermatologists have many more resources for managing breakouts, including prescription medications, chemical peels, micro-needling, and light and laser treatments. So if things become a little out of hand, leave it to the professionals.
Dr. Estee Williams, board-certified medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatologist at Madfes Aesthetic Medical Center
Amanda Hume, makeup artist and founder of Vert Beauty
Lori Nestore, Co-President at Tu’el
Dr. Annie Gonzalez, Board Certified Miami Dermatologist of Riverchase Dermatology
Dr. Alicia Zalka, Associate Clinical Professor at the Yale University School of Medicine Department of Dermatology and founder of Surface Deep
Juhl, C., Bergholdt, H., Miller, I., Jemec, G., Kanters, J., Ellervik, C. (2018). Dairy Intake and Acne Vulgaris: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of 78,529 Children, Adolescents, and Young Adults. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6115795/
Katta, R., Desai, S. (2014). Diet and Dermatology: The Role of Dietary Intervention in Skin Disease. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106357/
Addor, F. (2017). Antioxidants in dermatology. Anais Brasilerios De Dermatologia. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5514576/
Tang. S., Yang, J. (2018). Dual Effects of Alpha-Hydroxy Acids on the Skin. Molecules. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6017965/
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