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Sun Exposure Is Good for Acne: Fact or Fiction?

Everything you need to know about acne and its complicated relationship with the sun.

1. Can the sun help acne?

2. Can the sun cause acne?

    a. Does the sun cause acne scars?

3. How can you protect your acne-prone skin from sun exposure?


If you’ve experienced any kind of skin disease or disorder, you know that the effects are more than just skin deep. Research highlights a distinct link between mental health and skin problems, and most of us have encountered acne in varying degrees. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, more than 80% of Canadians between the ages of 12 and 24 experience some form of acne, and adult acne is on the rise. The association states that 20% to 30% of adults (ages 20 to 40) suffer from regular acne breakouts.

Since the majority of us have been affected by this skin condition at some point, it tends to spark a lot of opinions—and misinformation. There’s no shortage of advice on what can cause—and cure—acne, but with all the chatter surrounding it, it’s important to break through the noise and get the facts straight. One of the most notable (and dangerous) beliefs is that sun exposure can help improve acne. To settle this matter, we spoke with Dr. Nour Dayeh, medical development expert at Vichy Laboratoires, Canada.

1. Can the sun help acne?

Many acne sufferers don’t protect themselves daily from sun exposure because they’ve fallen victim to a pretty dangerous myth: thinking that the sun cures acne. Maybe you noticed on a beach vacation that your complexion started to become a little clearer a few days in. Does this mean sun exposure is good for acne? No, it doesn’t. Let’s cut to the chase: There is quite simply no valid excuse for not wearing sunscreen every day.

Sure, basking in warm rays feels great and can leave your skin with a lovely sun-kissed colour. And at first glance, it may seem like sun exposure will help clear your skin because blemishes are starting to dry out…but not so fast! A tan, any tan, is proof of sun damage, and you’re basically masking the redness of acne and not actually treating it.

This myth of sun curing acne runs deep. In the ’50s, doctors thought the sun and sun lamps actually helped acne since UV rays have antiseptic effects on bacteria. Now, we know better: Without any sun protection, UV rays can damage the skin in as little as 15 minutes.

Phototherapy, however, is a kind of light therapy being used today to treat acne. Phototherapy treatments can range from gentle and virtually no-risk to aggressive (expect downtime), and the specific benefits vary widely too. The use of different waves of light—such as blue—from LEDs, which emit non-thermal (heatless) wavelengths of visible light, has been proven to help treat acne. Blue light helps destroy p.acne, a strain of bacteria that spreads acne. However, LED technology is completely UV-free, which means that sun exposure has no connection to improving acne.

2. Can the sun cause acne?

In short, yes! The truth is, sun exposure will increase inflammation and redness, and it causes the skin to dry out. If you have oily skin, you may see this reduction of sebum production as a good thing, but it’s only a temporary effect. We (falsely) praise the sun for acne relief because at first, sun exposure slows down sebum production and dries out acne and pimples. But the dehydration caused by the sun will soon lead to an overproduction of sebum. This disrupts the natural process by which dead skin cells are shed and prevents the draining of sebum from pores. This results in the appearance of comedones, which can lead to a major breakout.

a. Does the sun cause acne scars?

Dr. Nour Dayeh

Acne-treatment products that contain active ingredients like salicylic acid and retinol can make the skin more sensitive to UV rays, so sunscreen is already an important step if you are dealing with pimples. Acne scarring (due to squeezing pimples) and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (trauma to the skin not linked to the follicle) can occur after a breakout. Exposing those areas to UV rays, without sun protection, will cause acne scars to look worse and contribute to a higher risk of permanent damage. “Keep in mind that acne is a form of inflammation,” says Dayeh . “Sun exposure and inflammation prolong the recovery of post-inflammatory erythema and hyperpigmentation.” She adds that red spots turn darker even on fair complexions, but especially on dark skin. Make sure you add SPF 30 (or higher) to your daily beauty routine to protect your skin from cancer, wrinkles and scarring.

3. How can you protect your acne-prone skin from sun exposure?

If you have acne, you probably don’t like sunscreen. Chalk this up to the fact that the wrong sun-care products for your skin type can make breakouts worse. “Look for a formulation specifically designed for acne-prone skin to limit occlusion and provide a mattifying effect,” says Dayeh . Thanks to Vichy’s advancements in formulations, you won’t have trouble finding the best sun protection products for oily and acne-prone skin.

The best face sunscreen for oily skin

If you’ve spent years dealing with greasy, heavy and suffocating formulas, Vichy Idéal Soleil Dry Touch SPF 60 Lotion is going to be a game-changer. Specifically formulated to help meet the needs of those with oily to combination skin, it has a lightweight, dry-touch texture that mattifies skin and provides a water-resistant finish. It’s the best sunscreen for acne-prone and oily skin; use it every morning to keep shine in check and your skin protected from the damaging effects of the sun.

The best body sunscreen for oily skin

If you have acne-prone skin beyond your face, help minimize your risk of a breakout with a lightweight, oil-free and non-comedogenic formula. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that’s SPF 30 or above, as recommended by the Canadian Dermatology Association. Vichy Idéal Soleil Dry Touch Body SPF 50+ does all these things, plus it’s fragrance-free, absorbs quickly and leaves no residue.

The best sunscreen for sports

As the saying goes, if you’re not sweating, you’re not working out hard enough. But perspiration and sunscreen don’t always mix. Formulas that are not designed for sports can streak when combined with sweat—or, worse, wear off and not give you adequate coverage. When you’re looking for a good sports sunscreen formula, choose one that’s oil-free, water-resistant, fragrance-free and comes in a lotion rather than a spray or stick. A lotion-type sunscreen is the easiest way to achieve good overall coverage.

One of the best sunscreen lotions for being active outside is Vichy Idéal Soleil Sport Ultra-Light Refreshing Lotion SPF 60. It uses Mexoryl technology and other sun filters to provide broad-spectrum protection and provides 80 minutes of water and sweat resistance. Plus, it has a slight cooling effect when applied and absorbs quickly.


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