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Why does my acne get better or worse when I go in the sun or tanning salon?

Basically, sun exposure has a drying effect on our skin and cause damages to the sebaceous gland (i.e. oil-producing glands located in the deeper layers of our skin, and are attached to the hair follicle) to make them temporarily less active. For this reason, people with overactive sebaceous glands may find their skin gets initially better after sun exposure. For some people, especially those with inflammatory acne (such as papules, pustules and cysts), there usually a dramatic improvement in their skin over the summer, when the days are longer or when they spend more time outdoors, or after sun exposure. This is actually due to ingredients called porphyrins that are part of the P. acnes (i.e. short for Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium that grows and flourishes under certain condition and is the main culprit for inflammatory acne) bacteria which are very sensitive to sunlight, especially in the 410-420 nm wavelength of light.

However, the heat and sweating that often accompany sun exposure can actually make acne worse for some people. In fact, the types of ultraviolet radiation of concern to our skin are the invisible ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B (i.e. UVA and UVB for short, in natural sunlight there is 90% UVA of 320-400 nm wavelength and 10% UVB of 290-320 nm wavelength of light). These invisible ultraviolet is damaging to our skin in many ways, i.e. cause various types of skin cancer, and noted to make acne worse and known to be comedogenic (i.e. induce open or closed comedones to form).

If you are like some people thinking that tanning salons is a safe way to get the effect of "sun" and to better treat your acne, you got to think twice. In fact, tanning beds contain the same ultraviolet radiation found in natural sunlight (as mentioned above) but with a higher amount of ultraviolet A and less ultraviolet B than in natural sunlight.

Studies have shown that prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light may actually increase comedonal acne (i.e. mostly blackheads and whiteheads) and that tanning beds are not safe. In fact, chronic sun exposure from any source can increase our risk of skin cancer, premature aging and immunosuppressive to the skin and slows our wound healing process. The result is that, our collagen (i.e. the main protein in the deeper layers of our skin and is responsible for the elasticity of the skin and plays a prominent role in development of scars) formation gets affected, i.e. the marks left behind from any healing lesions will take longer to disappear and will even have a higher chance of leaving a permanent scar (including acne scars).

Therefore, it is advisable to avoid excessive sun exposure in general and tanning beds in particular, especially if we have acne. Studies have shown that this is the best way to keep our skin to look younger, more healthy, and radiant. Still like the look of a suntan? Then, try those sunless tanning products that usually offer a quick, easy way to get the color of a suntan we want without the sun damage, i.e. safe to help us have a very natural-looking "tan" without the damage of sun exposure.

In general, the active ingredient in sunless tanners is DHA (i.e. short for dihydroxyacetone, a simple nontoxic ingredient that stains the upper layers of our skin to create brown or golden brown compounds) and most of the self-tanners have concentrations of between 2% and 5% of DHA. Other ingredients that may be added in shall include sunscreen and fragrance to make the products more enticing.

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