How Summer Makes You Break Out More Often (and What to Do)

Most people who have battled acne or pesky pimples here and there know that heat and humidity are no friend to the skin. It’s inevitable that you’re going to sweat more during the summer, but do breakouts have to be inevitable, too? “Different seasons will create different stressors on your skin,” Dendy Engelman, M.D., a dermatologist at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery, says. “In the winter, we reach for thicker creams with humectants to combat dry, chapped and flaky skin, making it more pliable. There is less moisture in the air from the cold, windy weather and therefore our skin loses water faster.”

In the summer, however, our skin is more likely to become hot and bothered and impacted by the sun’s harmful rays. This can lead to a whole slew of skin problems, including burns, breakouts and long-term skin damage. Here the main reasons why summer leads to breakouts.

Warmer weather

“Because the heat opens up blood vessels in the skin, redness and inflammation is increased and can lead to rosacea and acne flares,” Tsippora Shainhouse, M.D., a Beverly Hills, Calif.-based dermatologist says. “It can also cause mild swelling of the skin, which can temporarily block pores and increase the risk of developing new acne lesions.” Heat is also a well-known trigger of rashes all over the body, which can be worsened if you’re an avid exerciser. To prevent these rashes and acne flares, Dr. Shainhouse suggests keeping cool in the summer heat by sitting in the shade, sipping cool drinks, staying hydrated and working out in an air-conditioned space.

The sun’s harmful rays

“While many people claim that their acne dries up in the sun, a sunburn will actually aggravate most skin conditions,” Dr. Shainhouse says. “When you get sunburned, the blood vessels in your skin dilate, bringing inflammatory cells and cytokines to the area to ‘repair’ the skin. This can trigger acne flares for some people.” To prevent this, she recommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 daily and reapply every two to three hours, if you plan on staying outdoors.


Whether your mid-class and dripping beads or you’re on your way home from class and the sweat has dried, both wet and dry sweat can irritate sensitive skin. “Bacteria on the skin can make it even more likely that you will break out, triggering inflammation of the follicles, which can lead to folliculitis or body acne,” says Dr. Shainhouse. To prevent this, she recommends changing out of sweaty workout gear once class is over and showering with an antibacterial or benzoyl-peroxide wash at least once or twice a week. “If you don’t have time to shower, salicylic acid-containing cleansing towelettes, like Neutrogena pink grapefruit Cleansing Wipes ($6, Target) may be your best friend,” Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City, says. “They help remove excess oil and dirt from the skin to keep the pores clear and prevent breakouts.”

Using the wrong sunscreen

You should be applying sunscreen daily, year-round, but especially during the summer, when the sun’s rays are significantly stronger. However, those who are acne-prone should be careful when choosing a sunscreen, as certain brands can clog up pores and lead to breakouts all over the body. Still, this is no reason to skimp out. “Look for lighter, broad-spectrum sunscreens that are labeled as noncomedogenic, which means they won’t lead to breakouts,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Stay away from the heavy, oil-based sunscreens that may be heavy and cause acne.”

Tight hats

“Tight hats cause friction around the forehead that can cause breakouts, and also trap dirt, sweat and oil underneath,” Dr. Zeichner explains. “Still, hats are a must if you are out in the sun, so make sure the ones you wear are clean. Also, try and remember to take them off when you’re out of the sun.” This is a great time to bring out those cleansing wipes to freshen the skin!

Jenn Sinrich is an editor in New York City, a self-proclaimed foodie always looking for the healthier version of all recipes, a passionate lover of all things cheese, a friendly New Yorker, Bostonian at heart and proud Red Sox fan. Love cats? Cheese? Mac n' Cheese? Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.