Summer Breakouts Can Happen—Here's How to Treat and Prevent Them

woman in bathing suit shielding her face from the sun


With increased sweating and outdoor activities during the warmer months, it's safe to assume that summer breakouts will happen. But between washing your towels regularly and swapping out your moisturizer for something lighter, there's actually a lot you can do to prevent breakouts.

"The goal is to keep acne-causing bacteria away from your skin and your pores clear and unclogged," says Nazanin Saedi, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University. "This is especially important during the summer when sunburns and higher temperatures can lead to inflammation while pore-clogging sweat can contribute to breakouts."

Ahead, Saedi and Lian Mack, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Gramercy Laser and Medical Dermatology, share their top tips for preventing breakouts while enjoying the sunshine this season. 

Meet the Expert

Nazanin Saedi, MD, board-certified dermatologist in Philadelphia and clinical associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University.

Lian Mack, MD, board-certified dermatologist and medical director at Gramercy Laser and Medical Dermatology (GLAMDerm).

01 of 09

Switch to a Lightweight Moisturizer

Mack suggests swapping out heavy petrolatum-based moisturizers for a lighter gel-or-water-based moisturizer. Many lightweight moisturizers are oil-free and non-comedogenic, she explains. Reducing the amount of oil applied to your skin helps prevent your skin from breaking out.

"Heavier petrolatum-based moisturizers typically have mineral oil in them, which is comedogenic or white head and black head forming," Mack says. "Water or gel-based moisturizers have a hydrating effect without clogging the pores because they are oil-free."

02 of 09

Choose Oil-Free Skincare and Makeup Products

"Make sure all of your products are oil-free or non-comedogenic, including sunscreen," Mack says. "Moisturizers that contain oil can easily clog pores during warmer months." This goes for makeup, too. Look for oil-free products because pore-clogging products can lead to unwanted breakouts.

And definitely don't skip sunscreen, altogether. You may be afraid that sunscreen might clog your pores or worsen existing acne. But dermatologists stress that sunscreen is a really important part of protecting your skin from premature aging, sun damage, and skin cancer. "Patients with acne-prone skin should be especially careful to avoid sunburn, which can dry out your skin, lead to an increase in oil production, and therefore cause more breakouts," Saedie says. Acne-prone skin types are less likely to break out when using a mineral, oil-free formula.

03 of 09

Avoid Touching Your Face

Many people touch their faces throughout the day without realizing they're doing it. But touching your face may introduce bacteria to the skin's surface, promoting breakouts. "This is a habit worth breaking since it can introduce unwanted dirt, bacteria, and oil onto your skin," Saedi says. If touching or picking your breakouts is a habit of yours, try using acne patches with ingredients like salicylic acid and niacinamide to help heal and reduce inflammation associated with breakouts, as well as to prevent you from physically touching your pimples.

04 of 09

Wash Your Pillowcase Frequently

Your pillowcase is likely home to a serious amount of bacteria, which can contribute to acne. To tackle this problem, Saedi recommends regularly tossing your pillowcase in the wash.

"Once a week is a good start, but if you're having active breakouts, wash your pillowcases and sheets twice a week," she says. "I also recommend silk pillowcases because they don't trap bacteria like cotton. Silk pillowcases are more gentle on your skin overall, helping prevent wrinkles."

05 of 09

Use Clean Towels

Regularly washing your towels and face towels is also a good idea. "Wet and damp towels can lead to unwanted bacteria that you want to keep away from your face," Saedi says. If you're using a towel to wipe away sweat while working out, make sure it's clean and you're using gentle wiping movements. "Rubbing away sweat can irritate the skin, leading to breakouts," Saedi says.

06 of 09

Clean Your Makeup Brushes Once a Week

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, makeup brushes are a "breeding ground for bacteria" and should be washed every 7 to 10 days.

Other makeup applicators can be problematic, too. "I don't love the beauty sponges people use to apply makeup," Saedi says. "They are good at collecting acne-causing bacteria and are rarely cleaned between uses." If you habitually share makeup, brushes, or applicators, you may also want to let that go. "Acne isn’t contagious, but the acne-causing bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells from others can be transferred to your skin, Saedi says.

07 of 09

Use Wireless Headphones to Talk on the Phone

Looking for an excuse to finally buy some AirPods? Dr. Saedi says they can be helpful for avoiding breakouts. "If you are holding your phone to your face when you chat, you can spread acne-causing bacteria onto your face," she says.

08 of 09

Be Mindful of How Chlorine Affects Your Skin

Hopping in a pool for a refreshing swim is one of summer's greatest joys. But your skin may disagree. "Pool time can help clear up acne since chlorine has antibacterial properties—for this reason, an occasional swim is likely helpful for your acne," Saedi says. "But too much of a good thing will make it worse."

If you regularly swim in a chlorinated pool during the summer, the chlorine could dry out your skin. In response, your body might produce more oil, which can clog pores and cause a breakout. Saedi recommends moisturizing and staying hydrated between swims to keep your skin happy. This can help keep your oil glands from going into overdrive.

09 of 09

Exfoliate More Often

Mack suggests exfoliating at least once a week. Saedi recommends gently exfoliating with glycolic acid pads, which can help clear dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. "It will help with hyperpigmentation and allow your products to penetrate better," she says, adding that you may also opt for a face wash with salicylic acid to help unclog pores and prevent pimples.

Alternatively, you can also try adding a retinoid to your skincare routine to combat the extra oiliness that comes along with summertime. "Just be careful when using a retinoid during the summer since your skin can more easily burn from sun exposure," Saedi says. To reduce possible interactions with sun exposure, Mack suggests applying a pea-sized amount of the retinoid to your skin at night and then washing your face in the morning.

Don't overdo it on skincare products when you're dealing with acne. Too much scrubbing, cleansing, exfoliating, and treating your skin could strip its natural oils and lead to more breakouts in the long run. "Patients with acne-prone skin should focus on protecting their skin and choosing effective skincare ingredients to fight and prevent acne," Saedi says.

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