One of the most common misconceptions when it comes to acne is that tanning can help reduce breakouts. While tanning might temporarily camouflage pimples, dark spots, or acne scars, it’s just a temporary fix. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can be very detrimental to the skin. Beyond damaging the skin and causing early signs of aging, it’s a proven fact that exposure to UV rays from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancers, including melanoma.
This myth also stems from the fact that sun exposure dries out the skin, but the skin usually responds to this sun induced dryness and damage by producing more sebum (oil) in response. Your body naturally produces sebum as a way to protect the skin surface. With acne-prone skin, hormones, and genetics cause the skin to produce an excess of sebum, which is one factor that leads to acne. Dryness caused by cold, dry weather, or too much sun exposure can also signal the body to produce excess oil as a way to overcompensate and try to protect the skin surface.
Sun exposure is especially dangerous for your skin if you are using any over-the-counter or prescription acne medications. Most of these medications, including benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, antibiotics, and alpha hydroxy acids increase cell turnover or exfoliate the surface of the skin, making your skin more sensitive to sun exposure. This can increase the likelihood of sunburn, blisters, and damage when exposed to UV rays. When using topical acne medications, it’s essential to avoid the sun when possible and use a broad-spectrum SPF.
How is light therapy for acne different?
Light therapy is becoming a more common acne treatment, and it’s easy to confuse this with all types of light being beneficial for acne. Light therapy for acne, however, uses a combination of blue and red lights. Sunlight also contains red and blue lights, but it also has a high UV light concentration, while tanning beds primarily emit UV lights. So, if you have any interest in trying light therapy for acne, it's best to consult a dermatologist to ensure that you are not further damaging your skin.