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The Sun and Acne: Does It Really Help?

Before you tan in the name of clear skin, read this.

May 27th, 2013

Tags: Acne, Safe Sun
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The Sun and Acne: Does It Really Help?

If you are like 85 percent of the population, you know all too well just how much of a drag pimples can be.

Acne is the most common skin disorder in the U.S., affecting 40 to 50 million Americans every year. As a nation, we spend billions on acne treatments annually. And when creams, facials, peels, spot treatments, masks and even prescriptions fail, we are tempted to try just about anything.

So of course, when we hear the often-repeated notion that a little tanning can fix the problem, our instinct is to run outside and start soaking up some serious rays.

Well, don’t. It’s a common myth that sun will help improve acne. “Sun exposure can actually make breakouts worse in some people who are prone to acne” says dermatologist Doris Day.

MORE: The Truth About the Sun and Dark Skin

Many people believe that the sun clears skin, but what they’re seeing is the tan darkening the skin around pimples, thus making them stand out less. Sorry, just an illusion, folks. Sun also dries out skin, and anything that cuts through oil seems like a good start. But while the tan and dryness seem better in the short term, in the long run, sun only worsens acne.

UV rays damage the skin, weakening the natural barrier and causing it to lose moisture. While at first this means your oily zones dry up, your skin tries to fix this by producing more and more of its own oils. Instead of preventing or lessening breakouts, sun exposure worsens the root of the problem. “It leads to overproduction by and overgrowth of sebaceous glands,” explains Dr. Day, “and can make blackheads more likely to occur,” which is when oil and dead skin gets trapped in pores.

To add insult to acne, many of the chemicals (such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) in zit-busting creams worsen sun sensitivity, making your skin more vulnerable to UV-related aging and damage.

QUIZ: How Much Sun Damage Are You Getting?

As if that’s not bad enough, the sunlight causes inflammation, which can cause hyperpigmentation, or darkening, of already existing acne scars.

Instead, Dr. Day emphasizes the need to protect skin from the sun every single day, even when it’s cloudy outside (UV rays get through the clouds). “Today, there is an even greater need for sun protection and post sun damage solutions,” she says. No matter how broken out your skin is, you still need sunscreen. “A product with SPF specially designed for sensitive, acne-prone skin is essential to overall sun protection and skin health and will not cause further irritation and breakouts.”

Dr. Day recommends at least SPF 15 at all times, with reapplication if you’re going to be out in the sun for long periods of time or get wet or sweaty. “Select a formula that best suits your age, activity and lifestyle,” she recommends.

MORE: 27 of the Best New Sunscreens

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