Acne and the sun – How does the sun affect acne-prone skin?

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Sun in essential to our psychological and physical wellbeing. An appropriate amount is good for our skin too – it can help to reduce inflammatory conditions such as acne and Atopic Dermatitis – but too much sun is harmful for the skin and can cause sunburn and, in the worst cases, skin cancer.

This article looks at both the positive and negative effects of sunlight and explains how over-exposure to UV rays can exacerbate acne and make matters worse rather than better.

Acne and sun: the positive effects of sunlight

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. Find out more in How UVA, UVB and HEVIS light rays affect skin.

The sun’s rays can lift our mood and help reduce stress.

The sun’s rays can lift our mood too. Our body’s ability to produce serotonin (often called the `happy hormone`) is directly affected by sunlight and research has shown that a lack of sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (or S.A.D.) where people get depressed.

UV rays have an immunosuppressive, and therefore an anti-inflammatory effect. As a result, some people with acne and/or blemish-prone skin report that their skin condition improves with moderate exposure to the sun. Living with acne can be stressful, so if a little bit of sun makes you happy about yourself and your skin then that’s a good thing. It is, however, essential to ensure that your skin is adequately protected as the risks of sun-induced skin damage outweigh the benefits.

You can read more about the psychological impact of living with acne here.

Acne and sun: the negative effects of UV rays

Some people who are prone to acne find that their skin condition in worse during the warmer months. There are a number of possible reasons for this:

Some people find that their acne-prone skin is worse in warmer weather
The sun’s rays dry out oily, blemish-prone skin and strip it of the moisture it needs

  • The sun’s rays may cause skin to dry out and even oily skin (excess oil production typifies acne-prone skin) needs moisture. When over-exposure to the sun dries skin out, the sebaceous glands (which produce the sebum that gives skin the oils it needs) go into overdrive and this excess sebum production − known as seborrhea − is one of the key stages in the formation of blemishes.
  • Another result of skin drying out is that it cornifys or keratinizes. This means that skin cells on the surface harden. This interferes with the natural process by which dead skin cells are shed and prevents sebum from being able to drain from the pores. Comedones develop as a result.
  • Sweat production increases in warm weather, as does the rate at which it degrades on skin’s surface. This creates an environment in which P.acnes − the bacteria associated with acne − can thrive and spread.

You can find out more about how each of these processes contribute to the formation and spread of blemishes in the development of acne.

The key stages in the formation of blemishes

Sunlight can also trigger a particular variety of acne known as Acne Aestivalis (or, more commonly, as “Mallorca Acne”). In the past this was thought to be caused by free radicals (created by exposure to the sun) reacting with the emulsifiers in cosmetic and sun protection products but this theory remains unproved by modern science.1 Acne Aestivalis mostly effects women between 25 and 40, many of whom had a history of acne in puberty and you can read more about it in the different types of acne.

Acne sufferers commonly experience post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Excessive sun exposure and/or inappropriate sun protection of damaged skin can also cause hyperpigmentation. People with inflammatory acne on the face are particularly prone to develop dark spots on their face. Initially these dark marks are caused by the blood involved in healing blemishes but, if blemishes are exposed to too much sun, the dark marks of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) can form. You can find out more in Acne and hyperpigmentation.

And, as we know, the sun presents other risks for all skin types - not just for those with acne-prone skin. These include sunburn, sun allergies such as PLE, premature skin aging and an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

How should I care for my acne-prone skin in the sun?

Choose sun protection that has been specially formulated for acne-prone skin

Effective sun protection is essential for acne-prone skin, especially if you are undergoing medical acne treatment or have recently had a chemical peel or laser treatment which heighten skin’s sensitivity.

A sensible attitude to sun exposure, combined with the regular and thorough application of a superior sun protection product specially formulated for your skin type and condition will help to give your skin the care it needs. Find out how in acne-prone skin: why does it need special sun protection?

The Eucerin Sun range includes:

The Eucerin sun protection range for acne-prone skin

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