This article originally appeared on MIMI.
Looking back at the beauty myths my high school self believed, none is more embarrassing than my steadfast belief the sun could cure all. Want highlights? Spritz on some Sun-In and hit the pool. Want to look a little trimmer? Lather on some some Hawaiian Tropic and lay out. (Flip sides every 30 minutes. Repeat as needed.) Want to banish a breakout? Let the sun toast away your acne, but of course.
As a young adult who suffered from frequent breakouts, a quick trip outside seemed like the perfect solution to banish a pimple quickly. (Bonus points for a nice tan!) But as it turns out, a little vitamin D therapy was just the opposite of what I needed. In fact, this old wives' tale that the sun can cure acne is in fact just that, a tale.
Dr. Holly Kanavy, assistant professor of Medicine and director of Pharmacology at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, explains although many people report clearer skin post sun exposure, repeated sunbathing can actually worsen acne over time.
"One reason why people tend to think their skin looks better with a tan is because there is less of a contrast between inflamed acne lesions and surrounding skin," says Dr. Kanavy. "When surrounding skin gets darker, the acne doesn't look as bad." She explains the primary factors that cause acne are excess sebum (oil) production, abnormal turnover of skin cells—which can lead to clogged pores, colonization of the skin by bacteria and the release of inflammatory mediators into the skin, which, you guessed it, can be impacted by sun exposure.
While sunbathing, the skin may initially cause some acne lesions to dry up, but this effect is only temporary, says Dr. Kanavy. In fact, ultraviolet (UV) light often times leads to overproduction of oil in the skin, which can inflame skin and even cause more acne-causing bacteria to form. Although it's true the UV light from the sun can work to kill bacteria on the skin, it comes at the price of an increased risk of skin cancer, discoloration and accelerated aging, says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, Co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery in Washington, DC.
Unfortunately for many, sunscreen only seems to enhance their acne problem. But don't despair, there is a solution! Those who breakout as a result of using chemical sunscreens should instead look for sunblocks with zinc or titanium as active ingredients, says Dr. Tanzi. In fact, zinc and titanium can actually be somewhat drying, which might prove helpful for oily, acne-prone skin, she adds. In addition, Dr. Kanavy suggests looking for products that say "oil-free" or "non-comedogenic" on the label to help aid breakout-prone skin.
And as always, if you must be out in the sun, apply a minimum of SPF 30, every two hours. Sun-In is optional.