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Does Stress Really Cause Acne?

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Your boss on your case, again. There’s a giant stack of unpaid bills piling up in your kitchen. And your ex is all over your Instagram feed canoodling with his new love. Unfortunately, stress is a normal part of daily life. Fifty-five percent of Americans say that they are stressed at some point during each day, according to a 2019 Gallup poll. That’s 20 percent higher than the world average of 35 percent! And while some level of anxiety is unavoidable, long-term stress can really take a toll on the way you feel - and look.

Stress and acne: how they are connected

Acne is primarily caused by four factors: excess oil (sebum) production, pores that are clogged by sebum and dead skin cells, bacteria, and excess hormonal activity.

Researchers have long recognized the correlation between stress and acne. While stress alone does not directly result in a breakout, it sets two of the four triggers we just mentioned in motion. “For example, during finals week or right before a big presentation or starting a new job, it seems that a breakout is inevitable,” explained Dr. Michelle Chung, a clinical psychologist and professor at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. “Research has found that stress triggers the release of hormones in your body (mainly cortisol and androgens). These hormones produce more oil or sebum, which mixes with dead skin and bacteria to clog pores.”

RELATED READ: Manage Your Stress Better With Psychologist Dr. Michelle Chung

But the stress-acne connection doesn’t end there. When we are stressed, an increase in nerve signaling causes us to itch, scratch and pick, which leads to even more inflammation and redness. Plus, the bad habits often associated with stress (such as sleepless nights, unhealthy eating or other consumption, and changes in personal hygiene or skincare routines) can all worsen existing acne issues.

How to get rid of stress acne: eight quick tips

Basically, the way to get rid of stress acne is to find the stress-reduction techniques that work best for you. Here are eight simple ideas to give you a head start.

1. Journal for five to 10 minutes a day. Writing down your thoughts, fears and worries can be a great way to let them go, especially at the end of each day.

2. Try mindfulness meditation. When you increase your ability to be fully present and aware, you’re not as likely to feel overwhelmed and stressed.

3. Set aside time to plan your meals (and snacks). This will help ensure that you don’t turn to junk food when you’re rushed and insanely busy.

4. Exercise. Whether it’s going for a run or heading to a yoga class, exercise allows you to blow off steam and recenter yourself.

Woman practicing mindfulness meditation
5. Take a bath. Sea salt, bubbles, bath bombs - use whatever you find relaxing. And as a bonus, the steam from a bath can help open your pores (which is ideal for a post-bath charcoal mask).

6. Organize. Cleaning out that junk drawer or email inbox will not only take your mind off of your worries for a bit, but also give you a feeling of accomplishment when you’re finished.

7. Mix things up. Get out of your daily routine when you can, even if it’s with little things like brushing your teeth before you shower (vs. after) or working out at a different time of the day.

8. Prepare. If you know you have a stressful event coming up, like a big presentation or social occasion, ask your derm for suggestions on how to prevent breakouts. And make sure you have some Mighty Patches on hand to immediately zap any zits that do pop up!


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