Why does skin complexion change with the seasons?

- asks M.P. from New York, NY

July 23, 2007

Our skin makes up a big part of the outer shell we present to the world each day, and we want to keep it happy and healthy-looking. But, like most relationships, the arrangements people develop with their skin are complicated. Our skin isn’t always great at telling us what it needs: even trained professionals have trouble translating its signals of bumps and blotches. And so, we struggle with creams, gels and exfoliating scrubs, trying to achieve perfect dermatological harmony. Then, just when we think we have it figured out, a breakout or a mysterious rash crops up, reminding us that our skin does not have an exclusive relationship with us; it interacts with other factors–mainly, the environment.

Weather, for one, has a huge effect on our skin. When it’s too hot or dry outside, our skin lets us know it. The winter months bring harsh, cold winds that irritate the delicate skin on our face and hands. Winter also brings dry conditions that strip skin of its natural moisture. This dryness can lead to red patches and excess dead skin cells that clog pores, causing acne. According to some skin-care experts, winter is the worst season for acne. It’s unclear whether these breakouts are due to the weather alone, or are an indirect effect of all the lotions we apply to counteract wintry conditions.

For many, summer brings the promise of clear, easy-to-manage skin. The humidity of summer softens skin and brings back the moisture lost in winter. Some people attribute their improved complexions to increased sun exposure, but the American Dermatological Association says there is no evidence to substantiate this claim. In fact, dermatologists advise patients taking acne medication to avoid the sun’s rays when possible, as many of these drugs increase sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to skin cancer.

Moreover, not everyone says summer helps their skin. Acne has the potential to get worse as the weather gets hotter. There are several explanations for why this happens. For one, excess heat and humidity increase sweat production, which means more oil available to clog pores. Also, summer activities – such as hanging out in swimming pools – can have negative effects on our skin. Chlorinated chemicals can cause a particularly bad form of acne called chloracne. Additionally, sunscreens, while great for protecting users from UV rays, can aggravate the skin, which is why many dermatologists recommend oil-free varieties for patients prone to acne flare-ups.

Extreme heat and humidity can also facilitate bacterial and fungal infections. In the Vietnam War, dermatological problems accounted for 12 percent of outpatient cases, according to one report (pdf). Many of these cases involved bacterial and fungal infections, which the doctors involved blamed on Vietnam’s muggy climate. They reported a high incidence of the bacterial infection impetigo and tinea pedis, a fungal infection more commonly known as athlete’s foot. In addition, numerous soldiers contracted a condition called tropical acne that only occurs in especially hot and humid areas. Tropical acne is a lot like regular acne but much more painful: many of the soldiers who had it were physically unable to carry their backpacks.

Of course, when the temperatures reach all-time highs here in the U.S., we stay inside and crank up the air conditioning. Our skin probably doesn’t like that much either. Both air conditioning and central heating can dry skin out. The struggle to create conditions our skin will find favorable can get frustrating, but what choice do we have? Until researchers come up with a way to prevent our skin from reacting to environmental factors, there is little we can do except cleanse, moisturize and hope for the best.

About the Author

Erica Westly

BS in biochemistry from Marlboro College, MS in neuroscience from Case Western Reserve University. Completed three years of neuroscience PhD program before realizing that academic science and I were never going to be a good fit. Enjoys good coffee, anything written by Kurt Vonnegut or Oliver Sacks, and traveling to far away places.



David says:

why do we only get spots on our faces? (the worst place for them! lol) and i always get them in the same place on my chin and next to my ears never anywer else but i cant make them go away

Skin Care says:

I’ve always noticed my face being so greasy during the summer due to sunscreen, but hey, you’ve got to wear it!

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I always get rashes and spots near my nose in the winter season but I cannot find any way to get rid of them.

Horace says:

im a high yellow skintone and every summer i turn really dark like a light brown complexion also i have bad acne and oily skin . What happened

my completion is fair but some time it look littile bit dark says:

I am using dove and clean and clear but its not working

vernon says:

does dove soap help with oily skin and skin complection

Rajwinder says:

I am working in high heated factory. Does it make me dark complexion. I am worry. Pl. Give me answer

Like most people, I constantly get acne and pimples. When I consulted my dermatologist, he said it was due to the weather and my diet. With a proper diet filled with green veggies and fruits, you can get enough vitamins and minerals to enhance your skin health. Also, I have been trying natural face packs and creams which has made my skin softer and less oily.

You have brought up a very great details, regards for the post.

SkinBalance says:

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ProMax Pump says:

Good blog post. I certainly love this site. Keep it up!

This is so true. I usually get cystic acne during summer and it can get so painful and takes a long time to heal. Thanks for sharing!

Megadren says:

Rattling wonderful visual appeal on this site, I’d value it

Very interesting point about the relation of heat with acne. I guess it depends on where you are geographically based. I tend to spend my summers by the seaside and I swim pretty much every morning in the sea before I go to work. Sea waters really helps with my acne and generally makes my skin really healthy. Thanks for sharing this post, Anna!

My skin change often an i don’t seems to understand,dark brown in d day an light at night,i can’t seem to get the kind of light skin i desire even with all d expsive cream i got,pls what do i do?

Dodolover56 says:

In the summer my face gets patches of light skin but then goes away in the winter anyone know what causing this and how to stop it??

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Kofi Acheampong says:

I always get dark face during winter time.what causes that.

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Chiamaka says:

Tanks for d post i learnt a lot from it

Very interesting point about the relation of heat with acne. I guess it depends on where you are geographically based. I tend to spend my summers by the seaside and I swim pretty much every morning in the sea before I go to work. Sea waters really helps with my acne and generally makes my skin really healthy. Thanks for sharing this post, Anna!

Manish Dangi says:

what about shingles and white spots?

Tina says:

Nice article! I’ll be trying this more for my routine!

Lelanie Melanio says:

Yes that’s right..most skin complexion change with the season..
During summer my skin too dark.
And silky brownish/pale winter

Cass Smith says:

I really I’m just posting info because I know how bad having dry scaly skin around my nose gets and over the years have found my own solution to the problem it may not work for everyone but if it helps someone else great! Get some sun ( not too much) tan a little in the winter months and treat the area affected with over the counter dandruff shampoo every night in the winter

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