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Winter Acne: Understanding the Causes and Treatment

Winter acne can be one of the worst things about a seasonal change, here’s everything you need to know about the causes and how to treat it

Winter acne. Another thing to add to the list of winter blues.

We all know that during the scorching days of summer, congested pores and pimples rear their ugly heads, and for the most part, it’s an unavoidable fact of life. But can cold weather cause acne? While nothing much else blooms in the colder months, pimples might be an exception. For some people, their breakouts seem to get worse. As the northern hemisphere welcomes the peak of wintertime, bad skin seems to peak too.

If you’ve been wondering about snow and whiteheads in winter, you’re not the only one. Let it snow, but let the pimples go, right? Don’t worry – we have everything you need to know about winter acne causes and winter acne treatment.

Can Cold Weather Cause Acne?

The short answer (and the ugly truth of it) is yes. In fact, a study conducted on acne patients in New England found that the participants who enjoyed clearer skin experienced it during the summer and fall months. While in winter, it tended to be a bad skin season, with rates of moderate-to-severe acne rising to 11% in winter compared to summer. But before you break out the creams and ointments, let’s get to the science behind it.

One thing that may be behind winter acne is sebum. Sebum is a natural oil that small skin glands secrete. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sebum helps keep your skin moist and supple. Still, too much sebum can cause skin cells to clump together, and subsequently – you guessed it, clog pores! Because your T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin) contain more sebum-producing glands, you may be more prone to whiteheads in winter around this area of your face.

Another thing is the dryer conditions. When it’s cold, there’s less moisture in the environment, and this causes your skin to produce more sebum. And if your skin is naturally on the dryer side, this only adds to the breakout conditions. But the chilly winter air may also mean you experience inflammation. Cold, dry air exposure is one of the many triggers that can harm the skin’s protective barrier and cause inflammation. Your body also recognizes the cold air as physical stress, and more stress increases inflammation, causing more breakouts.

Source: Fleur Kaan

How to Treat Winter Acne

Before you catch a flight to somewhere tropical to avoid winter acne, we’ll shed some light on how you can prevent and treat this cold-weather condition.

Stop Touching Your Face!

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve probably heard it about a million times. Your hands are exposed to many things on a daily basis, from phones to doorknobs. And that bacteria can easily cause a breakout. But let’s assume you’ve been giving your hands some extra TLC during winter by slathering on heavy hand creams – this too could contribute to a breakout.

But even then. Let’s say you are super hygiene conscious, and your hands and daily objects are spic and span – touching your face will only irritate your acne. So just avoid it.

Make Sure You’re Moisturizing Enough

Much like your wardrobe, in winter months – layer, layer, layer. This is the time to add more products to your skincare routine. Instead of switching over to a heavier cream, it’s better to apply different layers of skin products to protect multiple barriers of skin. The key might be this ingredient: humectants. These are brilliant for not only winter but year-round hydration.

Humectants are ingredients that attract water – like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, allantoin, sodium PCA, and propylene glycol. So be sure to check the ingredients in your next moisturizer and look out for humectants to make sure your cream locks in moisture.

Don’t Just Try To Dry Out Your Spots

There’s a common misconception that you need to exclusively use drying agents like calamine, alcohol, or benzoyl peroxide on acne. Your skin needs balance, so if you’re suffering from winter acne you should incorporate a hydrating serum or moisturizer.

Don’t Overwash

It might be tempted to clean your skin more in an effort to prevent breakouts, but this will only irritate your skin and exacerbate the drying effects of winter.

Protect Your Face

If you’re going out, it might be a good idea to cover your face with a scarf or some other kind of protection. Cold and windy weather draws moisture out of your skin and promotes inflammation.

Try To Keep Stress Levels Down

The holiday season and new year can be stressful. Worrying and other emotional stress can also trigger a breakout. So, try to combat that winter acne by making time for activities that let you chill out (in a good way) – like yoga, meditation, and exercise. These can ease your anxiety and help you avoid stress acne.  

It doesn’t hurt to book an appointment with a trusted dermatologist to discuss other forms of winter acne treatment either – here are some top tips on how to prepare for your appointment.

Source: Chalo Garcia

How to Prevent Winter Acne

Limit Hot Showers

Bathing and showering in lukewarm water helps ensure those extremely hot baths and showers don’t rob the skin of necessary oils and moisture. Even though it’s tempting to turn up the temperature in the cooler months, your skin will thank you for it later!

Exfoliate Regularly

Exfoliation is a fundamental pillar in acne treatment. Products that contain retinol, retinoid, or salicylic acid are all great options. Or you can make a simple sugar and honey scrub in your kitchen. Make sure you moisturize afterward, too.

Step Outside

Fresh air is important for skin health, and you should also get fresh air into your room and allow dry trapped air to get out. Make sure your rooms are well ventilated and consider going for a walk to get some sunshine.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise pumps more oxygen into the body, which helps keep your skin healthy and glowing. Plus, it will help beat the winter blues and keep you active.

In the end, whether you opt for over-the-counter products or a prescription, our medical professionals can help you find a winter acne treatment regime that works for you.

Use the Air Doctor app to book a consultation and get the help you need to beat the winter acne blues.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.