What is seasonal acne?
Do you find yourself experiencing a flare-up in winter? Or perhaps your skin erupts in the midst of summer and then calms down again once the heat wave has cooled off. If so, it’s possible that you may be suffering from seasonal acne.
Seasonal acne simply refers to acne symptoms that mainly flare-up during particular seasons, such as winter or summer. While it is possible to experience some irritation throughout the year, your symptoms should mainly be localised to a particular time of year.
Until the early 2000s, many believed that seasonal acne was a myth or coincidence, however, various studies have shattered this preconception and now dermatologists are taking note. One particularly relevant study, which was conducted in 2002, observed these seasonal variations and uncovered that most of the participants did experience exacerbated symptoms during the winter months and that their flare-ups usually subsided in summer.1
Of course this isn’t true for everyone; in fact quite often it’s the reverse, with some finding their symptoms drastically increase during summer, particularly if they suffer from oily skin!
What causes seasonal acne?
Seasonal acne can be influenced by a variety of factors, including your diet, skin type and stress levels. As I briefly mentioned, some suffers find that their symptoms are more aggressive in summer because they naturally suffer from oily skin and the heat can sometimes inspire our skin to produce more sebum oil.
During summer, you will most likely sweat more which again, can bring additional risks. Sweat can bond with dirt, oil and other impurities to clog pores and, if you enjoy working out, sweat can linger in your clothes making you more vulnerable to bacterial infections. Summer also brings with it the additional risk of sunburn, which will certainly damage your skin and inspire an inflammatory reaction!
Winter on the other hand, brings a new set of problems, especially if you’re more predisposed to dry, sensitive skin. The rapid change in temperatures (cold air outside and dry, hot air inside) can upset your skin and make it more vulnerable to irritation, not to mention that many are also more likely to experience stress during this period due to increased expenses and family gatherings.
SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, can also emerge during the bleaker winter months too, inspiring lethargy, low mood and sleep problems that sometimes manifest in destructive behaviours such as stress eating and social isolation – not good news for you skin!
However, a major factor that unites both forms of seasonal acne is diet and this is hardly surprising. Summer holidays are seen as a time to unwind and indulge in ice-cream, frappacinos and pina coladas, all of which are chockfull of refines sugars which can ultimately cause a spike in your blood glucose levels and trigger an inflammatory reaction from your immune system.
Winter, though, doesn’t escape from this trend either. As soon as autumn arrives we sip on pumpkin spiced lattes and start salivating over the festive goodies that await us in a couple of months. It also goes without saying that alcohol consumption dramatically increases and, unlike summer when you may feel the urge eat light meals and exercise, in winter most of us want nothing more than to curl up inside and go into hibernation mode.
Winter also brings the additional risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. In countries like the UK, which receive very little sunlight during winter, getting enough vitamin D can be a real struggle, which is a shame as our skin relies on this valuable nutrient. You need vitamin D for your immune system and to help you absorb calcium – it’s also extremely useful for reducing inflammation too!
So, both summer and winter have their hazards, but identifying whether or not your acne is seasonal is half the battle. Once you are aware that your skin might be more a bit more prone to a flare-up at a certain time of year, you can start to prepare!
How do you treat seasonal acne?
Prevention is definitely more effective than a cure when it comes to seasonal acne. Once you recognise your acne may be affected by a certain season, you can start to pinpoint the issues that may be triggering your flare-up and you can start to take precautions and make a few relevant changes, such as:
1 – Think about your diet
There’s no doubting that your diet plays an important role when it comes to your symptoms, whether you experience a flare-up in winter or summer. Now, I’m not about to say that you have to forsake your holiday margaritas or resist the urge to indulge in a festive hot chocolate, but moderation is important.
If you normally stick to a healthy diet, your body probably won’t know how to react if, for three weeks, you decide to flood your system with process foods, refined sugars and alcohol. Certainly this influx will raise your blood sugar levels, inspiring an insulin spike that could potentially cause an inflammatory reaction, triggering an outbreak.
So, it’s important not to throw your usual routine out of the window completely. Enjoy a couple of treats but where you can, try to make a few healthy swaps. Smoothies are a great option during the summer as they’re extremely refreshing whilst being packed full of vitamins and antioxidants. In the winter months, warm up with a delicious bowl of soup that’s crammed with vegetables!
Below are a few of my favourite foods that have received a healthy makeover.
Dairy-free Chocolate, Coconut and Coffee Ice Cream
Spiced Gingerbread Men Cookies
Apple, Macadamia and Coconut Crumble
Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
Strawberry and Pear Smoothie
If you tend to suffer from acne during winter, it’s also vital that you consider your intake of vitamin D. Try to spend some time outside in the fresh air and make sure you are consuming plenty of vitamin D rich foods, such as oily fish, tofu and shiitake mushrooms. If you feel that you’re still not getting enough vitamin D through your diet, you could try taking a supplement.
2 – De-stress
Summer and winter both bring their stresses – saving up for the festive period, trying to cope with a full house while the schools are off – and these additional pressures can take their toll. It’s important that you remember to take a step back from the situation and in the midst of all the chaos, set aside some time for yourself.
Try to organise in advance, whether that means that you have to start your Christmas shopping a couple of weeks early or plan ways to keep your children entertained while they are off school. Don’t leave things to the last minute and make sure that you’re getting plenty of good quality sleep.
During winter, it’s particularly important that you try and keep active – this doesn’t mean that you have to go jogging out in the cold (although we do have some advice about that too!), you can always try a gentle form of exercise such as yoga, which you can do from the comfort of your own home!
3 – Take good care of your skin
It doesn’t matter what season it is, you should still always try to take proper precautions when it comes to your skin. During summer, this might mean investing in a natural sunscreen whereas in winter, you may have to moisturise more often than usual. These little steps can make a big difference, although I understand that it can be difficult to find products that suit your skin.
Our friends over at Jan de Vries offer a range of gentle, natural sunscreens that may better suit your skin, particularly if it’s sensitive. They also have a variety of great cruelty-free skincare products such as cleansers, moisturisers and toners, some of which have been specifically formulated for oily, dry and combination skin types!
You could also try our Echinacea Cream, which is particularly effective for troubled, spot-prone skin. Naturally hydrating, it contains soothing extracts of Echinacea and sunflower seed oil and is 100% suitable for vegetarians.
“This calms down spots and stops them being sore.”
4 - Consider investing in a humidifier
A humidifier can be a useful piece of technology to have on hand whether it’s summer or winter. Both seasons can affect the humidity in the air, not to mention that devices such as air conditioners and central heating systems are frequently used to alter the temperature of a room. This can have an impact on your skin, depriving it of moisture and making it more prone to dehydration.
A humidifier is a good way of rectifying this situation and many of them are now portable, meaning you can transport them with you to work or a friend’s house. I definitely wouldn’t be without one and surprisingly, they are quite affordable!
5 – Cover up
In summer it might be tempting to lounge around in shorts or a bikini but it’s important to cover up too! Don’t be afraid to sit in the shade or throw on a light cardigan.
Remember, black clothing can actually attract sunlight so I would opt for loose, light coloured attire – not only is this comfy, it can help to give your skin room to breathe while providing a little extra protection from the sun’s glare.
When it comes to winter, the cold, dry air can be very irritating for your skin so try to wrap up in scarves, hats and gloves. Not only will this help you to feel warmer, it can also protect your skin from the cold! Just remember to avoid any fabrics that you find abrasive – wool is a prime culprit here!