Why Acne Seems Worse in the Winter and How to Treat It

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Winter can wear on our skin, causing dry patches, wind burn and even breakouts to crop up. It might seem like winter would be when acne would be more dormant with less heat, sweat and oil inciting breakouts, but that’s not the case.

Acne can worsen in the winter

“Acne can definitely get worse in the winter,” says West Palm Beach, FL dermatologist Kenneth Beer, MD, and there are a few contributing factors. “The cold and dry nature of the winter months can further weaken skin’s barrier function, which can make acne worse,” says Kenvue R&D development scientist Hams Elshaikh. “The air is dry, and there is less humidity. The skin then gets dry, which results in more sebum production, which is one of the parts of why acne forms in the first place,” explains Dr. Loss. 

Additionally, Dr. Loss notes that topicals can be more irritating during the winter, especially retinoids. Some products that are designed to treat acne are actually so irritating that they can’t be used in the winter, says Dr. Beer, which, of course, can lead to acne acting up. Dr. Beer says even our winter clothing could be impacting acne. “People tend to use scarves and other types of clothing that provide a warm, moist environment for bacteria,” he explains.

How to prevent acne from worsening in the winter

Dr. Beer recommends that people change their routines during the winter. In the colder months, opt for “a gentle skin-care regimen that respects skin’s barrier and includes hydration,” suggests Elshaikh.  For example, “If you are using a gel, switch to a lotion or cream. Do not use anything that is a combination of sun protection and moisturizer.  Make sure that your cleanser is changed to a mild one,” says Dr. Beer. Dr. Loss suggests using a non-comedogenic moisturizer daily. Using a moisturizer before or after retinol creams is also advisable as it may help prevent dryness and irritation, she adds.

Elshaikh recommends using a gentle BHA cleanser for acne-prone skin, like Clean & Clear Morning Burst Facial Cleanser ($6)coupled with a lightweight acne treatment moisturizer like Dual Action Moisturizer ($6) that combines treatment and hydration in one step.

Additionally, Dr. Beer encourages you to go through your skin-care cabinet. “If you have skin care products from last winter, throw them out and start over, so you don’t introduce bacteria that may be living in the old stuff.”

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