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Does Sunscreen Help with Acne?

Sofia Giussani
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Sofia Giussani
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Pimples are one of those things that most of us experience at some point in our lives. Some people might have an occasional pimple here or there,while others develop full-on acne where the skin becomes very red, inflamed, and painful. No matter the level of breakouts you have, pimples suck. They hurt, they’re embarrassing, and they can be quite distressing, ultimately taking a toll on our self-esteem.

Sadly, our culture places a lot of importance on beauty and image. Social media increases pressure to have the perfect body, trendiest clothes, best makeup and hairstyles, lots of friends, and exciting adventures. Everything appears to be perfect all of the time on social media. Let’s face it, though, perfection is not realistic, nor is it achievable. But to many people struggling with acne, seeing images of people seemingly pimple-free and beautiful on the internet can be traumatizing.

Obviously, people mostly only post pictures when they are looking their best, doing fun things, and being “cool” or “bougie”. Oh, I forgot to mention that those pictures peppered all over the internet have been edited to ensure every aspect of their appearance is “perfect” to put out there, thanks to technology. People always use filters to make themselves look better online, whether they care to admit it or not.

Until such time that we can filter our flaws in real life, we have to suck it up and put on our best face and head out into the world with what we’ve been given, pimples and all. Because first impressions matter, people suffering from acne and problem skin can struggle socially. After all, our faces are the first thing people see when we meet. And if you have one big pimple smack dab in the middle of your forehead or a cluster of pimples on your cheeks, you feel like that’s the only thing people see when they meet you. It seems their eyes are drawn immediately to and glued to the blemishes on your face. And kids, in particular, can be mean and say hurtful things to people with acne. Many people mistakenly think you have acne because you don’t wash your face and eat too much candy or junk food. They are just uninformed and rude, to be honest. But you are left with hurt feelings and a bruised ego. Understandably, this feeling is natural, and it’s upsetting, degrading, and gets old fast.

Why Do We Get Pimples?

Let’s understand a little bit about why we get pimples and how to care for them. Simply stated, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, “acne develops when clogged pores are formed by excess oil, dead skin cells or bacteria.”1 The skin becomes red and inflamed and ultimately blemishes develop. Other factors that lead to acne prone skin are excessive stress, too many greasy foods, lack of sleep, and oily skin, makeup, or hair products. But primarily, if one or both of your parents or grandparents had acne prone skin, you are more inclined to develop it also.

Difference Between Acne and Pimples

There are varying degrees and types of acne, but for the purpose of this article, we will speak in general terms. “The difference between acne and pimples is that acne is a disease, and pimples are one of its symptoms. Acne is a condition affecting the skin’s hair follicles and oil glands. Under your skin, your pores are connected to glands that make an oily substance known as
sebum. The glands and pores are connected by a canal known as a follicle that has a thin hair that grows out to the skin’s surface.



When sebum and dead skin cells clump together, they form a plug in the follicle. Bacteria in the plug causes inflammation, leading to red pimples in acne.”2 So whether you have one pimple or 100, it’s all acne. And everyone’s skin has different tones and textures, so some people will just be more prone to acne because naturally, their skin is more oily.

Fortunately, nowadays, there are great products available over the counter and/or with a prescription from a licensed dermatologist to treat acne and problem skin. When we have pimples, we are hesitant to use moisturizer or sunscreen for our face when we are having a breakout for fear it’s going to add to the oiliness and, ultimately, more pimples. But this is not necessarily the case.

Additionally, it is a misconception that direct sun exposure will dry out your pimples and clear up acne. While it might appear to have cleared up or faded some of your acne because you are slightly tan and the redness seems to have faded, this result is temporary, and actually, quite the opposite effect will evolve. The sun’s UV rays cause sun damage to the skin’s natural barrier, causing acne to dry up. When acne dries up, the body responds by producing more oil, and ultimately more breakouts occur. That’s why it’s important to establish a simple, effective, daily skincare routine to maintain a healthy, neutral, and balanced complexion. This will ultimately prevent your body from damaging responses to sunlight, ie. more breakouts.

What Should Your Skincare Routine Look like for Acne

A proper skincare routine for acne-prone people should start with washing your face with a gentle, cleanser twice daily. Apply acne serum as directed, then a moisturizer. Lastly, apply an oil-free, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15, preferably 30.

Many people with acne don’t know how spf works or think wearing sunscreen everyday is going to irritate their acne and cause more pimples. And sometimes this may be true, but it’s usually when a chemical sunscreen is used instead of a mineral sunscreen. The moisturizer will create a barrier between the sunscreen and your skin, reducing potential irritation.

In choosing a sunscreen that’s best for acne-prone skin, look for the following:

Broad-spectrum - blocks UVA, UVB, and blue light rays

Non-comedogenic - won’t clog pores or cause more pimples

Lightweight, oil-free, non-greasy

SPF 15 minimum; AAD recommends 30 or higher3

Ingredients that calm and soothe - zinc oxide to reduce redness and inflammation or niacinamide to reduce inflammation

Clear mineral based

Mineral vs Chemical Sunscreens

The reason mineral-based sunscreen is better for people with acne is because of how the ingredients work on your skin. Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge and absorb the sun’s rays. The chemicals enter into the skin and react accordingly to dissipate or filter out the harmful UV rays. People like it because it rubs on easily and invisibly, but the chemicals can be irritating to people with sensitive skin.

Mineral sunscreens (also called physical sunscreen) sit on top of the skin and literally act like a shield blocking out the rays from hitting the surface of your skin. Mineral sunscreens can be a little thicker due to the ingredients of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, making them a little more difficult to rub in completely.

Remember when we were kids, and our moms covered our faces with white zinc oxide when we went to the beach or swimming. We looked ridiculous walking around sporting white cream on our faces. So sunscreen manufacturers made it a little more interesting and introduced zinc oxide in colors. I mean, if you’re going to have to wear the stuff, you might as well have a little fun with it. Thankfully, they’ve made even more strides over the years in mineral sunscreens, and they are now available in a clear formula, so you can show off that pretty face and still protect it from sun damage.

It’s important to note that both mineral and chemical sunscreens are safe to use, according to the Food and Drug Administration who regulates sunscreens. The chemicals do get absorbed into your body, so if this concerns you, opt for a mineral sunscreen. It’s more important that you wear broad-spectrum SPF 15 or higher sunscreen that agrees with your skin than to be concerned with what type you are using.

While the benefits of sunscreen won’t get rid of your acne and give you a clear complexion, it will prevent further damage and irritation to your skin. UV and blue light exposure damages the natural barrier of your skin, and that sun-kissed tan you might get without sunscreen will only be temporary and mask your acne for the short term. Wouldn’t you rather address it than camouflage it? Some acne medicines make you more sensitive to the sunlight too, so using a proper sunscreen will actually work with your acne meds or serums in preventing dark spots and scarring. You see, sunlight is one of the main causes of dark spots (pigmentation) because the UV rays cause your body to produce more melanin (the pigment that causes skin cells to darken).

The bottom line is sunburns and tanning will lead to long-term skin damage that will result in wrinkles, dark spots, premature aging, loss of collagen and elasticity, and potentially skin cancer. Sunscreen is the best defense against all of these. So whether you have a severe case of acne or an occasional breakout, whether you are a baby, teenager, or adult, sunscreen is not your enemy!! It’s your best friend and lifesaver! Wear it every day, all day, indoors, or outdoors. You may not see immediate results, but your 50-year-old self will thank you!


Sources:

Acne: Who gets and causes - American Academy of Dermatology." https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/acne-causes. Accessed 8 Jul. 2021.

Difference Between Acne and Pimples - Healthline." 17 Jul. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/difference-between-acne-and-pimples. Accessed 8 Jul. 2021

Sunscreen FAQs - American Academy of Dermatology." https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed 8 Jul. 2021.
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Sofia Giussani
Written by
Sofia Giussani