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How to survive the holidays without breaking out

Help keep your skin clear through the end of the year with these tips.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Winter holiday skincare routine tips to avoid acne
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 7, 2023 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
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.

The holidays are a hustle! Between end of semester exams or end of year workloads, plus Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s Eve celebrations, there’s a lot going on, and that, admittedly, can take a toll on your skin. From stress-inducing activities (like chaotic holiday travel) to indulgences (eggnog, anyone?), the winter months are rife with potential triggers that can lead to skin conditions like acne and rosacea.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the right preventative care and skincare tips, you can survive this holiday season while keeping blemishes at bay (at least, as much as possible). Here is your expert-approved guide to avoid skin triggers and maintain a healthy complexion that will stay fresh into the new year.

5 factors that can affect your skin

Holiday stress

1. Stress

As exciting as the holiday season is, it can also be pretty stressful. This can be due to a wide number of factors including—but certainly not limited to—an overly packed social schedule, financial strain, lack of sleep, travel, and tricky relationships with family. No matter what’s adding to your mental load, stress can leave a negative impact on your skin—and not to mention, your general sense of wellness.

Stress and acne

While stress doesn’t directly cause acne, it can contribute to it. “When you are stressed, hormones are released that stimulate the oil glands,” explains Curology dermatology provider Elise Griffin, PA-C. “As we know, this excess oil (sebum) and dead skin cells clog our pores, leading to acne breakouts.” One study also found that increased acne severity is significantly associated with stress levels.¹

Stress and rosacea

If you deal with rosacea, a chronic skin condition that involves facial redness and flushing, take a deep breath: Stress can trigger flare-ups. While triggers for rosacea may vary depending on the person, stress is a common one, along with other holiday season culprits, like cold weather, wind, hot baths, indoor heating, dairy, and alcohol.² Although there’s (currently) no cure for rosacea, effective stress management techniques can help you to reduce stress-related flare-ups.

Stress and aging

Prolonged stress can also lead to more long-term impacts on your skin: For example, signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles.³ While scientists are still figuring out exactly how this happens, we do know that stress can deplete the antioxidant capability and interfere with DNA repair—which all contributes to aging. So, managing stress is important if you’re interested in an anti-aging skincare regimen.

Young man sleeping

2. Sleep and your skin

Another factor that plays a big role in your skin and stress levels? Sleep! You might know that getting the recommended eight hours will help you feel your best, but did you know that poor sleep may exacerbate acne, rosacea, and signs of aging? Although more clinical research needs to be done for us to understand exactly why this is, scientists have found that poor sleep quality and acne severity are strongly correlated.⁴ One study also found that sleep quality might aggravate rosacea.⁵ Signs of aging are also associated with poor sleep quality; after a poor night of sleep, you’re more likely to show signs of fatigue, including dark or puffy undereyes and more fine lines around the eyes.⁶ 

All that said—it is possible to keep your stress levels under control, even if it may be easier said than done. This can help you to prevent breakouts in the busy holiday season. “It's important to take time for some self-care,” Griffin says, even if your schedule is packed—and that can look like getting enough sleep, exercising, and making time for the hobbies that bring you peace of mind. Remember, everyone gets stressed from time to time, but it doesn’t need to take control of your life!

High carb holiday celebration foods

3. Holiday food and drink

The holidays are a time of indulgence and celebration—and we’re certainly not going to tell you to not eat your favorite family recipe or skip out on the toast. That said, certain foods and drinks can contribute to acne, so just remember to stay balanced as best as possible. “At the end of the day, it is important to enjoy life! So if you cannot live without your chocolate fix or you want to enjoy those holiday cookies you baked up, do not take that away from yourself,” says Curology provider Katherine Demasi, NP-C. “Rather, enjoy these treats in moderation.”

Here are some foods and drinks that may contribute to acne:

  • Dairy products, especially skim milk, may aggravate acne. So if you notice that dairy is a trigger for your breakouts, consider enjoying your favorite desserts with a non-dairy alternative milk.⁷

  • Simple carbohydrates like white bread, white rice, and sugar can quickly increase blood sugar—which may increase sebum (oil) production and lead to more inflammation and increased acne severity.⁸

  • Chocolate is an ingredient that has a somewhat debatable impact on the skin; although more research needs to be done on the topic, we do know that foods that are high in sugar and dairy (like some chocolate) may increase sebum production, and, as a result, breakouts.⁹

  • Alcoholic beverages can trigger a stress response in the body, and this can lead to hormonal changes that can contribute to acne. The high sugar content of certain drinks may also contribute to breakouts. To limit alcohol’s impact on your skin, practice moderation (which is always important!) and try to steer clear of sugary mixed drinks.¹⁰

If you have rosacea, food and drink can also trigger flare-ups, in particular:

  • Spicy food

  • Alcoholic beverages

  • Hot drinks

  • Cheese

Of course, triggers vary from person to person, so pay careful attention to your own personal triggers and do what you can to avoid them. 

Comedogenic makeup and beauty products

4. Makeup and skincare products

If you have a few holiday parties on your cal, you might be excited to try out a few new makeup looks—and we don’t blame you! This time of year is a great time to have fun with your style and appearance. That said, you should be mindful of products you put on your skin, as some can potentially contribute to breakouts.

One easy rule of thumb is to avoid non-comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients in makeup and skincare products. You can find a full list of ingredients to avoid here. Some products may be labeled as non-comedogenic, but we advise double-checking ingredient lists before adding a new product to your skincare routine. And, of course, don’t forget to remove your makeup before you go to bed!

A good daily skin routine is a great way to help keep acne at bay. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. We recommend just a few steps for your skincare regimen, morning and night:

  1. Wash your face with your cleanser of choice (and at night, remove any makeup).

  2. Treat your skin with your Curology custom formula (or another treatment, like over-the-counter retinol, for instance).If your product contains ingredients like retinoids or AHAs, it should only be used at night, as these ingredients can increase sun sensitivity. 

  3. Moisturizewith a hydrating moisturizer that works well for your skin type, morning and night.

  4. Protect your skin with broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30+ in the morning (sunburn can happen at all times of year).

Products like toner, serums, and face masks are entirely optional in a solid skincare routine.

Winter skincare routine

5. Winter weather

If you live in a cold climate or you’re traveling to one for the holiday season, a few skin care tips may help you better protect your skin. “It's certainly possible that the colder winter air can dry out the skin and make it more prone to breaking out,” says Curology provider Donna McIntyre NP-C. “This is because dry skin may become more easily irritated and more susceptible to the growth of bacteria.” Those dry dead skin cells can also build up and clog your pores, contributing to breakouts. Not to mention, dryness and flaking skin can feel uncomfortable!

When dealing with cold air and drier, windy weather McIntyre recommends these winter skincare tips: 

  • Moisturize your skin liberally

  • Run a humidifier

  • Avoid irritating products (especially if you already have sensitive skin) 

  • Avoid hot showers and baths in favor of lukewarm ones (even if hot water feels good, it can dry out and irritate your skin) 

If you have dry skin or are exposed to dry air, it’s a good idea to use a heavier moisturizer, like Curology’s rich moisturizer or plain Vaseline. And don’t forget to apply body lotion, too! Look for products with hydrating ingredients like glycerin, lanolin, mineral oil, petrolatum, and shea butter to combat dryness.¹¹ Keep your lips soft and hydrated with a good lip balm, while you’re at it.

If you’re traveling somewhere warm for the winter season, stick with your summer skincare essentials, like a lightweight moisturizer. And no matter where you are, don’t forget your daily SPF—that’s an essential year-round to protect your skin from UV rays, even in the wintertime! 

Stress and acne

What to do if you experience acne overnight? 

Breakouts happen—even when you do your best to take good care of your skin, sometimes a pimple is unavoidable. But there are tactics you can use to treat it, minimize it, and help it go away faster (especially when you have parties to get to!). 

Stop, don’t pop! Do your best to avoid popping or picking at pimples. A popped and leaky pimple can contaminate the area around it, which may cause the gunk inside to spread further into your and potentially causing more breakouts or irritation. Plus, you run the risk of driving that bacteria-ridden gunk even deeper into your skin, causing more swelling and inflammation, not to mention dark spots or permanent scarring.

Woman applying Curology Emergency Spot Patch To Pimple

Try a spot treatment. Hydrocolloid patches work to absorb pus and oil from blemishes, helping them to heal faster. Plus, they’re thin enough to layer under makeup, so you can wear them during the day. Just remember to choose concealer, foundation, or a tinted moisturizer that’s non-comedogenic and non-irritating—you don’t want to make your breakout worse!

Prevent pimples with an effective acne routine. If you’re dealing with consistent acne breakouts, it’s a good idea to talk to a dermatology provider about the best treatment for you. While there’s no one-size-fits-all treatment for acne, tretinoin—a derivative of vitamin A—is the “gold standard” for topical acne treatment. This ingredient helps to unclog pores and keep blemishes at bay, though it’s only available through prescription via an in-person provider or through telemedicine (like Curology!). As for over-the-counter options, cleansers with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are great acne-fighting products to try.

Curology Products

Curology can help prevent and treat breakouts 

Far too often, figuring out the best treatment for your skin—whether you’re dealing with acne, rosacea, or signs of aging—can feel like a guessing game. But that’s where Curology comes in. Our providers help you to build a comprehensive skincare routine, which includes custom prescription skincare products that are formulated to address your biggest skin concerns and goals.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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We’re on a mission to make quality, dermatologist-approved skincare more accessible to all—and we do just that by making it easy for you to connect with a medical provider who can guide you through your own skin journey. All it takes to start is a quick quiz and a few selfies, and then you can get your first month of Curology sent to your door for free*—just pay $4.95 for shipping and handling. You’ll also get the chance to try our other dermatologist-designed products, like emergency spot patches, sunscreen, or micellar makeup remover

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. Ying Chen and John Lyga. Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. (June 2014). 

  2. Diane Thiboutot, et al. Standard management options for rosacea: The 2019 update by the National Rosacea Society Expert Committee. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (June 1, 2020).

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Feeling stressed? It can show in your skin, hair, and nails. American Academy of Dermatology. (2022, July 1). 

  4. Ago Harlim and Gloria Stephanie Tesalonika. The Relationship between Sleep Quality and Students' Acne Vulgaris Severity at Medical Faculty Universitas Kristen Indonesia. Journal of Advanced Research in Dynamical and Control Systems. (June 2020).

  5. Wang, Z., et al. Relationship between rosacea and sleep. The Journal of Dermatology. (2020). 

  6. Victor Gabriel Clatici et al. Perceived Age and Life Style. The Specific Contributions of Seven Factors Involved in Health and Beauty. Maedica (Bucur). (September 2017).

  7. Andrea L. Zaenglein et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (May 1, 2016).

  8. Andrea L. Zaenglein et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (May 1, 2016).

  9. Sunhee Lim et al. Dietary Patterns Associated with Sebum Content, Skin Hydration and pH, and Their Sex-Dependent Differences in Healthy Korean Adults. Nutrients. (March 2019).

  10. National Rosacea Society. Factors That May Trigger Rosacea Flare-Ups. National Rosacea Society. (n.d.).

  11. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Your Winter Skin Survival Kit. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (May 27, 2021).

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• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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