Sunscreens Cause Acne! (and Other Summer Acne Facts!)

With blonde hair and big blue eyes, she looked like a young Betty Draper from Mad Men. My patient, Julie, had been faithfully treating her acne for months. Just when she was starting to clear (in time for her senior photos), wham! Red dots cropped up over her forehead and cheeks. What went wrong? Summertime.

July can be the cruelest month for acne. Acne on the chest and back (bacne) and big, red pimples on your face can make going to the beach an embarrassing experience. Here are a few acne facts for summer:

1. Although there is some suggestion that sun can help acne, its effect varies and sun often makes acne worse. (Bacne + sunburn = bacne burn. Not good).

2. Retinoinds such as topical Retin-A, tretinoin, Differin, Tazorac, Ziana, Atralin, and Accutane all remove the outer layer of skin, leaving you more susceptible to a bad sunburn. Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid also peel the outer layer of skin, making you more sensitive.

3. Oral antibiotics such as doxycycline, minocycline, tetracycline, and sulfa antibiotics predispose you to a  painful pink burn on your nose, hands, and arms called a phototoxic rash; I see patients with this all summer long. The pink splotches can take weeks to fade and sting every time you’re in the sun.

4. Sunscreens can cause acne. It’s a cruel fact. Often the best sunscreens such as zinc and titanium, or water resistant sunscreens are the most likely to worsen acne. In order to be effective, sunscreens have to coat your skin which also clogs your pores.

Here are 5 tips to help keep you acne-clear this summer:

1. Remember that sun exposure is not a good way to clear up acne; most people get far more sun that what is helpful and just the right amount of sun to make it worse.

2. If you have fair or sensitive skin and are taking oral antibiotics for acne, then discuss with your physician if you are taking the best antibiotic during summer. Some patients take a break from antibiotics during summer months or switch to antibiotics that are less sun sensitizing.

3. Find ways to protect against the sun other than sunscreen: avoid the sun between 10 AM and 2 PM, wear a big hat (demonstrated here) and cover up.

4. When you need sunscreen, consider products designed for your face which are less oily or less likely to worsen acne such as: Neutrogena Ultra-sheer Dry Touch, Eucerin Facial Moisturizer with SPF 30, La Roche-Posay Antihelios Tinted Cream, or Proactiv’s Daily Protection Plus Sunscreen.

5. Avoid overusing scrubs, toners and slamming face-first into the beach; the added exfoliation will only make risk of sunburn worse.

Just hang-on, winter will be here again before you know it. Does your acne get worse in summer? What sunscreen do you use.

Photo: Foreversouls (flickr). Patient identity changed.