People often assume acne improves as the weather changes from warm to cold. Less sweating, sunscreen and bug spray mean clearer skin, right? Not so fast. It’s actually a myth that acne is worse in warm weather, says Jeffrey Zwerner, MD, Senior Medical Advisor of Dermatology at Teladoc.

“Acne tends to worsen or become more difficult to treat in the winter. This is primarily because of excessive skin drying,” he says. If one of the most common skin problems is also one of your biggest winter woes, read on for tips to maintain healthy, clear skin.

What causes acne in the winter?

Our skin has millions of pores, which contain hair follicles and oil glands. If pores get clogged with oil or dead skin cells, pimples, whiteheads or blackheads can appear. Sometimes, large painful lumps will even develop under the skin.

“In the winter when your skin becomes dry, your body often responds by producing more sebum. Sebum is an oily substance that is a key component of acne. Too much of this oil causes the skin cells to stick together and clogs pores,” Dr. Zwerner says.

So even if you usually have a clear complexion, blemishes are common during the driest time of year. “Winter leads to a significant drop in the amount of moisture in the air. Mixed with the dry air of indoor heating systems, you have a situation where it’s difficult for people to maintain the proper skin moisture,” Dr. Zwerner says. “This leads to inflammation and a poor skin barrier to the season’s elements.”

These elements of freezing temperatures and windy conditions strip the skin of its necessary moisture. Also, people tend to warm up in too-hot, too-long showers during the coldest months. This further reduces skin hydration. Without the much-needed barrier, bacteria can invade and thrive, leading to irritation.

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Preventing winter acne

The key to relief is to combat winter dryness and keep your skin hydrated. Hydrated skin creates less excess oil, which reduces the likelihood of breakouts.

Dr. Zwerner suggests to:

  • Bathe in lukewarm water. Limit hot showers to under five minutes. Use gentle cleansers. Extremely hot baths and showers rob the skin of necessary oils. Harsh soaps remove the skin’s protection.
  • Moisturize after showering or bathing. Target acne-prone areas such as the face, neck, back and chest with a heavy moisturizer. Check labels and find “non-comedogenic” products. This means it’s formulated not to block pores.
  • Exfoliate regularly. “It’s the cornerstone of acne treatment,” Dr. Zwerner says. Look for products containing retinol, retinoid or salicylic acid. Make sure to moisturize afterward as well.

Maintaining the skin’s delicate balance is a delicate matter. This is especially the case as the seasons change and the body’s demands for hydration shift. Get professional help if you’re experiencing a bout of acne this winter. Reach out to Teladoc online or by app 24/7 to upload images of your skin condition.

Our U.S. board-certified dermatologists will give you a diagnosis and treatment plan customized to fit your specific needs within two days or less. They can also prescribe medications if medically necessary. For more help on preventing blackheads specifically, check out our tips.

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Updated November 29, 2021

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