As someone who has struggled on and off with acne, I’m always looking for possible culprits and cures. I’ve written about the importance of wearing sunscreen enough that I wear it (pretty much) every day. I spend a good chunk of the year in Israel, though, and there have certainly been times when I haven’t re-applied as much as necessary. I’ve noticed that my skin seems to look better when it’s exposed to the sun, so I wondered if the rays can actually improve acne and if so, whether or not that benefit is influenced by the use of UVA/UVB protection. To find out, I turned to famed NYC dermatologist, host of DermTV.com, and creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz, Dr. Neal Schultz.
Can the sun actually help treat acne?
Yes, it can. Sunlight is a source of Ultraviolet (UV) light, which through a cascade of different chemical reactions in the skin, can kill the bacteria (Propionibacterium) that contributes to inflammatory acne (red pimples, pus pimples, and cysts). Also, mild sunburn causes mild exfoliation (which is why I give patients glycolic for their acne!), and that’s helpful for all acne – inflammatory and non-inflammatory (aka comedones: blackheads and milia). UV/sun therapy obviously is no longer recommended because of what we now know about the deleterious effects of UV (from all sources including tanning beds) in causing skin cancer and premature photo-aging of the skin, though.
So wearing SPF impedes acne getting better because of the sun?
Yes. Effective use of sunscreen prevents sunburn and the UV from getting into the skin. Even if the sun didn’t help acne, after exposure, both mild sunburn and subsequent tanning help to hide the discoloration of most acne lesions, making them appear less conspicuous.
What does that mean for us? It means that while the sun can, in fact, make acne better, it’s not worth risking skin cancer or premature aging…and trust me, as someone who personally deals with the issue, I know it’s tempting!!! A friend recently had a cancerous mole removed, which just served as a reminder that we’re – literally – one very bad sunburn away from skin cancer (and a $12,000 doctor bill…).