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Does Stress Really Cause Acne? Top Dermatologists Weigh In

Does stress really cause acne? And if so, how does stress cause acne? Find out the answers below.

Sure, you’re used to getting a hormonal pimple on your chin whenever you’re hormones are out of wack because your period is coming, but what about when you get a painful hormonal-like pimple seemingly out of nowhere? You know what I’m talking about: Those times when you stay up late working on a deadline for a project for work and then the next morning a painful, red pimple is glaring back at you in the mirror? It sucks.

Here, we chat with three dermatologists about the relationship between stress and acne.

Stress definitely can cause acne

Absolutely, without a doubt, stress causes acne,” says Rachel Nazarian, a dermatologist with Schweiger Dermatology Group. “When people experience stress (physical or emotional), it causes a release of a hormone caused cortisol, which in turn acts on the pathway of the hormone testosterone. This in turn causes the formation of acne pimples on the skin.”

Even more, Kavita Mariwalla, a dermatologist in West Islip, NY, says that the cells inside pimples are very responsive to stress. “We know sebaceous glands have receptors for stress hormones and can increase sebum production which is one of the steps in acne production,” she says. “It’s also hypothesized that during times of stress, blood is diverted away from the skin and this leads to a more sallow appearance and decreased cell cycle turnover, which in turn can lead to acne.”

Not only does stress cause the release of those hormones, it also causes the body to to become inflamed. “Stress causes the body to release hormones and cell signals that increase the body’s inflammatory response,” says dermatologist Jeremy Fenton. “This inflammatory response can make acne flare even more.”

What kind of acne does stress cause?

Since stress increases your inflammatory response, it can worsen cystic and inflammatory acne. These are those painful pimples that usually appear around your jawline and bottom half of your face. “Hormonal breakouts can be either inflammatory, which looks like red painful bumps on the skin, or little blackheads and whiteheads,” says Nazarian.

So how do you treat and prevent stress-induced acne?

All three derms say that one of the best ways to calm down inflamed stress-caused acne is to visit your derm and get a cortisone shot. If you want to go even further, and you feel like you constantly get acne from stress and derm visits just aren’t realistic, you may want to consider prescription medication to keep you covered at all times. “If you are in a high stress job where the break from stress doesn’t seem in sight, consider a hormone regulating medication like spironolactone or using a medication that you can use to spot treat, such as Retin-A Micro or even an over-the-counter gel, like Differin,” says Mariwalla.

cosrx pimple patches

But for those of us who want to tackle our stress-caused acne with products, Mariwalla’s first suggestion is to try to stick to a consistent routine as much as you can in your life. “It’s difficult to prevent stress, however typically in times of stress we fall out of our routines, especially when it comes to skin care. If you know you are stressed I recommend simplifying your routine.”

Even if you have no time to wash your face, Mariwalla recommends at least using a cleansing wipe, like the Leaders Labotica Argan Oil Deep Cleansing Tissue to get as much dirt as possible off your face.

“If you can’t apply a prescription acne medication, go for over-the-counter brands that work, for example, the SkinCeuticals Blemish and Age Defense serum,” says Mariwalla. Another great product that helps diminish hormonal acne fast are the Cosrx Acne Master Pimple Patches. I swear, the mornings after I slap one of these bad boys on, my hormonal pimple is way less painful and not visible at all. The pimple also heals much faster with continued use of these.

“You should also use a face mask that you can layer or do in a sequence,” says Mariwalla. “I suggest doing a clay mask to decrease acne breakouts and then a sheet mask with moisturizers to rebalance the skin. All you will need is 10 minutes to do something that will last you three to four days.”

Try using the RE:P Bio Fresh Calming Mask with Real Calming Herb to help soothe inflamed breakouts and then after washing that off, seal in the hydration with the Leaders Balancing Recovery Mask. The sheet mask is made with bio-cellulose to deeply infuse the hydrating and calming ingredients in the essence.

Bottom line:

Unfortunately, stress can definitely cause acne, and we obviously can’t predict all the times we’re going to get stressed. But the best thing you can do is have a preventative routine ready to go and try to stick to a regular deep-cleansing skin care routine at all times. So, try your best to make sure you double cleanse even if you’ve stayed up past 1am working on something or thinking about an issue!

Also, take those vacation days. Nazarian may have the best advice of all to prevent stress-induced hormonal acne: “Nothing is better than a nice vacation to relax and de-stress!”

+ How does stress cause acne for you? Share your experiences and best treatments in the comments below!

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