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Stress acne: the college years

How to manage back to school acne with self-care

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 4 min read
Boxing gloves with purple background
Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar
by Stephanie Papanikolas
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 4 min read
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.

Does stress cause acne? Yes and no — stress can have a ripple effect in our lives, from hormonal fluctuations to binge-eating. The back-to-school season can be exhilarating — and also very jarring, especially if you were just getting used to a relatively stress-free summer. And skin concerns like acne seem to get worse because of it!

But, dear Reader, never fear. Sometimes, all it takes to stomp the stress-beast is paying a little extra attention to yourself. Here’s how to let yourself freak out without breaking out:

Can stress cause acne?

As your average highly neurotic skincare blogger, I’m fascinated by the terrible things our bodies can do to themselves — acne causes are a product of mismanaged evolution if there ever was one!

Stress and acne often go hand-in-hand, thanks to hormones. When we encounter stress from our environment, our body responds with an increase in hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Fluctuations in hormonal levels are 1) totally normal, 2) totally can affect your skin by triggering oil production. It’s like your anxiety is oozing out of your body — yum!

But what causes acne, specifically? Stress-induced hormones can trigger oil production in your pores. The increased oil production is one of the first stops on the train to Clogged Pores, Your Face, USA. Stress acne areas often form in hormonal patterns along the jawline, chin, and cheeks.

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How to prevent stress acne

If you figure out the lifehack to stop stress from ever happening to you, please take my job. Until then, I’ve got the wisdom of Curology’s dermatology providers to guide me. Here are a few changes they advised that helped stomp out my stressne:

  1. Eat mindfully. Listen, you’ll have to pry this cupcake out of my cold dead hands, and if I’m even a little hangry, it’s over. That said, binging on anything is always too much. All I’m saying is: eat your cupcake (and/or drink your IPA) with intention. But remember: any kind of overindulgence can be a type of escapism that makes things worse!

  2. No touchy. Picking at your face may provide a momentary feeling of release, but trust me when I say it can make matters a whole lot worse. Frequent touching of the face exposes it to bacteria on the hands, which can contribute to acne. Poking and prodding zits can also exacerbate breakouts and lead to scarring. And even if you’re not breaking out — yet — face-palming in times of frustration may lead to breakouts due to occlusion and moisture on contact!

Want to know more about what foods can break you out? Read our guide.

How to get rid of stress acne

Stress acne treatments seem to be a crapshoot. It’s like there’s a 50/50 chance that thing you’re putting on your zit is going to make it worse. Plus, if you pop a zit, the gunk inside can splash out and irritate your skin, leading to even more pimples nearby.

Given there are lots of different kinds of stress-induced pimples, products claiming to be one-size-fits-all blemish reversers should be thoroughly vetted by your research. That said? Hydrocolloid bandages — like the emergency spot patch by Curology — are pretty effective. The bandage absorbs pus and oil from the inflamed spot, helping to reduce the appearance of zits. It also helps to stop bacteria from growing and creates a healing environment!

Spot Patch

Curology Emergency Spot Patch — $4.95 / 20 patches

How to manage stress

It’s a no-brainer that stress can lead to coping mechanisms, and those coping mechanisms impact our bodies. You’re breaking out because you’re stressed, but add to that an unhealthy dose of body negativity, and you’ve got an entire chicken-and-egg dilemma. If you’re reading this, you might be in search of body/mind harmony. You already know it’s always a good idea to check in with yourself, audit your behaviors, and ask: Are my actions cranking the stress in my life up and down?

It’s no surprise, then, that most of what you can do to treat stress acne doesn’t require any skincare products at all.

Keep it real. Keep it simple.

The best defense against acne and stress is taking time each day for a little self-care, which is where your skincare routine comes in. Sign up for a free trial of Curology and just pay $4.95 to cover shipping and handling for bespoke skincare. Your Curology subscription features a custom formula prescribed to you by one of our in-house medical providers. For no extra cost, we’ll throw in our emergency spot patches (for when you need to call in back-up on your breakouts).

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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