Does stress cause acne?

How stress affects your skin, and how we can help

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Curology Team
Dec 15, 2018 · 4 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Stressed out over stress pimples? It can be a vicious cycle: if you’re breaking out because you’re stressed, breaking out can stress you out even more. Is that a chicken-or-the-egg situation or what? We’re here to help.

Does stress cause acne?

The short answer is yes, but indirectly. When you’re stressed out, certain hormones are released, and that process can lead to acne breakouts. Stress pimples commonly appear around the jawline, chin, and cheeks.

The best way to avoid these breakouts is to manage your stress — easier said than done, right? But really, anything that you can do to reduce stress can make a difference, especially getting a full 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Exercise, meditation, yoga, and plenty of other ways to relax can also have the added bonus of clearer skin.

Here are some Dos and Don’ts when it comes to managing stress and stress-related breakouts.

Choose your comfort food carefully

Stress eating can trigger breakouts — unless fresh vegetables, fruits, and nuts are your idea of comfort food, in which case, we salute you. Eating too many high glycemic index foods, such as simple carbs (cookies, cake, and other sweet treats) can all contribute to acne breakouts. For more on foods that cause acne, check out our guide to foods that cause acne.

The latest scientific evidence suggests that diets high in sugar, simple carbohydrate (high glycemic index) foods, and dairy make some people more prone to acne. A recent study also showed that low weekly intake of fruits or vegetables and low consumption of fresh fish were also associated with adult acne.

For more info and tips, check out What causes acne? and How to live an acne-free lifestyle.

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Sugar, dairy, and acne: why you should stay away from that pint of ice cream

No judgment here — we can all relate to the desire to head to the freezer and treat ourselves to some ice cream, or to indulge in any other of our favorite sweets. But dairy and sugar are two big potential acne triggers!

Does sugar cause acne?

Pretty much, yes. Spikes in blood sugar can set off a chain reaction of hormones and increased insulin production that leads to pimples — similar to how stress affects your skin. In a way, too much sugar stresses out your body, even if it makes you feel better temporarily.

Does milk cause acne?

All milk (but especially skim milk, for some reason) contains the hormone triggers and insulin-spikers that can lead to acne in some people. If dairy is a regular part of your diet and you’re breaking out, you might want to try cutting it out for awhile and see if it helps. Try dairy-free, low-glycemic alternatives such as almond milk or soy milk instead.

That nightcap might not be helping

Does alcohol cause acne? Relaxing with a glass of wine at the end of the day won’t necessarily cause acne, but drinking alcohol (especially to excess) can have a similar effect on your body as sugar and stress. Certain steroid hormones, such as glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens, are released in response to drinking, and these hormones stimulate the oil glands in the skin, beginning a process that leads to acne. Try winding down your day with a cup of herbal tea instead of a spiked hot chocolate or a hot toddy.

Resist the urge to facepalm

Whether you’re facepalming in a moment of frustration or you’ve got a nervous tic, touching your face is bad news for your skin. You can transfer bacteria and make acne worse. If you have to touch your face for some reason (it happens to all of us, obviously!), wash your hands with soap and water first.

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Stop before you pop

For some people, picking or popping zits may feel like a temporary stress-reliever. But really, you’re causing yourself more stress in the long run. Picking at your skin can transfer bacteria, cause inflammation, and make acne worse. Popping zits can make the acne bacteria spread underneath your skin, and cause inflammation, resulting in new breakouts. Do future-you a favor and try your best not to touch those zits!

Check out our Guide To Big Zits to learn how NOT to pop that juicy pimple. Pro tip: hydrocolloid bandages (like the emergency spot patch by Curology) help to pull the gunk right out of a pimple — no popping necessary.

Spot Patch

Keep calm and put cream on

Treating your skin right can help prevent acne, even when you’re under pressure. Using your custom Curology superbottle every night is one of the best ways there is to treat and prevent new breakouts. If you haven’t given Curology a try yet, sign up for a free trial today. Your skin will thank you!

Custom superbottle for breakouts | Free Trial button

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