You don’t need to go to boot camp to combat summer acne. All it takes is a little know-how and the
right prep work to keep spots under control
By Adriana Ermter
Finally … the warm and sunny weather is here. We’re cruising with the sunroof open; playing tennis, beach volleyball and Frisbee outside; and singing “Summertime” along with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince. We’re getting up early, going to bed late and enjoying cocktail hour/barbecue time on the patio. And while all of that great vitamin D-infused sunlight boosts our serotonin levels and elevates our happy state of mind, the combination of increased activities, sweat, seasonal humidity, sunscreen and indulgent behaviour can throw our skin off balance.
“Most people tend to suffer from acne flare-ups on their face, upper back, breasts and even the buttocks in the summer,” affirms Dr. Paul Cohen, a dermatologist at Rosedale Dermatology in Toronto. “Heat and humidity intensify oil production, while excessive sweating and pollutants can contribute to clogged pores—all leading to breakouts.”
Knowing the difference between each bump and spot you’re experiencing is the first step towards eradicating and preventing facial and body acne. The most common types of pimples are whiteheads, which live under the surface of your skin and have a small, white, pus-filled centre. Blackheads sit on the surface of your skin and look like tiny black dots. Papules are small pink bumps that are often tender to the touch. Cysts are deep, pus-filled pimples that can be very painful even when they’re not being touched; they can often leave scars.
“Acne appears when a pore in our skin clogs,” explains Dr. Cohen. “This can happen when the dead skin cells stick together inside the pore and when the body starts to make lots of sebum—the oil that keeps our skin from drying out. Normally, these dead skin cells rise to the surface of the pores and the body sheds them. But when the pores get blocked, bacteria gets trapped inside. Or, when there is a hormonal imbalance, a pimple will appear.”
Face vs. body acne
While facial acne and body acne are essentially the same, the pores on your back and body are much larger and produce more oil than those on your face, often resulting in inflammatory acne: larger nodule and cystic blemishes. “The most common cause of body acne is hormonal acne, which is the root cause for the overproduction of oil that often triggers breakouts,” says Dr. Cohen. “The second most common trigger is an irritation to the skin called acne mechanica, which is aggravated by moisture. This means that if sweat gets trapped against your back or body, the situation will worsen.”
The process of elimination
The key to combatting all types of acne is energizing your summer skincare routine with a few good habits. One good practice is to wear cotton, breathable or dryfit fabrics when you’re working out or spending long periods of time outdoors and in the sun. Remembering to take your backpack off during rest breaks while hiking or during long walks can also cut down on the amount of moisture and sweat rubbing against your body. And double up on shower time: once in the morning to start your day and again before you go to bed at night is crucial.
“You should always shower after a workout or after you’ve heavily perspired,” advises Allison Hegedus, president of Vida Spas in Vancouver and Whistler, BC. “When you do, it’s important to use an antibacterial wash to thoroughly cleanse your face, chest and back, as this will keep your pores and skin free of bacteria.”
Face and body cleansers containing astringent, refreshing and calming ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, peppermint, rosemary and lavender tend to work best, as they deep-clean pores to help treat and prevent breakouts. They can be found in products such as Dial Acne Control Deep Cleansing Face Wash ($5, available at drugstores and mass retailers) and Burt’s Bees Peppermint & Rosemary Body Wash ($10, available at Shoppers Drug Mart).
Adding an exfoliating product containing rice, sugar, grains, salt or microbeads is also a must, as they penetrate and remove the layer of oil, grime, sunscreen and sweat that has accumulated on your skin throughout the day. Try products like Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant ($74, available at spas across Canada and online at www.dermalogica.ca) and Decleor 1000 Grain Body Exfoliator (from $49, available at Hudson’s Bay) in your daily routine. “Exfoliation removes rough skin and dead skin cells, allowing sebum and bacteria to come to the surface, preventing it from congesting under the skin,” says Heeds.
And don’t skip hydrating your skin. It may be hot and sweaty outside, but your dermis still needs a little moisturizing TLC. Choose items with light, oil-free formulations that include a light tint to mask redness from acne irritations, such as Aveeno Clear Complexion BB Cream SPF 30 ($23, available at Shoppers Drug Mart) in Light, and Clinique Self Sun Tinted Body Lotion in Light/Medium ($28, available at Sephora). “It will moisturize and help counter any bacteria your sebaceous glands are producing,” explains Heeds.
Blocking the sun
Last but not least, don’t forget to apply sunscreen before you step outside. “Direct sun exposure can further aggravate acne, as the harsh UV rays irritate and inflame the skin further,” warns Dr. Cohen. Daily sunscreen application is mandatory to prevent the sun’s UVA and UVB rays from damaging your skin; an all-over layer reapplied every two to three hours will do the trick from head to toe. “Many people tend to slather on tons of sunscreen, which can be comedogenic [cause acne] and oily,” adds Dr. Cohen. “Using too much of the wrong sunscreen can end up clogging the skin’s pores, which then become breeding grounds for bacteria.” Opt for products clearly stating that they are non-comedogenic or non-greasy, or that mention Helioplex on the label (Helioplex is a formulation of broad-spectrum UVA and UVB skin protection containing avobenzone and oxybenzone). Try products such as Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Face and Body Stick Sunscreen SPF 50+ (from $14, available at drugstores and mass retailers).
ADRIANA ERMTER is a Toronto-based, lifestyle-magazine-pro who has travelled the globe, writing about must-spritz
fragrances, child poverty, beauty and grooming.