Debunking Acne Myths: Patients Need Photoprotection, Not a Tan



Myth: Getting a Tan Helps Improve Acne

Acne has a multifaceted impact on patients, and facial acne in particular can impair self-image, psychological well-being, and ability to develop relationships. Patients cope with the clinical presentation of the disease in various ways, such as wearing makeup to cover blemishes, changing their hair color or diet, or getting regular facials. A common misconception is that a tan will help resolve acne.

A 2014 study on the burden of adult female acne (N=208) found that 5.3% of patients go to tanning salons or lay out in the sun to cope with their acne and 17% use self-tanning products to make their acne less visible. Many patients (40%) also believed that sunscreen exacerbates acne. Furthermore, a study of adolescents in Stockholm reported that those with acne, eczema, or psoriasis used sunbeds more than others without skin diseases.

The risk of developing skin cancer from sun exposure or UV light has been well established, and there is no evidence that UV light helps improve acne. A 2015 review of the literature on tanning bed use and phototherapy associated with treatment of conditions such as acne reported that experimental trials have been conducted for various light source therapies (eg, blue light, red-blue light, photodynamic therapy); however, there is no direct evidence for UV light.

In fact, acne patients should be counseled on the importance of photoprotection. Many acne therapies leave patients predisposed to UV damage, and UV damage generates free radical formation, which has been implicated in acne flares.

Expert Commentary

Often I hear from patients they feel tanning helps improve their acne. I tell them there is no evidence this is at all true. Just like cream makeup can camouflage acne, so too can tanning. But, trying to hide your blemishes does not actually help nor treat them. And moreover, tanning is so dangerous for potential skin cancer later in life.

—Lawrence J. Green, MD (Washington, DC)

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