Does your skin tend to erupt with blemishes in the fall? Dermatology clinics have long noticed a seasonal influx of new patient in September and October. Why would the change in season cause people to break out? The “bible” on acne treatment is Acne RX, written by Dr. James Fulton (it’s a highly worthwhile read if you suffer from acne). In his book, Dr. Fulton goes over the surprising theory on why pimples erupt in the fall. NOTE: The seasonal increase in acne breakouts is most extreme in places where there are strong changes in weather from season to season. In warmer climates with less season variation, fall breakouts are much less pronounced.
Scientists have long observed that animals experience seasonal surges in hormones. These sex hormones create a desire to mate at an appropriate time of the year so the newborn babies will arrive when the weather is favorable for survival. A French endocrinologist, Alain Reinberg, studied testosterone production in humans and found that for both men an women, testosterone levels are at their highest in October. Testosterone is associated with sex drive, so it’s theorized that humans experience a surge in this hormone in the fall so that nine months later when the baby is born, it will be early summer. In earlier days when humans’ were hunter-gatherers, being born in the summer meant more food availability and less chance of freezing. Although modern-day newborns can now survive just fine in the winter, thousands of years of evolution have programmed this hormonal surge into our bodies.
So now you’re probably wondering, what does an increase in testosterone have to do with breaking out? Testosterone stimulates the oil glands in the body, causing an increase in sebum (the body’s natural oil). Testosterone also makes the skin cells that line the pores and follicles more sticky, and sticky cells are more likely to clump together. Inside the pores, this mixture of increased oil and sticky dead skin cells forms a sludge that clogs the pores and causes breakouts. For people with acne-prone skin, and increase in testosterone means more breakouts.
Some acne researchers also note that sebum production increases in summer. In the fall, the skin is still oily, but the air becomes dry and colder, causing the skin to dehydrate. The combination of dry skin and lots of dead skin cells inside the pores coupled with high oil production also triggers breakouts.
Dr. Fulton recommends getting a jump on fall breakouts be upping your usage of acne treatment products before seasonal breakouts occur. As soon as the weather starts changing in September, begin applying a leave-on acne treatment product up to twice daily, and consider adding an extra-strength product into your routine. This kind of preventative treatment should help to keep seasonal breakouts at bay.