The serious problem with seasonal acne is not even the acne itself; it’s the unpredictability. The average teenager is completely clueless at controlling their skin; they end up at the mercy of the changing months. Instead of indulging at Christmas or enjoying a summer of fun, they worry about whether some food, some exercise or some other minor activity like swimming or drinking beer may be responsible.
Fortunately, you do NOT have to let acne dominate your life. Maybe you have a vague and correct idea that weakening sunlight and a lack of natural light has something to do with it. However, if you don’t understand the specific mechanisms and hence lack the scientific knowledge and solutions, you will fail to keep your skin clear all year long.
Therefore, with this article you will become an expert on the following subjects:
- The full repertoire of studies on seasonal acne.
- The major causes of seasonal acne.
- Why seasonal acne and seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), are very closely linked.
- How you can consign your seasonal acne to the dustbin of history.
Read on and discover the fantastically simple truth…
Seasonal acne exists, but in varying seasons
Before you receive the knowledge on how to control your acne all year long, know this: seasonal acne is not an imaginary phenomenon solely reported by acne patients. It is recognised in official dermatological circles and if any friend or relative has ever insisted that you’re imagining it, they were totally wrong.
In fact there are plenty of studies confirming seasonal acne’s existence. Firstly, this Saudi Arabian study from 2002 analysed 220 people with acne, 142 female and 78 male, between January 1999 and December 2000. The median age was 14.8 and 16.3 respectively, so the patients were classically acne-ridden teenagers.
The level of acne was observed to be far higher in winter: “seasonal variations were observed in acne as the condition exacerbates in winter, while if often improves during the summer months”.
On the other hand, this 2002 study from the Journal of Dermatology found completely different results. 452 acne patients were analysed in detail and 50.67% of those complained of seasonal variation. Among that group, 56% claimed their acne was worse in summer, compared to just 11% who said it worsened in winter.
Among all the patients, 80.62% experienced heightened summer acne due to increased sweating and humidity. The scientists concluded: “thus our study is at variance with the existing literature, with summer aggravation being the predominant complaint”.
Then we have another study which observed more ferocious acne in summer, this time performed back in 2009 on Indian acne patients aged mainly between 16 and 20. Out of the 309 acne patients examined, 80 (25.9%) had clear signs of seasonal acne; out of them, 71 patients developed more acne in summer and only 9 developed more acne in winter.
Finally, we have a completely even study. This study, performed back in 1996 on 139 acne patients, showed that seasonal acne does in fact exist, as two thirds of patients reported it on questionnaires. However, one third of acne patients spoke of summer aggravation, and another third spoke of winter aggravation. The scientists decided that sunlight was to blame: “sun-bathing may be beneficial for psychologic reasons and may produce euphoric effects, but we do not see any reason to treat acne with ultraviolet radiation because of all its negative effects on the skin”.
Elsewhere several questionnaire studies have observed seasonal acne and most of them have shown winter and fall acne to be more common. During my scouring of internet testimonials, a substantial majority of acne patients on English-speaking forums claim report worsening acne in winter and fall rather than summer. The Indian study suggests otherwise, but clearly an Indian winter is far sunnier than any Western country. Then again, the study in Saudi Arabia, another scorching sun-drenched land, found that most acne patients did worsen in winter.
The simple fact is that both summer and winter acne exist, depending on our unique genetics, bodily circumstances, and unique factors beyond our control at all different locations.
Seasonal acne – why the causes are simple
Vitamin D is a hormone which is manufactured by your skin when triggered by the contact of sunlight. Vitamin D is all encompassing; it affects over 2000 of your body’s 20,000+ genes. There are vitamin D receptors in your brains, muscles, insulin receptors – across your whole body. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue, and most importantly, acne.
We discussed in this article how vitamin D can cure: 1) chronic inflammation of acne, by controlling the immune system, 2) oily skin, by lowering insulin levels, and 3) antioxidant deficiencies, by supercharging your body’s glutathione production. Vitamin D also increases serotonin, the happiness neurotransmitter, and hence lowers stress hormone levels.
Why does this matter? Because if it’s winter and the sun is weak or hidden behind constant wet weather, it isn’t stimulating your vitamin D supplies at all. The UV rays in sunlight are our number 1 source of vitamin D. Foods contain only tiny amounts and the amounts of those foods are tiny (eggs, mushrooms, fish, dairy).
Our levels of vitamin D often fall very low in winter. In some locations vitamin D becomes unobtainable. In Scotland, for instance, the high latitude and thick atmosphere combine to prevent your body from making any vitamin D from October to March. The sunlight is simply too weak. It’s too weak in Canada, Russia and many other high altitude countries.
Furthermore, vitamin D deficiency is an epidemic anyway:
- The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey observed that 50% of children aged between 1 and 5 and 70% between 6 and 11 are deficient in vitamin D.
- Surveys from the UK are similarly grim: surveys by British National Diet and Nutrition from 2008/9 to 2011/12 indicate that 25% of UK adults have low vitamin D levels.
- As much as 95% of elderly people in the US are believed to be deficient, mainly because they combine the nationwide lack of sun exposure with a reduced ability to manufacture vitamin D with aging.
- Dr Michael Holick, the scientist who discovered vitamin D3 back in the 1970s and has devoted his career to researching it, estimates that 50% of US citizens are deficient.
- The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) once discovered that 32% of US adults and children are deficient in vitamin D.
The evidence is clear. In my reckoning, vitamin D deficiency is the number one cause of seasonal acne in winter. Hence, you should definitely take a supplement during winter. Scroll down and you will find tried and tested instructions.
For now though, understand that another big factor in winter seasonal acne is almost certainly higher stress levels. There’s a medical phenomenon that’s been studied since the 70s called seasonal affectivity disorder (SAD). SAD is basically seasonal depression or the “winter blues”. It shows up exactly when seasonal acne shows up, in fall and winter.
Could there be a connection? It’s highly likely simply because a downbeat mood and lack of happiness are clear candidates for increasing the stress hormone cortisol, an acne causing menace which causes digestive problems and slows wound healing. Lack of vitamin D, beloved as a treatment for depression and anxiety, could also cause higher cortisol.
Lack of light itself may even be a culprit behind winter depression and stress; studies have found that blue light directly triggers serotonin production. This review analysed many studies and found that depressed people generally respond well to light treatment.
Another topic scientists are furiously researching is porphyrin, a compound found in the skin’s outer layer (epidermis). Studies (like this one) have observed higher porphyrin levels in acne-prone skin but apparently UV light can either 1) destroy porphyrin, or 2) mutate porphyrin into aggressive free radicals which destroy p.acnes bacteria and prevent inflammation.
People may also eat a lot more sugary non-nutritious food over Christmas, or their skin might dry out from central heating, or they might have too many hot showers (which pump up sebum production massively). There’s a ton of different explanations. Vitamin D deficiency is the real killer though, so make fixing it your top priority.
As for summer acne? This study found that an acne patient’s sebum production is generally lowest in winter: “evidence for seasonality was observed, with lower lipid production… during the winter.” One factor that explains the wildly varying stories of seasonal acne is skin sensitivity. You see, we all need sunlight to get vitamin D, but some acne patients are vulnerable to UV rays, which generate free radicals and cause acne. In fact, sunlight is an absolute nightmare for some. For me and others it’s always been terrific. Why are some immune to it?
The key partially lies in genetics but also nutritional deficiencies and most importantly, vitamin A. Vitamin A is a god-send for an acne patient, since it is essentially nature’s sunscreen. Retinol, beta carotene, and other forms accumulate in your outer skin cells and directly increase their resilience to UV light. The antioxidant resveratrol also has this trick, as do many flavonoids and polyphenols found in foods (dark chocolate is one mega-sunscreen food).
So basically, whether by sheer bad luck or knowingly eating a poor diet, you could make yourself far more vulnerable to summer acne than others, who end up getting winter acne. Luckily it’s a problem that can be easily fixed.
How to end your seasonal acne
Supplement with vitamin D – supplementation is a smart idea for most acne patients anyway. Here’s what you should do: take vitamin D3, not D2, as D3 is closer to the form generated in your skin from sunlight and is far better utilised by the body. Don’t buy a grocery store version loaded with fillers like magnesium stearate and BPA.
Instead use this Garden of Life Vitamin Code RAW D3. This is the greatest vitamin D supplement bar none. It’s derived from mushrooms and is well absorbed into the body. Each pill contains 5000U, which isn’t always necessary, so I recommend taking one pill per day for a while to optimise your levels, then taking a pill on day one, day two, but not day three, to maintain your levels with an effective dialy intake of 3333IU.
If you can’t afford that then a cheap and effective vitamin D is this High Potency Liquid Vitamin D3. This is insane value for money; it’s so concentrated you only need a couple of drops per day.
Take a zinc supplement – if stress is the real villain behind your winter acne then zinc is a fantastic supplement to take as it provides the building blocks for the happiness neurotransmitter serotonin.
This study examined patients using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale and found that after 6 and 12 weeks, the 6 patients improved substantially. This study also found increased happiness from zinc, comparable to pharmaceutical anti-depressants.
To get more zinc you can either 1) carefully arrange a diet with plenty of meat, seafood, eggs and organs, 2) eat oysters a couple of times a week, or 3) take a high quality supplement. The supplement I take daily is this NutraBio L-OptiZinc. It’s in the well-absorbed zinc l-methionine form and the only filler is the harmless rice flour. Don’t buy a cheap and nasty zinc oxide supplement from the supplement store because the absorption is terrible.
Take magnesium and/or vitamin C – again for stress, vitamin C and magnesium both clear excess cortisol from the bloodstream. Magnesium is known as the relaxation mineral and studies find that vitamin C megadosing allows businessmen to relax and perform public speaking engagements far better.
For vitamin C, either eat tons of plant foods like broccoli, potatoes, kale, and strawberries, or take Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Camu Camu Powder, a supplement derived from the Peruvian camu camu berry which is the richest source of vitamin C known to man. For magnesium, I strongly recommend this Ancient Minerals Magnesium Oil, which transports magnesium through the skin and directly into the bloodstream.
Eat more vitamin A – if you want your skin to become an effective layer of natural sunscreen then good news: a supplement is totally unnecessary. The plant form of vitamin A, beta carotene, is most protective against UV radiation and that’s dead easy to get. Eat plenty of carrots, sweet potatoes, kale, lettuce, pumpkin, and butternut squash. The animal form retinol helps too, so eat eggs, cheese, yoghurt, and liver.
Additionally, vitamin A is the most important nutrient for lowering sebum production, which is elevated during summer.
Eat more antioxidants – resveratrol, flavonoids, and cocoa polyphenols are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sunscreen antioxidants. Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices and you will feed your skin a wide variety of plant compounds. A particularly effective sunscreen is lutein, a carotenoid found in eggs, kale and other green vegetables.
Take cold showers – what’s the real reason for increased sebum output in summer? It’s not to keep you cool, that’s the function of sweating. It’s actually to lubricate your skin in response to dryness caused by hot weather…
…and a terrific way to counter the dryness is taking a cold shower. Cold showers are phenomenal for skin tone, skin hydration, and for reducing acne across your entire body. Hot showers, meanwhile, dry out your skin, causing your sebaceous glands to pump out more oil to relubricate it. Cold showers also have terrific mental benefits like slashing stress, increasing serotonin levels and generally making you feel superhuman.
Eat less carbohydrates and sugar – in a hot summer you should take every measure possible to keep your sebum production down and there’s no way better than lowering insulin levels. Insulin acts directly on the sebaceous gland receptors to stimulate them, and enhances the ability of DHT and testosterone to do the same.
The main cause of elevated blood insulin levels is a high carbohydrate diet, so eat less bread, pasta, cereal, potatoes, OR simply burn them up through more exercise like swimming, hiking, or cycling. Avoid simple sugars as the fast blood sugar and insulin spike is a fast way to crank up sebum production.
Take zinc in summer as well – zinc is needed to manufacture retinol-binding protein, which transports all vitamin A to the skin. More zinc can thus enhance the power of vitamin A to lower sebum production.
Eat cinnamon – this common household spice is famous for its blood sugar lowering powers. One study found that 1, 3, and 6 grams of cinnamon lowered blood sugar by 18-29% and other have observed reduced insulin levels. What does this mean? Lower insulin and glucose levels equals dramatically less oily skin. Sprinkling your meals with Ceylon (preferably not cassia) will provide a ton of antioxidants too.
The reality is that if you follow the strategies covered on the rest of this website, such as lowering inflammation, eating more antioxidants, enhancing glutathione production, and sleeping correctly, acne will fail to gain a foothold at any time of the year. So follow the strategies above, but also double down on a clean diet and lifestyle elsewhere.
You should now have the complete ability to control your acne year round. If it shows up in winter right on schedule, use this information to give your acne the pummelling it deserves.
Thanks for reading!