Can the sun make my acne worse?

Can the sun make my acne worse?

I hope you all enjoyed the sunny bank holiday in London. One question I often get asked in clinic is whether the sun is good for acne. Well, let’s have a closer look!

Most acne sufferers will actually report an improvement of their condition when they are in the sun, for example on holiday. The reason for this is that the sun’s UV light offers mild anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.

However, while acne breakouts tend to improve during the holiday (unless you use the wrong sun protection creams of course, but more about that in a minute…), there is often a rude awakening after returning home, when acne sufferers often experience a flare-up.

The reason for the common post-holiday acne flare-up is that our skin defends itself against the harmful effects of the sun by thickening its outer layer, the stratum corneum (AKA horny layer, which is one of the skin’s natural protection mechanisms against sun damage). A thicker stratum corneum however means more pore clogging and thus (with a little delay…) an acne flare-up. Remember – every single spot and pimple starts with a clogged pore (ie comedone or the invisible micro-comedone). So while most acne sufferers initially get better in the sun, medium to long-term, the acne gets worse after sun exposure.

And then there are of course those unlucky individuals, whose breakouts already flare up during the holiday! That could be caused by two possible reasons:

1.) Your sun creams caused your acne to flare up.

Unfortunately many sun protection creams are pore-clogging (even though they may say ‘non-comedogenic…). That’s why it’s very important for acne sufferers to choose their sun protection products wisely. While in the past, most sun creams came with a rather greasy consistency (remember those sticky sand magnets?), today there are advanced, high SPF sun protection products available that have a lovely, lightweight base formulation and will not aggravate your acne. You can find my favourite ones on

2.) You think you suffer with acne, but it’s actually rosacea (rosacea skin doesn’t like the sun at all and typically flares up when exposure to the sun)! Best to and see your dermatologist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment with anti-inflammatory prescription creams.

All of the above things are very common and I am sure many of us have experienced these effects during or after sun exposure. However, in addition to these ‘immediate’ changes, there also the possibility of chronic changes with comedones (ie blackheads and whiteheads) to arise after long-term excessive sun exposure, ie cumulative sun damage acquired over decades of excess sun. These so-called ‘solar comedones’ can be seen in older individuals suffering with so-called ‘Favre-Racouchot syndrome’.

Favre-Racouchot syndrome is characterised by a combination of:

i) lots of solar open comedones (ie solar blackheads), often on the sides of the cheeks and the temples
ii) white-ish looking pseudo-cysts and
iii) solar elastosis (this term describes chronic sun damage of the skin, with a characteristically thickened, leathery appearance, a yellow hue and deep lines and furrows)

Favre-Racouchot syndrome may for example occur in older invididiuals who have worked outdoors.

So, in summary, I do not endorse using sun exposure to improve acne, as it will haunt you later (not to speak of chronic problems including premature skin ageing and increasing your risk of skin cancer…). Better to see a dermatologist to get your breakouts treated properly…

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