The Doctor Reminds You, Sun Is Not An Acne Remedy
It’s a good time to review a common misconception about the sun and acne. Despite all that is known about the dangers of UV radiation, the idea that sun exposure is an effective way clear acne persists.
It’s easy to think that solar radiation and salt water kill the bacteria that causes acne, that radiation will essentially bake acne lesions into oblivion, or that a tan can help to disguise the appearance of acne scars. There is circumstantial evidence to support these ideas. But on closer examination, you’ll find that while you may see some initial improvement, you are more likely to worsen your acne and create long-term damage to the skin.
The ultraviolet radiation (from the sun or artificial sources, like tanning beds) dilates tiny blood vessels close to the surface of the skin causing inflammation. Inflammation creates oxidative stress in the sebum follicle, which then boosts the proliferation of keratinocytes, dead skin cells. This keratolytic over-abundance is what leads to the clogged pores that allow acne bacteria to thrive.
It is true that the skin initially dries out when exposed to the sun Your skin’s oil may seem to be stripped away by the sun and salt water, but this is only temporary. The follicles will quickly replace the oil as part of skin’s natural balancing act.
As UV exposure adds fuel to acne’s hyperkeratinization fire, you’re increasing the risk of clogged pores and new impactions.
As a reaction to the insult of radiation, the skin’s cells produce more pigment, aka a tan. The tan may temporarily cover up the acne and make flare-ups less visible, however, if you already have acne scars, this will make them appear darker and take longer to fade. Darker skin tones are more at risk for hyperpigmentation related to sun exposure.
In addition to potentially exacerbating breakouts and worsening scarring, all that UV radiation sets loose a cascade of free radicals that accelerate aging and damage DNA in ways that can lead to skin cancer.
So, while sunlight can increase cellular turnover and temporarily make blemishes less visible, it’s a poor trade-off for the adverse effects it brings. It’s far better to speed cell turnover and clear acne impactions with vitamin A therapy and AHAs, and kill acne bacteria with mandelic acid and benzoyl peroxide.
And instead of inviting UV damage, it’s vitally important to protect skin from the sun every day, even on cloudy days (clouds don’t block UV). Use at least SPF 15, even if you’re just going to the store. If you’re going to be out for the day, reapply every hour, or immediately after swimming or activity that causes sweating.
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