6 Causes of Summer Breakouts (and What to Do About Them!)


Summer is synonymous with ice cream, barbecues and long days by the water. However, for many of us, it’s also synonymous with other (much less exciting) things – like, you guessed it, skin problems. With people tending to spend more time outdoors and exposing their skin to environmental elements like sun, heat, and chlorine, it’s no wonder they’re starting to see sun damage and summer breakouts.

As for the latter, people are often surprised that they erupt so regularly during the summer. They wonder why their blemishes are increasing in number, even if they haven’t changed their skin care routine significantly. It’s definitely frustrating.

In this post, I share the six most common causes of summer breakouts. This is based on what I’ve seen in my 30+ years of experience as a beautician. I will also share solutions to get your skin looking smoother and clearer again in no time!


6 common causes of summer breakouts

1. Sunscreen

For many people, applying waterproof sunscreen on a regular basis can cause problems. That’s because, to make sunscreens repel water, they use oil-based ingredients that can potentially slip into your pores and cause clogging. From there, it’s the perfect breeding ground for C. acnes bacteria. The result? A full blown outbreak. (Read more about the science behind outbreaks.)

Luckily, there’s an easy way to prevent this from happening. You just have to use my unique sunscreen layering technique. Here’s how it works. Start by applying a non-waterproof sunscreen like Weightless Protection SPF 30. Then apply a waterproof sunscreen on top. This layer sits on the skin’s surface as a sort of sunscreen topcoat without slipping into (and subsequently clogging) your pores.


From there, blot your skin with a tissue to remove surface oil and stickiness. Finally, apply a layer of sunscreen powder over the first two sunscreens. This ensures that your skin is truly protected from the sun without clogging your pores!

2. Sweat and certain items of clothing

Sweat can cause pores to close, which can lead to congestion. These sweat-related breakouts often occur in areas where fabric is pressed against the skin for long periods of time. Think hats, sports bras, and other tight-fitting clothing. They can actually cause a “backup” of sweat and oil in the pores.

The obvious solution to this problem is to stay cool to minimize sweating, but I realize this isn’t always possible. I live in Austin, Texas where temperatures oscillate between 90 and 100 throughout the summer. Also, I love being active and spending time outdoors, so I can’t completely avoid sweating. What I recommend instead is to avoid wearing tight-fitting, non-breathable fabrics for long periods of time. And if you like wearing a hat, headband, or bandana, I suggest keeping it further back in the hairline—not directly above the forehead. This helps minimize forehead breakouts.

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I also suggest cleansing your skin as soon as possible once inside. I recommend using a non-drying, sulfate-free cleanser like the AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser to target breakouts. I formulated it with salicylic and lactic acid to exfoliate skin and keep pores clear.

3. Heat

Did you know that heat can also contribute to summer outbreaks? When it’s hot outside, more oil flows through the pores. Because breakouts are caused by a combination of oil and bacteria, this can cause problems.

Again, the obvious solution would be to stay cool, but if that’s not possible, I recommend using products that remove excess oil without damaging the skin. The Rapid Response Detox Cleanser is a good option. It gently removes oil and pimple-causing bacteria from the skin.


If your skin is overheated and you want to cool it down quickly, there are a few options. You can use a cold compress, a cryo machine, or a trusty bag of frozen veggies from your freezer. Or you could apply a gel-based mask that you keep in the fridge. This is an easy way to instantly lower the temperature of the skin. You also get a bonus of skin-soothing and anti-chafing ingredients. I personally like to use the Rapid Response Detox Masque.

Read Five sneaky ways summer heat causes problems for your skin.

4. Chlorine and salt water

Many people regularly expose their skin to chlorine and salt water during the summer months. Both have high pH levels and can leave your skin in an alkaline state, leading to dryness. While this can lead to breakouts in some cases, over-drying and drying out the skin can backfire and cause even more breakouts (yes, really!).


Here’s why: When oily skin becomes too dry and dehydrated, dead skin cells build up on the surface. If these deposits are not removed by exfoliation, oil and bacteria can become trapped in the pores. The result? summer outbreaks.

So how can you prevent this from happening? It’s easy. Make sure to wash your skin with a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser as soon as you get out of the water. (This is especially important for saltwater swimmers, since salt doesn’t evaporate from your skin like water does. The longer it’s in contact with your skin, the drier it becomes.). Then apply a moisturizer tailored to your skin type. This keeps your skin cells plump and hydrated.

5. Dairy products

From ice cream to cheesy appetizers, many of us tend to eat more dairy during the summer. This can cause problems for some people. Why? Because dairy has been linked to cystic breakouts. In fact, it’s one of the top 11 causes of adult acne!

The idea is that dairy consumption may have an impact endogenous hormones and mimic the hormones that trigger oil production in the skin. This could spark the breakout cycle. (Anyway, IIt’s interesting to note that many studies have attributed cystic acne to skim milk, particularly not necessarily whole milk or other foods like cheese or yogurt.)

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The best way to tell if your cyst breakouts are related to your dairy consumption is to eliminate them completely from your diet for three weeks. If you don’t develop new cystic bursts, which you normally would, then you can assume it’s related.

Over the years, many clients have told me how going dairy free has made incredible changes to the condition of their skin. If you’re struggling with cystic breakouts, I highly recommend trying this. If you find that it helps minimize your breakouts, that doesn’t mean you can never eat dairy again (who wants to give up ice cream forever?). It just means you would cut back.

6. Travel

Remember how I said chlorine and salt water can dry out skin and cause even more breakouts? The same applies to travel, especially air travel. The air in an airplane cabin is super dry (check out this test for proof). It will draw water from wherever it can find it, including your skin. When your skin becomes dehydrated, these dead surface cells build up. If not removed, they trap oil and bacteria and lead to breakouts.

It’s not just air travel that you have to worry about. No matter how you travel, simply moving through different climates and exposing your skin to different environmental aggressors can cause problems. It’s best to put together an effective travel skincare routine. Stick to the basics (cleanser, daytime moisturizer with SPF, and a nighttime moisturizer). You can also pack a non-drying anti-pimple treatment to combat pimples that may appear during your trip.

There you have it. These are the six most common causes of summer breakouts, based on my 30+ years of experience as a beautician. I hope this post has helped you identify some of the reasons why you are breaking out more than usual right now. I also hope it gave you some pointers on possible solutions.

Next, find out how to quickly get rid of any type of blemish!

Famous beautician and skincare expert
An esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience and building an award-winning line of products. Her hands-on experience as an esthetician and trusted skincare expert has created a real solution – products formulated for nine different skin types to give your face exactly what it needs to look and feel good. Celebrities, editors, bloggers and skincare enthusiasts around the world trust her extensive real-world knowledge and ongoing research. Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”


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