How Back-to-School Stress Can Make Acne Worse
As summer starts to wind down and the busy back-to-school season ramps up again, you might notice a change in your skin. It might be shinier than usual and with more frequent breakouts. So what’s going on? If heading back to school or work is causing you stress or making you worry, it could trigger an acne flare-up. Take a look at how stress and acne are linked, as well as what you can do to treat and prevent new breakouts.
Can Stress Really Cause Pimples?
When your body is under stress, it releases a hormone called CRH, or corticotropin-releasing hormone. One function of CRH is to stimulate the adrenal gland, which gives you that rush of adrenaline and increased heart rate you feel when you’re stressed or worried.
CRH also binds to sebaceous gland receptors, causing your skin to increase its sebum (oil) production. Having too much oil on your skin is one of the main causes of acne, because that oil can become trapped inside your pores, where acne-causing bacteria can thrive. Increased activity in your sebaceous glands can also trigger inflammation, resulting in red, sometimes painful pimples.
The more stressed you are, the more severe and longer-lasting acne can be.
Stress can also cause you to scratch or pick at your skin, which makes acne and acne scars worse. We also tend to load up on sugary “junk” foods when we’re under a lot of stress, and sugar, along with dairy, has been linked with increased breakouts.
How to Fix Stressed-out Skin
If stress is causing breakouts, take steps to try to reduce stress and therefore calm down your body’s production of stress hormones. A few examples of stress-relieving activities include deep breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, talking a walk outside, and listening to soothing music. If you are under chronic stress, you might have to make larger lifestyle changes like adjusting your sleep or work schedules or your diet.
Acne develops throughout an eight-week cycle, so even if you manage to rein in your stress today, your breakouts won’t be gone by tomorrow. In the meantime, you can talk to a board-certified dermatologist in your area about the most effective acne treatment option for your skin type. In many cases, introducing a retinoid to your regular skincare routine can help with acne, since retinoids stimulate your skin’s cell renewal and desquamation (exfoliation) process. This helps to unclog pores and keep them clean. If you have very dry or sensitive skin, you may need to slowly add retinoids to your routine. If you are using alpha hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid, to help with acne, do not use retinoids at the same time. Instead, use your glycolic acid cleanser in the morning and the retinoid at night. In the evening, use a creamy cleanser for dry skin or a foaming cleanser for oily skin. Stick to your prescribed regimen to see and maintain optimal results.
If you end up with red acne scars, laser treatments and other in-office cosmetic treatments can help to get rid of them. Just make sure you are working with a trained and experienced professional when getting any cosmetic procedure.
Can Acne Be Prevented?
Yes, acne can be prevented. If stress is one of the primary triggers for your breakouts, take steps to minimize everyday stress before it can affect your skin and body. It is also important to stick to your skincare regimen if you have acne-prone skin, because preventing pimples from showing up in the first place is easier to do than getting rid of them once they’re on your skin. Remember to wash your face every evening before bed to remove excess oil, dirt, and makeup from your skin. Otherwise, these particles can clog your pores overnight and start the acne cycle all over again.
Another way to help prevent stress-induced acne is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Reaching for sugary comfort foods when you’re feeling stressed will only exacerbate your symptoms, so try to eat healthier options like fresh fruit instead. Eating plenty of anti-inflammatory foods like papaya, pineapple, dark leafy greens, and green tea can help to fight the underlying inflammation behind your breakouts.
Transitioning into the back-to-school season can be a little stressful, but that doesn’t mean your skin has to suffer. Take steps to reduce stress, then talk to your dermatologist about the best acne treatment regimen for your skin type. Follow that regimen for at least eight weeks to see results and to keep clear, healthy-looking skin.
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