Acne isn’t just a skin problem that affects adolescents and teens, adults can get it, too. Adults with acne may experience occasional mild breakouts, while others may develop inflammatory acne lesions that can lead to scarring or pigment changes. In this article, you’ll discover environmental factors that can contribute to acne outbreaks.
For a quick review, these factors contribute to acne:
- Excess production of sebum, an oily substance, that clogs pores
- Colonization of the skin with acne-causing bacteria
- The things you encounter in your daily life can worsen acne by one of these three mechanisms. Let’s look at five environmental factors that can worsen acne.
Hot Weather and Humidity
Hot weather and humidity can trigger acne outbreaks. Studies show that people who live in climates with high heat and humidity are more likely to develop acne outbreaks than those who live in cooler areas with low humidity. Along with clogging pores, high humidity can also cause the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, to swell, which may trigger acne breakouts.
Some people claim their acne improves in the summer, as they spend more time outdoors in the sun. However, moderation is best. When you spend time in the sun, especially if you’re exercising, you sweat, creating an environment that promotes the growth of acne-causing bacteria. If your skin dries out from too much sun exposure, skin cells on the surface of your skin harden, making it more difficult for you to shed dead skin cells. When dead skin builds up, it blocks the drainage of sebum, and you end up with blackheads.
If hot and humid weather worsens acne, you might assume that cold weather improves it, but it’s not so straightforward. Cold weather can dry out your skin. When your skin is too dry, from cold air, winds, and low humidity, sebaceous glands start producing more sebum to protect your skin against moisture loss. That’s why it’s important to continue to use a moisturizer when the temperatures drop to keep your sebaceous glands from becoming too hyperactive.
Research shows a link between higher levels of air pollution and increased acne outbreaks. One theory as to how air pollution worsens acne relates to inflammation. One study found that people who live in urban areas with more pollution have higher sebum levels than those who live in a cleaner environment. Air pollution may trigger inflammation, which increases sebum production and pore-clogging.
Indoor and Outdoor Exposures
Certain occupations predispose to acne outbreaks. For example, if you’re a cook at a fast-food restaurant, you’ll get more exposure to grease. This can cause acne breakouts. Other occupational exposures that increase the risk of acne outbreaks include exposure to coal tar, petroleum, crude oil, pitch, and certain cables.
If you work in the construction industry, are a roofer, pave roads, work in a paper plant, work with coal tar, or wood, it could trigger acne outbreaks. These substances worsen acne by causing inflammation and clogging pores. Work-related exposures cause acne so frequently that it has a name, occupational acne. If you’re prone to acne outbreaks, choose your job wisely!
The Bottom Line
Now you know what environmental factors can worsen acne. If you’re exposed to any of the above, it’s important to take even better care of your skin to reduce the risk of outbreaks. See also: How to Treat Cystic Acne and Why Topical Treatment Doesn’t Always Work
- Krutmann J, Moyal D, Liu W, Kandahari S, Lee GS, Nopadon N, Xiang LF, Seité S. Pollution and acne: is there a link? Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2017 May 19;10:199-204. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28579815/
- el Haddad, C., Gerbaka, N. E., Hallit, S., & Tabet, C. (2021). Association between exposure to ambient air pollution and occurrence of inflammatory acne in the adult population. BMC Public Health, 21(1). https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12889-021-11738-0
- Chen L, Hu JY, Wang SQ. The role of antioxidants in photoprotection: a critical review. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Nov;67(5):1013-24. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22406231/
- Demir, B., & Cicek, D. (2017). Occupational Acne. Acne and Acneiform Eruptions. https://www.intechopen.com/chapters/52034
- Ayer J, Burrows N. Acne: more than skin deep. Postgrad Med J. 2006 Aug;82(970):500-6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2585707/
- Pullar JM, Carr AC, Vissers MCM. The Roles of Vitamin C in Skin Health. Nutrients. 2017 Aug 12;9(8):866. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28805671/
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