How to Prevent Summer Breakouts, According to a Dermatologist

There’s really never a good time to deal with breakouts, but it’s especially frustrating when you’ve got a vacation or wedding on the horizon. At this time of year with the hot (and in some places, humid) temperatures, I find myself Googling “how to prevent summer breakouts” so I can stop them in their tracks.

Sunkissed. Glowing. Natural. When we think of summertime skin, these are the holy grail descriptors. But I bet I’m not the only one whose skin forecast skews more towards “dry with a chance of breakouts,” thanks to the chlorine, UV rays, sweat, and humidity that our skin is exposed to throughout these summer months.

In an effort to find out how to prevent summer breakouts (hopefully before they rear their blackheads), I hit up my skin guru and dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Geddes-Bruce at Westlake Dermatology here in Austin. She came through with the most practical, helpful guide ever for preventing and getting rid of adult acne.

Scroll on for her research-backed advice, and I’d love to hear in the comments what’s worked for you when it comes to keeping skin clear during these hot summer days.

image: kristen kilpatrick

Why do summer breakouts happen?

Heat, sweat, and friction can lead to an increase in breakouts during the hot months. Couple those factors with heavy makeup or occlusive skincare products and you have a recipe for new acne. Also, summertime is a popular time to travel, so we end up exposing our skin to new environments, and we often skip or forget our regular skincare routine.

What ingredients should I be using on my skin in the summer to prevent acne?

For prevention, try switching to lighter coverage makeup and/or a powder-based sunscreen. Avoid heavy moisturizers or oils. And while you may be able to get away with it in the wintertime, don’t skip out on cleansing your face twice daily. If you know you are acne-prone, try adding in a cleanser that contains a low percentage of salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that comes from the bark of willow trees and helps to keep skin clear.

image: kristen kilpatrick

Give us your best preventative morning skincare routine:

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser (try one with a little bit of mechanical exfoliation like a sugar scrub or use a Clarisonic brush if you are acne-prone).
  2. Apply a topical antioxidant containing vitamin C, such as Skinceuticals Phloretin or Revision’s Vitamin C lotion 30% (skip the ones with vitamin E for now as they can be occlusive and lead to more breakouts).
  3. Apply light sunscreen designed for acne-prone skin (such as Elta Clear, which contains the B vitamin, niacinamide) followed by makeup, or apply your makeup first and then finish with a powder sunscreen such as Colorscience Sunforgettable or Supergoop Invincible Setting Powder.

And your best preventative evening skincare routine:

If you’ve spent your day outdoors having fun in the sun, first remove your make-up/sunscreen/dirt/etc. with a gentle cleansing wipe.

  1. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser.
  2. Consider applying an astringent if you are extra oily during the summertime (but be careful not to overdo it and dry out the skin).
  3. Apply a light moisturizer that won’t clog pores, such as one with green tea or even Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer (which contains salicylic acid).

How should I treat acne if I do breakout?

If it’s a minor breakout, you can first try cleansing consistently twice a day, simplifying your skincare regimen, and avoiding heavy or oily makeup or topical products. If that doesn’t work, head to your nearest drugstore to pick up a wash containing salicylic acid (or benzoyl peroxide if you are good about avoiding sun exposure).

If you are spending your days outdoors, avoid products that treat acne, but increase your risk of getting a sunburn. These include benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, and retinoids. Give your new regimen time to work, at least a month, and if that fails, go and see a board-certified dermatologist for help because your acne may have a hormonal component or need a prescription topical medication to get it under control.

photo by kathryn worsham

Any dietary recommendations to encourage clear skin in the summer?

Summer is the best time to load up on fresh fruits and vegetables, which are full of antioxidants that are great for skin health. It’s also a good time to cut back on over-processed sugary starches and red meat, which may be contributing to your breakouts. When you crave a crunchy snack, opt for nuts over chips or crackers. Nuts contain a number of good fats and minerals which also help decrease inflammation and fight acne.

photo by kathryn worsham

When should I see a dermatologist for breakouts?

See your dermatologist if your breakouts aren’t responding to simple over-the-counter treatments, or if they are affecting new areas of the body, are painful, or they’re leaving scars. In-office treatment options include a prescription regimen that’s tailored for your specific skincare needs, a series of chemical peels, extractions, injections into cystic bumps, and even potentially light and laser treatments.

Thanks, Dr. Geddes-Bruce! Follow her on Instagram for more genius skincare tips and tricks.

This post was originally published on July 9, 2020, and has since been updated.



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