Stress and Acne: Can Stress Cause, Trigger or Worsen It?

Stresssssssssssssss. Some lifestyles are more susceptible to stress, as are some personalities. My personality is very prone to stress. My type-A tendencies, among other things, make me stress over shit that probably doesn’t need stressing over.

Why is stress such an issue? For many, it lights a fire under us (hello, fellow procrastinators) so it can’t be all negative. But, what stress does to your body can be quite damaging. Not counting all of the other stuff it does internally, my skin breaks out like nobody’s business when I’m under a lot of stress. Like, a pepperoni pizza just transplanted onto my chin-type acne.

Which is actually an indicator of what’s going on inside … where you get breakouts (if you do) can give you some ideas on the cause. If you get chin disasters like I do, pay attention to when you get them. If you are prone to acne only around your period, you likely get spots on your chin. If you are breaking out with seemingly nothing to do with your monthly menstrual cycle, and it’s also on your chin, it could be triggered by stress.

These breakouts can be viewed as your body’s way of telling you that you need to make some changes … but I’m not a lifestyle guru (or any kind of guru for that matter), so you do you on that front. What I might be able to help you with is dealing with them.

note: some links may be affiliate links. They cost you nothing if you buy from them, but amazon will throw me a bone if you do.

Hormonal Breakouts: How to Treat Once-a-Month Blowups

The upside to these kind of breakouts, at least if you have a predictable cycle (and are female … sorry if you are a dude and reading this … you may want to skip ahead), is that you can expect them and be (somewhat) prepared. My kampo (Chinese traditional medicine) pharmacist always asks how much I craved sweets before/during my cycle; the more my hormones are under control and stress is minimized, the less I should crave sweets (which can aggravate your skin). I find this to be anecdotally true, though I never noticed this until she gently pointed it out.

This summer, reach for Shiseido Ultimate Sun Protection Lotion SPF 50+. Now at NORDSTROM.

Outside of trying to reduce stress and keep your diet as normal as possible, mostly my advice would be in treatment of any spots you get. I’m not going to tell you not to squeeze any pimples (I would be a massive hypocrite if I did), but I will say that a. invest in a little tool to do the dirty work for you (and clean it with alcohol after each use!), b. DON’T squeeze until it bleeds! Seriously, your post-acne marks will last way longer if you do. Err on the conservative side because you should then, c. use pimple patches after squeezing and they’ll gently get the last of the goo out. I buy these pre-made on Amazon (or when I’m lucky enough to travel to larger cities in Asia), but you can cut your own in a pinch out of regular hydrocolloid bandaids because that’s all pimple patches are. Side note: pimple patches can be found on websites like Sephora for insane prices … please don’t be fooled. They shouldn’t run you more than maybe $5-6 a box at most on eBay or amazon. There’s no noticeable difference).

Stress Breakouts: Curbing Those Spiraling, Out-of-Control Breakouts

These fuckers come out of nowhere. You think you’re adulting just fine and then your face thinks it’s cool to be a (wrinkly old) teenager again and it spirals out of control. Thanks, stress.

So, obviously you will not curb these without curbing the stress in your life. Some things, you can change and others, you must cope with for a bit before you can change. Coping means you need an outlet (it may not be yoga, though I know you were expecting that!) far, far removed from what’s flaming all crazy in your life. Your good-fit outlet is likely different from mine or the person sitting next to you. Coping may also require you seeing your doctor; depression and anxiety are not something you should ignore or just soldier through. Please, please, please … see a professional if you even remotely feel that stress in your life is more than you can deal with.

Behind the scenes at the kampo pharmacy

Kampo can also help assist you body in dealing with stress. If you’re in Japan, these specialized pharmacists (not all pharmacists are kampo certified) do a detailed intake to determine what your body is, well, deficient in, and tailor-make a natural solution to help get your body back into balance. For example, two different people could go together to kampo with acne issues. They very well could be prescribed two completely separate courses because the root of the issue in the body is different in each person.

Dealing With the Aftermath of Acne

So … no matter why you have gotten breakouts, if you’re like me, the aftermath is almost worse as you have pigmentation (for me, that’s redness) for months and months after the breakout has cleared. It’s super unfair (like life).

See above in the hormonal acne section (sorry, dudes) for dealing with active acne spots. But treating your healing skin is just as important in not having your chin (or wherever acne has struck) resembling an alcoholic’s nose for the next six months.

First, in the active healing stage, ingredients you might consider looking at in your skincare are: raw job’s tears, snail mucin, and perhaps chamomile and squalane oil. These ingredients should all reduce inflammation and springboard your skin’s healing. Note: if you require vegan products, obviously snail mucin is not vegan (it’s not just a clever name) … but squalane oil may not be either; it is sourced from either shark livers or plants. The product ingredients should convey what the source is.

Once the spot is gone and you have the scars to prove it, it’s time to fade them into the past. Your results may differ, but the most potent product I’ve used for this is Sekkisei Medicated Lotion. It’s a miracle in a cobalt bottle. I wish they paid me to tell you this, but alas they do not and this is the gospel truth, for my own, personal skin at least.

The darling of skincare junkies looking to fade spots (and brighten overall) right now is niacinamide. I’ve seen just medium results from this ingredient (in a variety of vehicles), but I am definitely in the minority (as always, your mileage may vary). Check your current moisturizer; this ingredient may already be in there. If not, there are lots of products you can consider to introduce this massively popular ingredient.

This toner has niacinamide, chamomile, and a host of other stuff to help calm your skin down.

Azelaic acid is another ingredient that can fade post-acne scars. I have only used this with The Ordinary’s (very reasonably priced) formulation, but haven’t seen groundbreaking results. You can get a higher concentration of this outside the U.S.; Paula’s Choice sells a product with a higher concentration in the U.K. A side note here, The Ordinary will sell many of these actives ala carte for low prices, and shipping is fast and free with a minimum order through Beautylish. It’s an interesting company and approach.

And finally, vitamin C. Vitamin C is hotly contested it seems among skincare aficionados on not the ingredient, but what’s the best formulation, as it oxidizes easily. Vitamin C also is a very potent antioxidant so it definitely won’t hurt trying (you may see better results from this fading age spots than you do post-acne scars). If you are in Japan, I would check drugstores for Obagi’s formulation (because it oxidizes easily, I would avoid ordering from the U.S. if you can, to limit how much time your bottle is sitting in the sun or touring the MPS system). In the U.S., I would try the version from Timeless. Use it during the day (and make sure you wear sunscreen with this one!).

Well, that’s the best I have to offer. Granted, I am still struggling with acne, so that’s why I hesitated to offer any miracle cures. But, what I have learned a lot on, is how to minimize the scarring and aftermath.

So, what’s your favorite acne tip? I would love to hear it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *