Earlier this week, we did an awesome study and comprehensive statistic for SPF, where we told you all about how to protect yourself in the sun and revealed the best acne-friendly sunscreens. One thing that was clear from our research and interviews was this: If you have acne, you don’t like sunscreen.
Obviously, that can be chalked up to the fact that most SPFs are greasy and heavy, which causes breakouts to get worse. But thanks to new technology and the onslaught of BB Creams, pore-clogging sunscreens are becoming less and less the norm. The reason many teens don’t protect themselves daily, it seems, is because you’re falling victim to a pretty dangerous myth: You think the sun cures acne.
“I hear it from my patients all the time,” says New York City dermatologist Dr. Julie Rusak. “They go outside in the sun and they say, ‘My acne went down!'” And it’s true—their eyes aren’t deceiving them. “Back in the ’50s, doctors thought the sun and sun lamps actually helped acne since UV rays have antiseptic effects on bacteria,” explains Annet King, global director of education at Dermalogica. (That’s why your mom and grandma might tell you to go lay out instead of sticking to your skin care routine!) So, what’s happened in beauty science since all that time?
“Well, the sun does several things to our skin,” Rusak explains. “But, in this case, you’ll notice that it decreases redness. Since the sun suppresses the immune system, it therefore suppresses the immune cells in acne, which are the cells that create redness.” So the doctors in the ’50s were right, then? The sun is the cure to all acne?
Not so fast. “The redness goes down because you’re decreasing an inflammatory response, but when you decrease that immune reaction, you’re creating a longer-term problem. If the immune system can’t function properly, it also can’t properly fight cancer cells.” And we all know about the sun being a giant cause of skin cancer. “Tanning also produces a pigment, so the skin turns dark. The chances are, you’re basically masking the redness and not treating it.” (Kind of like a concealer—disguising, but not treating it.)
“You have to remember that acne is a genetic skin disorder with four main contributing factors: too many cells being made and blocking the follicles, overactive sebaceous glands and stickier sebum, bacteria issues, and inflammation,” says King. “The sun exposure will also cause dehydration, which in turn stimulates oil production as your skin tries to correct the issue. That, of course, means you will end up with another breakout.”
Either way, taking the cancer risk is a big gamble. Apply your SPF daily and diligently in order to have your (safe!) fun. And if you need some pointers on what to buy and how to do it, we’ve got you covered.