Acne is the most common skin condition, affecting over 80% of people at some point in their lives, to varying degrees. Seasonal variations were observed in about a half of acne patients (25.9% to 64.2% in various studies), with the condition occasionally worsening in winter, while it often improves during the summer months. However, this isn’t true for everyone, some people with acne find that their symptoms actually worsen during summer, particularly if they suffer from oily skin.
What causes the seasonal acne variations?
The traditional opinion proposed by Western dermatologists is that acne improves in summer and worsens in winter. One of the possible explanations is that the sunlight through its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects would reduce the severity of acne during the summer months. Actually light therapy (UV light in the past and blue light or laser therapies more recently) has been used for many years as a treatment to control acne.
In warmer countries, on the contrary, it appears the acne worsens in the summer. Two studies from India (2,3) showed that a majority of patients noticed a summer aggravation. The authors proposed that the increased temperature, marked humidity and sweating explained the results seen in their region in Southern India.
Another possible explanation for the summer worsening of acne in some patients would be that the humidity and higher temperature seem to increase sebum secretion. Two different studies (4,5) found that summer was the highest sebum-secreting season.
What to do to combat summer acne flares?
- Wash your face with water during the day to remove sweat and excess of sebum and also use a cleanser in the morning and evening.
- Minimise the application of oils and cosmetics to the affected skin. Avoid using waterproof chemical sunscreens on your face and try instead a physical sunscreen that contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide (e.g. Green People Sun Lotion).
- Where possible, avoid excessively hot and humid conditions such as working in an unventilated kitchen.
- If you smoke, try to stop. Nicotine increases sebum retention and increased scale within the follicles, forming comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).
- Exposure to sunlight filtered through window glass can help. To avoid sunburn, protect your skin outdoors using a sunscreen and protective clothing.
- Continue using your topical or systemic treatments as prescribed by your doctor but keep in mind that many of the acne treatments such as topical retinoids (Differin, Isotrex, Tazorac), Benzoyl peroxide, oral antibiotics(Doxycycline, Tetracycline, Lymecycline), oral Isotretinoin(Roaccutane) cause photosensitivity. That means that they make you more sensitive to the sun and while using them, your skin is more likely to burn, even if you typically don't. These burns can even be much more severe, with blistering and peeling. So before exposing yourself to the sun check with your doctor or pharmacist or read the patient information leaflet to see if your acne medication can cause photosensitivity.