Up until about three weeks ago, I was spared by the skin care gods as I never had reoccurring acne. Sure, I sometimes wake up with a zit or redness, but fortunately it’s usually gone by dinner time. I credit my usually clear skin to my regular sunscreen use and obscene (120 ounces) daily water intake. But, all that changed when I started taking zumba and HIIT classes outside and deemed the community pool as my ideal work-from-home location. The mixture of sweat, tight clothing, and forgetting to reapply sun protection throughout the day left my back riddled with pesky pimples. And worse, I developed chest acne that extended to my bra line. The timing couldn’t have been worse as I had been looking forward to wearing summer clothing and frequenting recently opened businesses.
As it turns out, I’m not the only one to experience more body acne during the summer. “Excessive heat, humidity and sweating contributes to the acne cascade by clogging our pores, leading to inflammation and breakouts,” says Dr. Fatima Fahs, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dermy Doc Box. “This tends to be the worst on the back, chest and even buttocks.”
If, like me, you tend to do okay during the colder months but then break out during the summer, read on for dermatologist-approved tips and tricks on how to manage summer acne and prevent it altogether.
Why Sweat & Heat Can Make You Break Out More
Shocking to no one, we tend to sweat more in the summer. The sweat itself doesn’t create acne but instead contributes to the clogging of pores. “Sweat, oil, and debris, when left on skin, can clog pores and become ‘food’ for acne-causing bacteria to flare up,” says Dr. Jenny Liu, FAAD. Instead of focusing on not sweating (remember, it’s your body regulating its temperature and is actually a good thing), focus on optimizing your routine to reduce the chance of breaking out.
As tempting as it may be to lounge around or run errands post workout, you should always shower after any physical activity to prevent the bacteria buildup that could cause acne. According to Dr. Fahs, “the clothing you’re wearing, timing of your shower or the body products you’re applying onto your skin,” all factor into the acne that could ensue.
Post workout, you might also find yourself flushed and red. Dr. Orit Markowitz, New York based dermatologist and founder of OptiSkin, recommends carrying around a small, cold insulated pack to house a moisturizer and sunscreen. “Oftentimes, flare-ups and flushed skin after working out is due to overheating,” Dr. Markowitz shares. “Post workout, you should rinse your face and apply a cold moisturizer and even a cold sunscreen over that to keep things less overheated on your face, which will in turn prevent flushing and acne.”
How To Treat Summer Body Acne
So, if you find yourself with increased body acne this time of year, how exactly should you go about treating it? Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, MD, cosmetic dermatologist and founder of PFRANKMD, recommends using a chemical exfoliating product that contains AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) a few times a week. You can also spot treat with a salicylic acid (a type of BHA) or benzoyl peroxide to increase cell turnover, dissolve trapped sebum, and heal existing breakouts.
It’s important to use moisturizer after any type of exfoliating product in order to restore the hydration in your skin. Dr. Markowitz notes that “oftentimes the ingredients you’re using to manage the acne tend to dry out the skin” and that “the goal is to manage the inflammatory process that’s leading to your acne, so moisturizing is crucial.” If your skin is too dry, it will become inflamed and prompt it to produce more oil, which in turn can lead to more clogged pores and therefore increased breakouts. So, while it’s tempting to be super aggressive with lots of acne-fighting products and ingredients, don’t skip the moisturizer and SPF at the end of your routine.
If you have a particularly aggressive zit that refuses to go away, Dr. Liu suggests seeing a dermatologist for steroid injections, like cortisol, to shrink the pimple (but your provider will be able to tell you if that’s the best course of action).
A Summer Body Care Routine To Minimize Acne
Because acne (specifically common acne) develops when pores get clogged with oil, it’s important to adapt a summer routine that minimizes excess oil and prioritizes skin turnover. Dr. Fahs encourages her patients to use a non-comedogenic and lightweight moisturizer as well as an oil-free sunscreen. She also emphasizes the risks of over-exfoliation. “Don’t over cleanse or feel the need to use harsh scrubs and strong ingredients. Over cleansing can lead to irritation, which can make breakouts worse.”
It’s also important to consider the clothing you are wearing. While dermatologists recommend looser fitting options instead of tight clothing to avoid friction-induced acne (known as acne-mechanica), it’s also best to invest in ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) clothing if you’re spending a lot of time outside — sun exposure can exacerbate hyperpigmentation caused by acne and lead to more extensive dark spots on your skin.
“Clothing, depending on the weave, will impact the amount of sun we are exposed to, and if the weave is open and light, you’re actually not protected at all,” Dr. Markowitz tells TZR. Translation: even if you are wearing clothing, it will not protect you from the sun. But certain densely woven fabrics, like unbleached cotton, will not only guard against UV damage but are also breathable, which will minimize sweating and prevent that buildup of acne-causing bacteria. It’s a win-win for preventing body acne in the summer.
In addition, don’t skip out on washing your hair. “The oil from our hair has a tendency to contribute to breakouts on the forehead and upper back,” Dr. Fahs states. “Make sure to be consistent with washing your hair, especially if sweaty, and avoid using occlusive conditioners and leave-in products on the hair if you are going to let your hair air dry while touching the skin of your back, as sometimes [these] products can contribute to acne worsening.”
Ultimately, to stay ahead of body acne and breakouts, opt for a “daily acne wash containing salicylic acid to help clean pores,” Dr. Frank says. “Follow with an oil-free moisturizer, and if skin needs a boost of hydration, add a hyaluronic serum.” The salicylic acid wash will help exfoliate the skin and remove dead, trapped cells from the pores. Dr. Fahs also suggests using a benzoyl peroxide wash in the shower, especially after workouts. “Benzoyl peroxide will remove surface bacteria on the skin that often leads to acne breakouts, while reducing inflammatory acne,” she says.
If you plan on being outdoors this summer (hello yes) and are prone to body acne, using preventative measures like these consistently, rather than just treating breakouts when they appear, can help you achieve clear skin all over your body.
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