Hormonal acne can get worse in winter for many reasons. For example, dry air can lead to an increase in oil production in the skin, resulting in more blocked pores.

Sweat and humidity in summer can also have this effect. How a person responds to seasonal changes may depend on the individual. There can also be other reasons for an increase in acne, such as a change in diet or lifestyle.

This article looks at whether hormonal acne gets worse in winter and the reasons why it might, plus treatments and prevention.

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Hormonal acne is a term that describes pimples that mainly occur due to fluctuations in hormones, such as those that occur before a period.

Some research suggests that acne may get worse in winter, but the research is not conclusive and does not focus specifically on hormonal acne.

A 2015 study in the United States investigated when people with acne are most likely to seek medical help. The researchers found that consultations peaked in winter and spring, with fewer people attending appointments in summer.

Similarly, research from 2021 in Pakistan also corroborated that patient referrals for acne peaked in winter. However, both of these studies based their findings on how many people sought medical advice. This is a subjective measure, and it could occur for a range of reasons.

More research is needed to confirm if winter does make acne worse.

There are a number of factors that could explain why hormonal acne gets worse in winter for some people. They include:

  • Lack of moisture: Winter air can be dry, particularly indoors, where people use heating systems. This may mean the skin becomes dehydrated. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a lack of moisture can cause the skin to produce more oil, or sebum, to compensate. Oil can then block the pores, resulting in acne.
  • Lack of light: Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) rays, which can kill bacteria. UV light also suppresses the immune system, which may reduce inflammation. Both of these factors can potentially reduce acne in summer.
  • Vitamin D: Another effect of UV light is that it stimulates vitamin D production. A 2022 review of previous research found that people with acne often have significantly lower levels of vitamin D than people without acne. This may worsen in winter when light levels are lowest.
  • Clothing: In colder seasons, people may wear hats, scarves, and hoods around the face. If a person does not wash these regularly, they can harbor bacteria that can make contact with the skin.

It is unclear if acne gets significantly worse in winter or summer. While research suggests more people consult doctors for their acne in winter, some factors can also worsen the condition in summer, such as:

  • Sweat: Higher heat may cause sweating, and sweat on the skin can lead to acne.
  • Humidity: Research from 2019 found that in a tropical climate, acne breakouts were more prevalent in summer and during the rainy season. The researchers attributed this to higher temperatures and humidity, but it may not apply to all climates.
  • UV light: While UV light has properties that can alleviate acne in some people, research from 2023 also found that solar radiation may trigger or worsen acne. UV light may initiate flare-ups and could induce post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, which is when a person has dark spots or patches after acne heals.
  • Skin products: During summer, people may use more topical products on the skin, such as sunscreens, moisturizers, or fake tanning products. Some ingredients in skin care products can block pores, so it may help to choose ones that are noncomedogenic, or do not block pores.

Researchers needs to study seasonal differences on acne-prone skin in order to draw more definitive conclusions.

Home remedies for acne are similar no matter what the season. However, if a person does get worse acne in winter, they may benefit from adjusting their skin care routine.

For example, it may help to:

  • wash twice daily using a gentle cleanser that will not strip the skin of moisture
  • pat the skin with a clean towel, leaving it a little damp
  • follow with a hydrating noncomedogenic moisturizer right away, to seal in moisture

If the air is very dry, people may find it helpful to reapply their moisturizer, or another hydrating product such as a mist, throughout the day. People can also use tissue or blotting paper to absorb excess oil.

It is best to avoid:

  • products that are harsh or irritating
  • scrubbing the skin, as this can increase irritation
  • picking or popping acne, as this may lead to more inflammation and scarring

It can take time for a new acne-friendly skin care routine to help. If there is no improvement after several weeks, people may wish to speak with a doctor about treatments.

Find out more about home remedies for acne.

To prevent acne in winter, it may help to:

  • wash the face and hair regularly, including after getting sweaty
  • wash towels, bedding, and clothing regularly, including winter accessories that sit near the face
  • avoid products that dry the skin, such as astringents or products containing alcohol

A 2019 review of previous research notes that there may be a link between lifestyle factors and adult acne in females, including stress, lack of sleep, smoking, and a diet with high glycemic index (GI) foods. It may help to:

  • reduce stress
  • get enough sleep
  • stop smoking, if relevant
  • eat more low GI foods

So far, no studies have shown that getting more vitamin D directly reduces acne. However, in the United States, around 1 in 4 adults do not get enough vitamin D. For some, it may be necessary to take a supplement in winter.

If skin care and lifestyle adjustments do not help with acne, people can seek additional help from a doctor.

Treatment for acne in winter is similar to treatments people can use at any other time of year. A doctor may suggest a topical retinoid, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide decreases the production of sebum.

If topical treatments do not help, they may suggest oral medications, such as:

  • hormone medications
  • antibiotics to slow or stop the growth of bacteria and reduce inflammation
  • isotretinoin, an oral retinoid

Some people with severe acne or those who does not respond to topical or oral medications may need additional treatments, such as:

Sometimes, acne occurs due to an underlying medical condition, such as polycystic ovary syndrome. If a doctor suspects this, they may recommend additional tests and treatments.

Learn more about acne treatments and preventing acne.

Some studies suggest that more people go to visit a doctor for acne treatment in winter than in summer. However, it is unclear if acne always gets worse in winter, or why this might be if it does.

There are also studies showing that acne gets worse in high temperatures and humidity. It may be that both extremes of weather can affect skin health. People may also have different reactions to cold and warm temperatures.

Keeping the skin clean and hydrated in dry or cold air may help. Speak with a doctor if acne gets worse and home remedies do not work.