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Can stress really cause pimples?

By RED DIMAANDAL Published Feb 09, 2021 3:43 pm Updated Feb 27, 2021 4:37 pm

At this point, everyone agrees that we are all living in a time of unprecedented stress. While the global coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve and our collective feelings of uncertainty about the future continue to mount, it’s easy to feel helpless. Which is why we’d argue that now, more than ever, it’s important to practice self-care. 

Of course, stress manifests itself in many ways and everyone experiences it differently, but for the purpose of this story, we’re talking about stress acne. Not the stress-induced pimple that pops up right there before a big test in school or presentation at work. Rather, the kind of impact that long-term feelings of underlying stress, couple with universal uncertainty in the world, can have on our skin.

Ahead, we checked in with Skin House’s Dr. Ron Dagala, for his advice on how to get a handle on breakouts. These tips won’t sort out your stress, but at least that stress might stop showing up on your face. 

What is stress acne?

Acne, or stress-induced acne to be specific, has been become increasingly frequent in the clinics the past year. Patients, regardless of age and gender, would commonly describe their acne breakout began at about the same time as when community quarantine started or at the onset of the pandemic.

How does stress result in acne breakouts? 

Acne is one of the many skin conditions that has a “skin-mind connection”—the more you stress or stress about it, the more it worsens. A person who is in a state of stress or anxiety releases a hormone called cortisol. Increase in cortisol levels can possibly influence a lot of systemic processes in our bodies, and this includes sebum or oil production in our skin. Cortisol levels may affect the other hormones involved in regulating sebum levels. Acne is caused by an increase in oil production by our oil glands, which causes our pores to get clogged and inflamed, leading to acne breakouts. Keep in mind that stress does not actually cause acne, but it can flare it up. Since cortisol may potentially alter hormonal activity, it could worsen an already acne-prone skin or acne influenced by imbalances in hormones.

Pimples caused by stress are usually seen in the oiliest areas of the face.
How can we tell the difference between stress acne and all other breakouts? 

Personally, I think there are no definite signs that could distinctly differentiate stress-induced acne from the usual acne. That’s why it is of utmost importance to consult a board-certified dermatologist so your skin can be properly assessed.

We can, however, look into the timing or the trigger of your breakout. We can somehow tell if it is stress acne if the breakout occurs during or after a period of great emotional stress or anxiety. Obviously, this differs for every person, which could be found in both personal and professional settings. On the other hand, acne appearing after your monthly menstrual period could more or less be deduced as hormonally influenced acne. This is caused by an increase in the androgen levels of our body, which results in the overproduction of oil, and thereby, pimples.

Another factor we can consider is the location and accompanying symptoms of a breakout. Pimples caused by stress are usually seen in the oiliest areas of the face, like the glabella (or more commonly known as the T-zone of the face). But actually, it can occur anywhere there are oil glands, so essentially, it can appear on any part of the face. Stress acne may have increased redness and itchiness compared to common acne. We may also have an “oilier-than-usual” skin, more visible pores, and an increase in comedones (a.k.a. whiteheads and blackheads), which can make the skin feel more bumpy and grainy.

Common and hormonal acne usually appears on the same area it may have appeared in the past, which is usually near the chin or the jaw, or around the mouth. They usually appear as nodules and cysts, which are more painful and inflamed, and are mostly non-itchy.

How can we get rid of it?

Managing your stress levels is key to controlling stress-induced acne. It may be easier said than done, but compartmentalizing and identifying stressors gradually will be beneficial for you and your skin. Finding ways of relieving stress and anxiety is obviously different for everyone, and you need to find that out for yourself! It may be—a healthier diet, a weight loss plan, a good night’s sleep, a chat with family and friends, a social media detox, a well-managed financial state, a new recipe/book/hobby, a cute outfit, a weekend getaway, a work from home setup with established boundaries, or anything that would provide you ample “me” time, it’s really up to you!

Of course, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of consulting a board-certified dermatologist for acne, or any skin concern for that matter. A dermatologist can help you create a personalized skin care regimen that will ultimately help control your pimples, but also improve the overall quality of your skin. In my opinion, a basic skin care regimen is still the best, namely cleanse (using a mild cleansers/soap), moisturize (with a non-occlusive moisturizer) and sun protect (sunscreen application, even if indoors). 

Moreover, a board-certified dermatologist can provide you actual medication for acne, ranging from oral and topic� antibiotics, oral and topical retinoids, and even hormonal medications. A dermatologist can also give expert advice on the appropriate procedures you can undergo at any given severity of acne. Consulting a dermatologist will give you an overview of all many treatment options that actually work, which I feel helps alleviate all the unnecessary worrying brought about by acne, and will ultimately clear it up. Believe me, in the end it will save you a lot more of time (and money!).

Remember, stress-induced acne is still acne! Acne is not a question of having beautiful skin. It is a legitimate skin concern that should be addressed properly. Improvements may not happen on a whim, but with the right medication, the guidance of a board-certified dermatologist, and of course a little (or a lot!) of self-care, everything will eventually work out wonderfully.

Best skincare products for stress-induced acne

For mild to moderate acne, you may be able to clear your skin with skincare products. Below, find our editor's picks that may help combat stress acne. 

Bioten Micellar Water

Micellar water is a multipurpose skincare product that has become a favorite among beauty gurus and dermatologists alike. One of the best who offer this is Bioten, a natural and sustainable European skincare brand, and actress Nadine Lustre’s current favorite skincare brand. This product contains extremely fine particles of oil and water, traps and removes makeup and impurities from face, eyes, and lips without inducing irritations, which gives skin a smooth appearance. 

Bioten Micellar Water

One Earth Organics Acne Solution Retexturizing Facial Scrub

This mild face scrub formula is made with gentle yet very effective grape exfoliant beads that controls excess oil and gently clears away dead skin cells. It can also leave your skin feeling smoother and may make your skin look brighter, too. 

One Earth Organics Acne Solution Retexturizing Facial Scrub

Oxecure Acne Clear Powder Mud Mask

When it comes to acne treatments, you can always rely on Oxecure products. A must-try is their Acne Clear Powder Mud mask as it’s very effective and can help your skin! Similar to clay masks, mud masks are known for their antibacterial and exfoliating benefits. It also remove impurities from the skin, unclogging pores, and absorbs excess oil. 

Oxecure Acne Clear Powder Mud Mask

Fresh Tomato Glass Skin Booster Serum

When it comes to skincare, tomatoes are one of the most effective remedies for a clear and clean skin. To put some life back into your skin, try Fresh Tomato Serum to erase and prevent lines and wrinkles, lightens dark spots, and even skin texture. 

Fresh Tomato Glass Skin Booster Serum.jpg

Pili Ani Ageless Concentrate

The right face oil can do wonders to skin. Take local beauty and wellness brand Pili Ani’s Ageless Concentrate for example. This elixir does not only smoothen rough surfaces or patches, but it also protect skin from free radical damage and other environmental aggressors. 

Pili Ani Ageless Concentrate

Editor’s Note: PhilSTAR L!fe is here to help you choose items you may love, want or need. Each product we feature has been independently selected by our team. If you click and buy the products featured, we may earn commission.