Summer Acne Woes Solved!
Summer is my season. I love everything about it except for one MAJOR drawback, and that is the dreaded and seemingly unavoidable acne that it causes. Before it gets too incredibly hot, which is when my acne woes really skyrocket, I decided to get to the root of the problem with Dr. Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group, partner of Dr. Colbert of Colbert MD. With her tips and product suggestions, I’m hoping to make sweat and heat induced blackheads and bumps a thing of the past.
Beauty Banter: What environmental irritants cause acne flare ups in the summer?
Dr. Jessica Weiser: Heat and humidity trigger increased sweating and sebum production, which leads to accumulation of oil, dirt and debris on the skin surface causing clogged pores. Smog and environmental pollution add dirt and debris to the skin surface as well.
BB: What treatments do you recommend for congested skin?
JW: Congested skin or comedonal acne typically presents as small bumps under the skin surface or as blackheads. They are best treated with twice weekly gentle exfoliation to increase skin turnover and remove excess dead skin cells, in conjunction with a retinol to gently refresh surface cells, unclog pores, and prevent further congestion. Also, using a cleanser containing salicylic acid can help gently break down dead skin cells from the skin surface to help reduce this pore congestion.
Colbert MD Intensify Facial Discs ($64) two to three times a week
Skinceuticals Retinol 0.5 ($57) at bedtime OR RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream ($23)
Clarisonic Acne Daily Clarifying Cleanser ($27)
BB: What if my acne is hormonal?
JW: Inflammatory acne consists of pink bumps and sometimes pus-filled pimples on the skin surface caused by overgrowth of Propionobacterium acnes (P. acnes). This bacteria is present on all skin surfaces but feeds off of dead skin cells and sebum which are abundant in acne prone skin. The key here is to use antibacterial and anti-inflammatory products in addition to reducing oil gland production with retinol-type products.
BB: Could my SPF be causing breakouts?
JW: Some skin types are very sensitive to active ingredients in sunscreens. It is important to stick to products that are non-comedogenic or those that will not clog pores. The phrase “oil-free” can often be misleading because some occlusive ingredients like lanolin are not specifically called oils, but can still trigger acne flares. In general, the best SPF for acne prone skin is a zinc oxide based product. In addition to providing broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection and causing minimal to no irritation, zinc oxide also has some antimicrobial properties and may diminish bacterial counts on the skin to help improve acne.
BB: Acne tends to victimize various areas of the body during the summer. Can you use the same products on face and body?
JW: Yes, absolutely. Many patients complain of body acne in the summer as a result of heat and sweat trapped against the skin by bathing suits, clothing, and exercise wear. It is crucial to remove sweaty clothes immediately and shower to prevent the oils and debris from staying on skin and causing irritation and acne. Cleansers used for facial acne can certainly be used on the body as well. Be cautious of sensitive skin areas like the chest because they may be more prone to dryness and irritation, especially if new to a treatment product.
BB: Many products seem harsh in order to be effective. Is it possible that this could only make acne worse?
JW: The key with acne treatment is controlling the breakouts using a few gentle products to improve skin turnover and reduce bacteria and inflammation, lightweight retinols to reduce sebum production and improve skin renewal, and if needed prescription strength medication for more severe outbreaks. Scrubbing the skin is not advisable for acne prone patients because this aggressive procedure is causing undue irritation to the skin, which triggers redness and swelling and can exacerbate acne breakouts. It is equally important to use a lightweight moisturizer on the skin surface to avoid over-drying. When the skin becomes dry this causes irritation and can even conversely trigger increased oil gland production to compensate, which only worsens acne.
BB: When are prescription products necessary versus over-the-counter options?
JW: For mild acne flares, it is ok to start with over-the-counter products if your acne is transient, easily controlled at home and not leaving you any scarring. When breakouts start to leave discoloration or any other type of scarring it is important to seek medical consultation from a board-certified dermatologist who can guide you through an appropriate acne treatment regimen and help you prevent potentially permanent scars. For acne that develops very suddenly or in conjunction with other hormonal irregularities, seek medical advice immediately as this may be a sign of an internal problem that may be easily treated by a doctor. Prescription strength treatments can be used on an as needed basis or daily depending on the severity of the acne.
Thanks to Dr. Weiser, I have already tossed my harsh facial scrub to avoid further aggrevation. I also realized my sunscreen contained an irritant, so swapped it out for her suggestion with zinc. I’m ready for you, summer irritants! Nothing will be coming in between me and my clear skin… except some sweat, possibly.
-Casey Sharbaugh is the blogger behind www.comfortablycasey.com