Does Tanning Actually Help Clear Up Acne?

Sunbathing girl

Acne is the most common skin disorder in the U.S., affecting 40 to 50 million Americans every year. As a nation, we spend billions on acne treatments annually. And when creams, facials, peels, spot treatments, masks and even prescriptions fail, we are tempted to try just about anything.

So of course, when we hear the often-repeated notion that a little tanning can fix the problem, our instinct is to run outside and start soaking up some serious rays. But the sun doesn’t actually clear your skin — what you’re seeing is the tan darkening the skin around pimples, thus making them stand out less. Sorry, just an illusion, folks.

In addition, UV rays damage the skin, weakening the natural barrier and causing it to lose moisture. While at first this means your oily zones dry up, your skin tries to fix this by producing more and more of its own oils. So instead of preventing or lessening breakouts, sun exposure worsens the root of the problem. “It leads to overproduction by and overgrowth of sebaceous glands,” explains dermatologist Doris Day, “and can make blackheads more likely to occur.”

As if that’s not bad enough, the sunlight causes inflammation, which can cause hyperpigmentation, or darkening, of already existing acne scars. Plus, many of the chemicals (such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid) in zit-busting creams make your skin more sensitive and vulnerable to UV-related aging and damage.

Instead, Dr. Day emphasizes the need to protect skin from the sun every single day, even when it’s cloudy outside. No matter how broken out your skin is, you still need sunscreen. Choose a moisturizer with SPF made specifically for sensitive, acne-prone skin to protect skin without causing more irritation or breakouts.

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