Will Sun Exposure Cause Acne? The Truth about Sun and Acne

sun exposure and acne

Let's be honest, acne can be uncomfortable to experience.  While acne is common, the general public seems to have an opinion about what makes acne better when it may not be true at all.  Because of tall tales and a lot of myths regarding acne, something that you may have heard of is that getting more sun exposure can help with acne.  Is this actually true or are you doing more harm to your skin?



Why Sun Exposure Could Worsen Acne

Does going to the beach or getting extra sun really help with our acne? The short answer is not really. Any beneficial effects are usually short term and temporary with long term negative effects that may not be visible right away.   Overexposure to sun can lead to more skin damage and worsen acne and hyperpigmentation in the long run.  It's best to use SPF 30+ during the day if you have acne prone skin. Here's a breakdown of the reasons why sun could cause more acne, and benefits of sun for acne. 

It Could Worsen or Cause Hyperpigmentation

Many people believe that lying out in the sun and getting a tan may help treat acne. Since getting a tan can help hide the discoloration acne can cause.   However the sun can also darken areas of hyperpigmentation.  Excessive sun exposure may causes pigmentation issues in the long run. Skin could be more prone to sun spots and fine lines happening faster in the future. If you'd like to temporarily reduce the appearance of acne or hyperpigmentation, use a non comedogenic concealer for your skin type  instead of tanning in the sun. 

Skin Could Become Too Dry

Sun exposure could dry the skin out so it may look like the sun is helping to clear up acne.  However this is a temporary benefit.  When skin is overly dry, it can  lead to an overproduction of oil which can further clog pores. Dry skin could lead to more acne since a dry and damaged skin surface leaves more openings for unwanted acne bacteria to enter in.

Risk Of Sunburn and Skin Damage

A sunburn means that the skin has gotten pretty damaged and this is something to try to avoid at all costs.  If skin is burned or damaged, this can lead to skin being extra sensitive and inflamed. As the skin is flaking off, the excessive dead skin combined with the already sensitive and damaged skin could lead to more acne. 

Excess Sweat Increases Chance Of Fungal Acne

Sunbathing leads to more sweat and if you are already acne prone, having excess sweat is generally not good for acne since the moisture and warmth is a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.  Warm and moist environments could lead to fungal acne too which is common on the body.

Sun Sensitivity 

Many skincare ingredients or medications that are specifically for acne prone skin or acne scars leave skin more sensitive to the sun. This is why it is super important not to go sun bathing without any sun protection as skin will be more prone to getting damaged quicker.   Always wear sun protection of at least 30+ SPF to help keep acne away and to prevent the scars and pigmentation issues that commonly arise after acne. 

Weakened Skin Barrier

Another negative effect of too much sun exposure would be that the skin cells on the surface are more prone to cracking and also lose the ability to resist damage.  This can cause a damaged skin barrier that could lead to more acne in the long run. 

Worsen Acne Scars Over Time

Moderate sun exposure is beneficial and needed, but the truth is that over time, the sun breaks down skin collagen, and elastin.  This breakdown of our skins foundation and structure can lead to pores appearing larger, and may cause more acne scarring in the future from breakouts since scars are formed from damage to the collagen matrix of skin.   Faster breakdown of collagen means that fine lines can appear sooner. 

Solar radiation causes oxidative damage, which accumulates over the years and promotes skin aging. So sunscreen is essential for two reasons: to prevent the formation of free radicals and to prevent the photosensitivity of the skin. 

Positive Effects of Sun:

Sunlight in moderation is good for our bodies and our minds. It’s an important source of Vitamin D which is essential for many of the vital processes in our body such as the development of healthy bones and a healthy immune system including the immune system of the skin.

Vitamin D

Other positive effects of sun exposure aside from Vitamin D include enhancing your mood, treating seasonal depression or seasonal effective disorder and relieving stress.

This report may be due to factors like skin getting dryer if someone has oily skin thus reducing breakouts if red or blue light therapy works on these individuals, but note that is it temporary. 

It might be also be as a result of the sun increasing vitamin d levels which help with overall immune system if someone is deficient. 

Improved Mood or Reduced Stress

Many people take vacation during the summer and may associate the sun to clearer skin. However it may be that reduced levels of stress and an improved mood could be the reason for clearer skin as stress does create hormonal responses in the body which can worsen acne.  These are some common theories that could explain why, but note that it doesn't apply to everyone.   Others say that summer months make their skin worse so it really depends on the person.  

Life is all about balance and this idea applies just as strongly to sun exposure as it does to other areas of life. At this time of crisis, most of us may not be lucky enough to get nice sunny weather or spend time outside to get those daily doses of Vitamin Ds.  If you are living somewhere where there is plenty of sunshine, then stepping out for 5-10 minutes a day will suffice. Small, daily doses of sunshine are definitely beneficial for skin and health, as the sun is a good source of vitamin D and a good mood stabilizer, and sleep cycle regulator. Prolonged exposure, however, can have damaging long-term effects on skin and acne so a balance and sun protection goes a long way. 



A systematic review of the evidence for ‘myths and misconceptions’ in acne management: diet, face-washing and sunlight: https://academic.oup.com/fampra/article/22/1/62/440463

Long-term sun exposure alters the collagen of the papillary dermis: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8642084/

Solar UV radiation reduces the barrier function of human skin: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3479513/

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1 comment



Seasonal affective* disorder not effective. Hence the acronym SAD.

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