How To Prevent Summer Acne

By Charlie Colville

3 weeks ago

Beat the breakout


With heatwaves rolling through the country this month, searches for summer skincare – and, more specifically, summer acne – are at an all-time high. But how can we prevent any unwanted breakouts when things start heating up? We asked the experts to share their tips and tricks for tackling those pesky seasonal pimples.

Summer Skincare 101: Preventing Acne

What Is Acne?

To treat and prevent acne, we first need to understand exactly what we’re dealing with. ‘Acne is a common skin condition that occurs when your hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells,’ explains Dr Joney De Souza, a London-based aesthetic doctor. ‘It often presents as whiteheads, blackheads or pimples, and can occur on various parts of the body – although it is most commonly found on the face, forehead, chest, upper back and shoulders. Hormones, bacteria, certain medications, and diet can all contribute to the development of acne.’

‘It’s an inflammatory skin disorder involving the sebaceous glands that connect to hair follicles,’ adds Kate Kerr, an award-winning Aesthetic Facialist, Acne Expert and Director of Kate Kerr London Clinic. ‘Under normal conditions, these glands produce sebum, which travels to the skin’s surface through pores. Keratinocytes, a type of skin cell, line the follicles and are regularly shed by the body, rising to the skin’s surface and then sloughing off. This process is key for a healthy skin barrier, meaning a strong and resilient skin.

‘In acne-prone skin, however, the hair, sebum, and keratinocytes adhere together within the pore,’ she continues. ‘This adhesion prevents the keratinocytes from shedding and obstructs the sebum’s path to the surface. This accumulation of oil and cells fosters the growth of bacteria that typically reside harmlessly on the skin, leading to inflammation characterized by swelling, redness, heat, and pain. When the wall of the clogged follicle ruptures, it releases bacteria, skin cells, and sebum into the surrounding skin, resulting in lesions or pimples.’

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Does It Get Worse During Summer?

Yes and no; we all react differently to the elements, especially when it concerns our skin, and in some cases this can worsen acne. ‘If you’re someone that’s been battling breakouts for a long time, you may notice that they get worse during the summer months,’ says Dr Paris Acharya, a leading Aesthetics Expert and Co-Founder of The Ardour Clinic. ‘It’s very common for those with acne to struggle during the hotter months, and while many think that this is because of sun exposure, it’s actually down to increased oil production and sweating which clogs pores. When you combine this oil, bacteria and dirt with increased SPF usage, sunscreen and moisturisers, it can often result in blocking pores and breakouts.

‘On the other hand, some people find that their acne and breakouts can improve during the summer months,’ she continues. ‘This could be because sun exposure can temporarily dry the skin, so for those with oily skin who experience excessive sebum production, it may improve their acne symptoms.

‘Many people also feel much happier during the summer months which results in less stress,’ she adds. ‘Stress is one of the major skin disruptors, therefore skin will be happier during the mood-boosting sunny days.’

Why Acne Gets Worse In Summer

There are a number of reasons why acne might get worse for some people during the summer. Dr De Souza highlights some of the top causes below:

  • Increased Sweating: Hot and humid weather leads to more sweating, which can mix with oils and bacteria on your skin, potentially clogging pores.
  • Excess Oil Production: Heat can stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil, increasing the likelihood of breakouts.
  • Sunscreen & Skincare Products: Heavy or greasy sunscreens and skincare products can block pores, contributing to acne.
  • Dehydration: Lack of proper hydration can lead your skin to produce more oil to compensate for the dryness.

‘Heat exacerbates acne by stimulating sebum production in the skin, leading to the clogging of pores,’ adds Kerr. ‘Additionally, the heat encourages the growth of acne causing bacteria and increases inflammation. Excess sebum coupled with an increase of bacteria and inflammation is the perfect environment for acne to thrive.’

She also indicates that increased exercise during the summer months might have an impact. ‘The onset of summer leads many to hit the gym more, which can contribute to acne for a number of reasons,’ she says. ‘Intense workouts can lead to sweating and increase sebum production due to the heat and also increase in stress hormones. Significantly increasing muscle mass by lifting heavy weights regularly, can influence hormonal levels, particularly testosterone, which can increase oil production and the onset of acne.’

Why Acne Gets Better In Summer

As for those who find that a bit of sun clears up their acne, Dr De Souza says that the following might have something to do with it:

  • Increased Vitamin D: Sun exposure boosts Vitamin D levels, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce acne.
  • Higher Humidity: Humidity can help keep the skin hydrated and prevent it from producing excess oil to compensate for dryness.
  • More Outdoor Activities: Increased physical activity and sweating can promote circulation and detoxification, potentially reducing acne.
  • Lighter Skincare Regimens: People often use lighter, more hydrating products in the summer, which can be less likely to clog pores.

‘This is a less common occurrence in my clinic,’ admits Kerr. ‘But I can see why some people might find their skin clear up during the summer. UV rays, for example, can have antibacterial properties that can kill or inhibit the bacteria that causes acne – although it is not recommended you spend lots of time in the sun, especially unprotected, due to increased sun damage which can lead to premature ageing and increased risk of skin cancer, increased inflammation. The drying effects of the sun can also exacerbate oil production later down the line.’

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Which Skincare Ingredients Are Best For Treating Summer Acne?

While you should be fine to use most skincare ingredients under the guide of a dermatologist or doctor, there are some that are better suited for both treating and preventing acne during the summer. These include:

  • Salicylic Acid: A beta-hydroxy acid that exfoliates the skin and helps keep pores clear.
  • Benzoyl Peroxide: Kills acne-causing bacteria and reduces inflammation.
  • Niacinamide: Reduces inflammation and sebum production, and improves skin barrier function.
  • Aloe Vera: Soothes and hydrates the skin, reducing irritation and redness.
  • Tea Tree Oil: Has antibacterial properties that can help reduce acne-causing bacteria.
  • Azelaic Acid: A natural acid that unclogs pores and kills acne-causing bacteria.
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA): Removes dead skin cells and reduces inflammation.

‘All standard skincare ingredients are safe to use during summer, but due to most of them having an exfoliating effect make sure you are particularly careful in the sun,’ warns Kerr. ‘Wear a light SPF50 every day – make sure to reapply it every two hours when in the sun – along with a hat.’

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How To Prevent Summer Acne

Shower After Sweating

The best way to avoid acne? Don’t let sweat sit on the skin and clog your pores for long stretches of time. ‘It’s extremely common for many people to experience an increase in the sweat that they produce over the hot summer months due to the temperature and climate,’ says Dr Acharya. ‘Sweat can irritate acne, and can often clog the pores, especially on the back and chest when it’s combined with the friction against clothes. Always try to shower as soon as possible after sweating, most importantly after exercise in the summer.’

Avoid Oil-Based Products

It also helps to cut down on products that are rich in oils. ‘Oil-based products (sometimes labelled comedogenic) can often irritate acne-prone skin,’ confirms Dr Acharya. ‘So try to avoid makeup, skincare and suncare products that are oil-based and instead opt for those that are water-based and non-comedogenic, which are less likely to irritate your skin and block pores.’

Choose Lighter Formulas

The same goes for thicker beauty products. ‘Using heavy products such as a thick moisturiser in winter is beneficial for the skin as it provides optimum hydration during the colder months,’ starts Dr Acharya. ‘However, in summer, I always recommend to switch this up and instead, opt for lighter formulations and lightweight products to avoid that heavy, greasy feel during hotter days.’

Streamline Your Skincare

Following on from the above, you can try refining your skincare into a tighter, fuss-free regime that favours lighter products. ‘Streamline your skincare regime, especially during the day,’ recommends Kerr. ‘Any products with a richer texture add to your night routine instead. An antioxidant serum, an oil control serum and a lightweight SPF50 is perfect.’

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Keep Cleansing

You should be upping your cleansing game during the summer months, says Kerr, who explains that we need to keep a clean canvas to avoid a build-up of oil and dirt on the skin. ‘Cleanse twice per day and exfoliate once per day to regulate cell turnover,’ she says. ‘And when working out, cleanse the skin before and after to remove skincare and makeup; this allows the sweat to flush the pores. Although if you’re working out outside make sure to pop on a lightweight SPF.’

Hydrate Properly

Staying cool and hydrating is also key when it comes to overall (not just skin) health during the warmer months. ‘Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and balance oil production,’ recommends Dr De Souza. ‘You can also choose loose, breathable fabrics to reduce sweating and skin irritation.’

Facials

There are also a number of skincare treatments that can help with summer acne. ‘While at-home acne treatments are effective and powerful, I would always recommend investing in a preventative facial as a summer luxury,’ suggests Dr Acharya. ‘In-clinic procedures and technology can sometimes target the root causes of skin concerns to a deeper level. Our new Detoxygenate Facial at The Ardour Clinic is the perfect treatment to help correct acne. It helps to stimulate cutaneous oxygenation and circulation, rejuvenating sluggish skin as it draws oxygen to the surface. Oxygen is essential for the health and functioning of skin cells which is why it’s so closely linked to wound and acne scar healing.’

For those struggling with acne, Kerr also recommends, ‘Having regular clarifying facials with extraction, usually every four weeks minimum, but more often if considerably congested or broken out.

‘You can also do a DIY facial once a week with a skin peel or clay-based mask,’ she continues. ‘I would especially recommend increasing the use of a clay-based mask to two to three times a week. Although if you’re on a sunny holiday, I’d suggest using one every night after a day in the sun where you’ve been hot, sweaty and reapplying SPF every two hours.’

Featured image: Freestocks, Unsplash