What Dermatologists Want You to Know About Summer Breakouts
Acne is a year-round concern for some, but did you know that you're more likely to develop blemishes in the summer months even if you don't have oily or acne-prone skin?
"Skin naturally thickens in the summer to protect itself from the sun," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rebecca Baxt. "And as the skin thickens, it becomes more prone to clogged pores, resulting in blackheads and whiteheads. The heat also makes people sweat, clogging the pores more and creating a better environment for bacterial growth."
But it's not just excessive sweating that you should be worried about in the summer. According to Dr. Ashley Magovern, one of the most common causes of acne is that one product that's supposed to protect your skin from damage—your sunscreen! "A potent sunscreen may protect you against premature aging and skin cancer, but some of them can cause acne in the process," she warns. "Anything that may trap oil and skin debris in the pores—including sunscreen that is not oil-free or not non-comedogenic—will contribute to acne."
So what steps can we take to prevent breakouts in the summer? We asked 6 of the country's top dermatologists to weigh in. Here's what we've learned from them.
1. Skin hygiene is paramount
"At the end of the day, make sure to wash your face and remove any leftover sunscreen and makeup that can clog pores," says Dr. Grant Stevens. "Using a good cleanser with a Clarisonic brush is a great way to cleanse the skin and finish your day."
However, in cleansing your face, you also want to make sure that you don't strip your skin of its natural oils. "It is important to not over-dry the skin, as the sebaceous glands will go into overdrive and produce more oil," says Dr. Stafford Broumand, NYC-based Plastic Surgeon and Associate Clinical Professor of Plastic Surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Sometimes, excessive washing exposes your skin to more chemicals in your cleanser, which can lead to dryness and more acne flare-ups. "Try to limit washing to twice a day," offers Dr. Magovern. "Or, if you have to wash multiple times, be sure to use a non-soap cleanser or even just plain water. If you are swimming a lot, take a quick rinse after you get out of the pool or ocean and keep your skin hydrated afterwards."
2. Exfoliate regularly
Every dermatologist we talked to swears by the power of regular exfoliation to banish blemishes. We know it's the surest way to eliminate pore-clogging dead skin debris and eliminate acne-causing bacteria—but what's the best way to do it?
"Salicylic acid, glycolic acid and benzoyl peroxide washes—they are all exfoliants, but benzoyl peroxide is also anti-bacterial. We know acne is caused by clogged pores, bacteria and hormones, so we like to attack the bacteria and clogged pores at the same time as much as possible," says Dr. Baxt.
Most dermatologists also recommend using a good oil-absorbing clay mask once or twice a week. "If you are trying to reduce the inflammation and redness of an existing breakout, select a mask that contains skin-soothing and re-balancing mud, camphor, chamomile, magnesium aluminum silicate and sulfate." says Dr. Gary Goldfaden.
3. You still need to moisturize
According to Dr. Goldfaden, the worst thing you can do to oily skin is to deprive it of moisture. "Not moisturizing is the biggest mistake I see with patients suffering from oily skin," says Dr. Goldfaden. "Contrary to popular belief, using a daily, light and oil-free moisturizer can balance out the overall skin and reduce excess oil production."
Dr. Magovern agrees. "Even if you have oily and acne-prone skin, it's still important to moisturize your skin, especially because acne treatments can be drying," she said. According to her, the trick is to find lighter gels and lotions that the skin can easily absorb, which is why she counts SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel and BeautyRx Skincare Light Rehydrating Lotion as two of her favorite moisturizers for summer. Both these products contain oil-free hydrators, including fatty alcohols like stearic and cetyl alcohols, and hyaluronic acid, a natural humectant capable of retaining 1,000 times its own weight in water.
4. Read the ingredients list
When choosing your skin care products, look for these keywords: fragrance-free, non-allergenic, non-comedogenic, oil-free and water-based. These are the products that won't trap bacteria in your pores or further irritate your skin.
The same criteria go for sunscreen products. For hot summer months, Dr. Goldfaden advises to substitute your thick SPF lotion with either a matte spray or a powder SPF.