You Asked, Experts Answer: Is Acne Worse In the Summer?

Kristin Booker
Woman with red hair outside


Summer sun can feel so good: the warm weather, beautiful skies and the feel of the sun on your face. But with warmer weather, there can come a rather unpleasant side effect: increased acne on your face and body. What gives, Mother Nature?

Even though acne can pick up in the summer, there are ways to manage and even beat it if you know the causes. Pick up your wipes and grab an extra shirt, because we asked two of the best doctors in dermatology, Dr. Katie Rodan, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder, Proactiv+; and Dr. Jeannette Graf, Assistant Clinical Professor Dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, on why acne can flip out on you in warmer times, and how to handle the situation.

MORE: 13 Terrible Skin Habits You Need to Quit Immediately

Before we get too far along, let’s talk about what causes acne. “Acne-prone skin is just like other skin, it’s a matter of our own microflora misbehaving,” explains Dr. Graf. “Unlike strep throat, which you can kill in three days, the bacterium p acnes (proprionibacterium acnes) is one of our protective microflora. Acne is caused by when a situation is created whereby there’s excess of what the bacterium would normally “eat,” like dirt and oil along with a lack of air. That causes them to “overeat” and things get out of control. That’s what creates inflammation and breakouts. Always wipe areas when you’re sweating.”

Okay, so is it worse for some people more than others in the summer?
“For people who suffer from comedonal acne, the situation will most likely get worse in the summer, especially if they’re particularly oily and/or they work out,” says Dr. Graf. As it turns out, heat can cause you to produce more sebum, which is a double whammy. “Heat and humidity intensify oil production, which in acne prone individuals often means more breakouts,” explains Dr. Rodan. But it’s not all doom and gloomy news. “For some who have inflammatory acne, the heat actually helps the situation, so your acne can improve.”

So, this is rough for people who work out in the heat or sweat, right? Yep. “Acne is also triggered by wearing athletic gear like helmets and occlusive clothing which trap in moisture and promote bacterial overgrowth,” says Dr. Rodan. Ok, so that means pack extra clothes and be prepared to cleanse pronto. “Be sure to shower and use a medicated anti-acne wash like X-Out Wash-In Treatment immediately following your workout to reduce your chance of a flare-up,” advises Dr. Rodan. “You have to change your shirt/clothes and constantly wipe away the oil immediately to prevent flare-ups,” says Dr. Graf. “Especially people who are athletic. Wear clothes that absorb sweat AND oil, like white cotton.”

MORE: How to Get Rid of Acne

How about your diet? Can what you’re eating contribute to clearer or more clogged skin?
“Because there is some evidence to suggest that high glycemic foods cause acne flares, removing sugary or starchy foods from your diet may help and is also healthy for your body and figure in the long run,” cautions Dr. Rodan.

Oh, and by the way: pollution isn’t necessarily worse for you in the summer. “Pollution matters all year long,” warns Dr. Graf. “It affects the skin’s ability to repair and heal itself, to battle whatever’s hitting it.”

Also, sunblock is an absolute must. “Moisturizer is only if you need it,” says. Dr. Graf, “But, sunblock is absolutely essential. You need to protect your skin from UV damage, which can make the situation worse and lead to even more serious skin conditions.” She recommends EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 for the face, which is transparent, packed with zinc oxide and perfect for acne-suffering skin. For the body, she raves about Glytone Sunscreen Spray Mist Broad Spectrum SPF 50. “It’s a light mist, so it won’t settle and clog your pores,” she enthuses.

So, let’s talk about summer resolutions you should keep if you suffer from acne? “Numero uno on your list should be to use your topical acne medicine everyday, and in most cases twice a day,” advises Dr. Rodan. “Acne is a condition better prevented than treated after the fact. Also, oil blotter sheets are great to carry with you: they can absorb excess oil. So can mineral powder makeup.”

Got it? Now, go out there and have some fun in the sun and worry about acne no more!