5 Summer Acne Tips for Clear, Sun-Kissed Skin

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

Whether your summers are hot and dry or hot and humid, summer acne is a strong possibility for anyone with acne-prone skin. The heat, the UV radiation, and for teens and young adults, the disruption in routine can all cause increased acne in the summer. But just because it’s a common problem, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. Just like regular acne, summer acne can be prevented, or at least reduced, with some simple prevention tips like using the right sunscreen, wearing loose-fitting clothes, and sticking to a good skin care routine.

Photo of a woman wearing shorts playing with the waves in the shoreline.
Summer heat brings summer fun, but it also brings its own host of skin care problems.

Why Do I Get More Acne in the Summer?

To prevent summer acne, it helps to understand where exactly it comes from. No matter what the season, acne is caused by inflammation, bacteria, and oil production, and in the summer, these factors can go into overdrive, causing an increase in acne.

Normally, acne begins when the skin becomes inflamed. This can happen systemically, like if you have a cold or some other virus causing a general inflammation response throughout the body, or locally, like if you scratch your face too hard and cause that one particular area to swell up slightly. In the summer, inflammation increases largely due to sunburn. Sunburn damages the skin, which then tries to protect itself through mild inflammation, causing the pores to constrict, trapping oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria below the surface.

Even if you’re careful not to burn in the summer, acne can still increase because of the heat. Our skin always produces a small amount of oil to help protect itself from irritation, but summer heat can more or less melt those natural oils, leaving them to pool in our pores. This clogs the pores, leading to more acne and more bacteria. Acne-causing bacteria, also known as p. acnes, are anaerobic, meaning they can’t survive in the presence of oxygen for long. They often thrive in the summer because of the fine layer of melted oil protecting them from the oxygen in the air.

When the sun’s rays and heat combine with other factors like sunscreen, makeup, and sweat, it makes sense that acne increases in the summer. But there are ways you can reduce it.

Tip #1— Sunscreen: Choose the right sun protection.

Sunscreen is the best and worst thing for summer acne, depending on what kind you get. Many people with acne avoid using sunscreen for fear of clogging their pores, but sunscreen is just as important for acne-prone skin as it is for non-acne-prone skin, if not more so because many acne treatment products actually make the skin more susceptible to sunburn. If you know what to look for, you can protect your skin without clogging your pores, and reduce acne in the process.

First, if you have dark-toned skin, avoid sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. This particular type of zinc has a bright white color that doesn’t rub into dark skin very well. At best, it’ll leave you looking pasty and pale, but at worst, zinc oxide can get trapped in the pores, creating semi-permanent white spots.

Second, choose an oil-free option. The sun is already causing the oil in your pores to run over, the last thing it needs is sunscreen containing even more oil to clog your pores. Instead, look for sunscreens that are water-based; this will keep your skin hydrated and protected without clogging pores.

Finally, apply sunscreen every day, even if you don’t think you’ll be outside for long. It’s easy to lose track of time and end up spending more time outside than expected, and that’s how sunburns happen. Sunburn causes irritation and inflammation, which in turn cause acne, and it’s best to avoid it if at all possible.

Tip #2— Makeup: Avoid clogged pores with sheer, oil-free products.

We want to clarify: makeup itself does not cause acne, not in the summer or the winter or any other season. However, in the summer, when your skin is already excreting extra oil and you’re applying sunscreen every day, adding layers of foundation, primer, blush, etc. could potentially clog pores if done incorrectly.

Image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/beautiful-birthday-blur-bouquet-318379/
Caption: If you choose to wear makeup in the summer, make sure it is oil-free and won’t contribute to any clogged pores.

The best way to prevent your makeup from causing an increase in acne is to use oil-free products. Just like with sunscreen, oily makeup just adds to the oil your skin is already producing and increases the likelihood of acne formation. Instead, try using water-based products or products with acne-fighting ingredients included. Some foundations and concealers now contain small amounts of salicylic acid, a great exfoliator for all skin types. Applying this type of makeup in the summer can help cover and treat acne at the same time.

Tip #3— Sweating and Chafing: Look out for acne caused by irritation.

One of the most common misconceptions about summer acne is that it’s caused by sweating. In reality, sweat may actually help reduce acne by killing bacteria with its high salt content. However, even though sweat doesn’t cause acne directly, it does often lead to an increase in a particular type of acne called acne mechanica.

Acne mechanica is often called sports acne, but a more accurate name would be friction acne. Acne mechanica appears when something rubs against the skin, causing irritation and inflammation, which clog pores and create acne. This typically causes body acne in various sports with tight pads or uniforms, but body acne mechanica also very common in the summer. Sweat gets into our clothing and causes chafing, rubbing, and all kinds of acne-causing friction. But how are you supposed to avoid sweating in the summer?

Well, you actually don’t want to avoid sweating in the summer since it’s your body’s main way of keeping from overheating, but you do want to try and prevent that sweat from causing acne mechanica. The best way to do this is to change out of sweaty clothes as soon as you have the chance, allowing your skin to dry slightly before putting on any other clothing. On days where you know you’re going to be sweating all day and won’t have a chance to change or stay dry, make sure to wear loose-fit clothing that doesn’t irritate your skin.

Woman wearing loose pink workout attire.
If you know you’re going to be sweating all day, be sure to wear loose clothing that won’t rub and cause acne mechanica.

Tip #4— Exfoliate: Find the right exfoliator for your skin type.

Between sweat, sunscreen, oil, and makeup, our skin can collect all kinds of pore-clogging buildup in the summer, making it absolutely essential to find a good exfoliator for your skin type, whether it be oily, dry, combination, or sensitive.

One of the best exfoliators for oily skin is tea tree oil. Even though tea tree oil is an oil, it doesn’t contribute to oily skin. It actually dissolves the oil in clogged pores, kills p. acnes, and reduces oil production. However, it should never be used undiluted, as it can cause severe irritation or even burns. Instead, dilute it with a non-pore-clogging carrier oil, like jojoba oil.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, dry skin rarely experiences a buildup of oil, even in the summer, but it still needs exfoliated because dry dead skin cells often flake off and get clogged in the pores. The best exfoliator for dry skin is a low concentration of salicylic acid, somewhere between 0.5% and 1%. This low concentration gently removes clogs without stripping the skin of oil completely.

The best way to exfoliate combination skin is to have a few different products on deck, and use whichever ones are most fitting for different areas of the face. If your forehead and nose are almost always very oily while your cheeks are often dry, you could exfoliate using tea tree oil on your forehead and nose and use salicylic acid on your cheeks.

Sensitive skin can be oily, dry, or combination, but its defining feature is how easily it reacts to harsh ingredients. Sulfur is a great exfoliator for sensitive skin because it is a gentle drying agent. It dries out excess oil, but it’s not so harsh that it dries out the skin as well.

Tip #5— Routine: Stick to a consistent acne treatment routine.

For teens and many young adults, summer is time away from school, which means old routines go out the window. This is a good thing when it comes to not having to wake up at 6am for a few months, but it can be a bad thing when it comes to your skin.

A man sleeping in a couch with a blue blanket covering his body.
Even though you might wake up and go to bed at different times in the summer, it’s important to maintain your skin care routine to help prevent acne.

People tend to lump different routines together, so when we stop doing one, we typically stop doing several others. When school is out for the summer and we start waking up later and going to sleep later than before, our morning and nighttime rituals often get forgotten or mixed up, which can be a big problem for acne. When summer vacation approaches, it’s good to make a plan for how you’re going to stick to your acne treatment routine, even when your other routines are being disrupted.

One trick worth a shot is pairing your acne treatment routine with another routine you know you’ll do every night and every morning, no matter what time it is. This could be taking medication, brushing your teeth, or even checking your phone. Just make a mental note, whenever you do one routine, it’s time to do your acne routine as well.

If you find yourself struggling to keep up with any routine enough to pair your acne routine with it, then a reward system might be a better idea. Think of a small but still enticing reward you can give yourself each time you stick to your acne care routine. Maybe you could keep the bathroom stocked with chocolates and give yourself two each time you successfully follow your morning and evening routines. Just make sure the reward follows the routine almost immediately, so your brain properly associates your skin care routine with a tasty chocolate reward.

The Best Summer Acne Treatment

Most of us with acne-prone skin won’t be able to prevent summer acne entirely, so it’s important to know how to treat it. Summer acne is just regular acne that gets worse due to the increased heat and harmful UV rays, so your normal treatment routine should work—unless it never worked all that well in the first place.

Most acne treatments are far too harsh, causing irritation, inflammation, and even increased acne, and this can become an even bigger problem during the summer months, when our skin may already be irritated and inflamed from sunburn. Instead of using an overly harsh acne treatment system, we recommend trying the gentle products in our Basic, Expanded, or Ultimate Kits. All of our products are made using the best scientific and natural ingredients, which combine to make gentle, effective formulas that reduce acne without irritating your skin. We utilize many of the ingredients listed in this article, including tea tree oil, salicylic acid, and sulfur, plus we also use other soothing and powerful ingredients, like aloe vera extract, green tea extract, and benzoyl peroxide.

Exposed Acne kit laid over white background and rose petals.
Exposed acne products are gentle enough to work with your skin, but strong enough to get rid of stubborn summer acne.