You are so not alone in this. In thinking does sun help acne? A study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found 12% of doctors and 20% of nurses believe sun exposure helps get rid of acne.
If sunlight can truly help clear skin, it’s the best acne treatment ever eh.
Prescription – go sun your beautiful bod on a beach for 2 weeks. Yes, please.
(And with sunscreen of course ;))
Almost every does sun help acne article you read online is telling you – no – do not expose your skin willingly to sunlight. It will break your skin. Does not clear acne. Can cause you skin cancer and may therefore eventually kill you.
It’s super scary.
I’m about to share something different with you. A balanced, scientific opinion on does sun help acne.
And yes, I’m also going to tell you my expert, final bottom-line answer.
It’s going to surprise you.
Because sneak peek – sunlight can help acne. And not in ways that will wreck your skin.
Ready to find out how? Let’s get going shall we 🙂
Does Sun Help Acne?
Does the sun clear acne? Can sunlight help acne? Is sun good for acne?
Yes, yes, yes my friend.
And also no, no, no.
Just like any well thought through relationship decision 😉 sun + acne has a pros and cons list.
You must be aware of all these facts before making a decision.
Otherwise, once the honeymoon stage is over, real life could be hitting your skin hard.
Are you ready for this? Here’s the exciting bit.
There are 5 key ways sun is good for acne.
#1 Sunlight can kill off acne bacteria
Imagine a comic book sketch as the heroine’s getting out her pow, pow, pow rays. This is what beautiful sunshine can do to the acne bacteria living on your skin.
It’s a silent war and the simplest approach to healing acne.
Heck, it works.
However alone it’s not a long-term solution. More about this soon.
#2 Sunlight can help prevent red, angry acne breakouts
Take a peek at this quote I’ve lifted from a published science study;
Sunlight has a very potent regulatory effect on the skin with doses as low as one third of what is required to cause barely detectable sunburn being sufficient to damage DNA and the immune system.Nucleic Acids Res. 2003 Aug 15; 31(16): 4779–4790.
Don’t worry if this all sounds incredibly science gooky. You’ve got me 🙂
The essence of this study conclusion is – sunlight can have a huge impact on your skin and therefore your acne. If you’ve seen your cystic acne reduce on exposure to sun this is the reason why. Because sunlight is what’s called an immune suppressant.
Remember how that study quote mentions it ‘damages’ your skin’s immune system?
If you imagine your skin’s immune system like a battery life bar on a video game/the sims – sunlight makes it run down faster.
It zaps your skin’s immune energy like you locked your sim in a room and they can’t lay down to sleep.
When your skin’s immune function is suppressed your skin isn’t reacting to acne bacteria like it usually does. If you think of every cystic acne breakout you’ve ever had as an infection, what you see as red, angry, painful breakouts is actually your skin’s immune function rushing to the rescue.
And as it ambulances in, the aim is to isolate and expel your skin infection. To do this your skin’s immune system makes a ‘volcano’ that’s ripe for explosion aka a cystic acne lesion. Your skin’s basically trying to pick itself.
Sunlight is like a police barricade on your immune system’s motorway. It stops volcanic cystic acne (I’ve been there!) from being born.
#3 The sun can help balance sebum production
Does sun help acne? Ooo yes it can. This one’s a goodie. A healthy way sun can help clear acne.
Notice I say balance sebum production here vs. drying your skin out.
Sunlight triggers your skin to make vitamin D – which is actually a hormone – how neat is that eh.
Vitamin D is intimately involved in sebum production and if your skin’s making too much sebum – which psst – can cause acne, then the right amount of sun exposure could help.
Lookee at this;
Vitamin D seems to inhibit sebocyte proliferation, differentiation, and sebum secretion, all of which are key factors in the production of sebum.Dermatoendocrinol. 2014 Jan-Dec; 6(1): e983687
Human translation – vitamin D can suppress sebum production aka turn down its volume level. Too much sebum/unbalanced sebum is a key cause of acne.
Psst – you can also get vitamin D from food. Be sure to download your copy of my free acne diet cheatsheet by clicking here.
#4 Sun exposure can dry out your skin
Evaporating away hydration like your skin was a puddle of water on a hot day and using up your skin oils to help compensate. Less oily skin can temporarily mean you get fewer spots. But this one’s not good long-term.
Long term it means increased breakouts (more about this soon).
#5 Sunlight can slow your skin cell growth
This means sun can help clear acne because it may help prevent something called hyperkeratosis aka skin thickening.
As you have acne right now you have hyperkeratosis – it’s something I explain in detail to every one of my acne warriors inside the Acne Clinic – plus how to get rid of it.
Skin thickening is bad because it makes your pores prone to clogging.
Clogging = breakouts.
The science bit;
Exposure of the skin to UV light leads to apoptosis of keratinocytes and, upon chronic treatment, to epidermal hyperplasia, detected as thickening of the epidermis.Mol Cell Biol. 2006 Nov; 26(22): 8515–8526.
Apoptosis means death and you can think of keratinocytes as skin cells. Therefore all this quote’s saying is UV light kills skin cells. But before UV light kills off skin cells it first slows their growth.
Another in-real-life example of ‘the dose makes the posion’.
But – important (!) – did you see the second bit of that quote I’ve lifted?
On chronic exposure aka a long-term love affair with the sun – UV light actually thickens skin. Not good for your acne.
Does Sunlight Help Acne?
It’s not clear cut eh. There are definitely ways sun exposure can help clear acne. And there are also ways the sun can make acne worse.
Psst here’s a super quick summary of all the ways sunlight can help acne;
- Kills off acne bacteria
- Reduces red angry breakouts by suppressing skin’s immune function
- Increases levels of vitamin D – a hormone which regulates and can reduce sebum production – psst diet is also really important for this
- Dries out skin – this one’s not good
- Short term, can help prevent pore clogging by slowing your skin cell metabolism
Coming up this month I have part 2 of does sun help acne. Where I’m also explaining why drying out your skin courtesy of the sun is not a good thing long-term. Plus you’re getting my bottom line, scientific opinion. I’ll be linking this article here as it goes live.
So what do you think so far my friend? Does sun help acne? What’s your takeaway from today? Let me know in the comments below. And will you use that big green sharing button to pass this on to a friend you care about? You are awesomesauce 🙂
Cheryl Woodman is a scientist & award winning skincare formulator who’s more friend next door than bow tie wearing professor. As creator of Honesty For Your Skin her aim is to help you care for your skin in the best ways possible. She’s founder of the natural & fragrance free skincare brand Honesty while also hosting 1 to 1 skincare coaching to help you get your best skin yet. Find out more here.