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Overthinking & Acne: The Link

Overthinking & Acne: The Link

Getting stressed sucks. Getting breakouts because of it sucks even more.

But here’s the good news: there is a way out.

Ever noticed how a cluster of pimples always appears after a particularly trying day or tough week? That’s what dermatologists like to call “stress acne.” It happens when the stress hormones send your oil glands into overdrive, triggering acne flares.

Breakouts can even occur when you’ve been overthinking the same stressful situation over and over again.

If you’ve ever wondered if stress acne is a real thing, now’s your chance to find out from the experts.



Have you been awaiting an event that involves you doing something you’re not comfortable with? Can’t stop thinking about last month’s breakup? There are tons of things that can cause stress in your life. It doesn’t have to be anything big – even minor stressful thoughts are enough to wake up your stress hormones.

“There’s a strong relationship between stress and acne that has been established over the years, and from literature we know that acne can come about or even flare up in the presence of a stressful event,” says Caroline Robinson, MD, founder of Tone Dermatology in Chicago.

She elaborates, “Our stress levels can cause us to produce more androgens, the male-type hormones that all of us have that can contribute to a lot of different things and cause our acne to become worse.”

So while stress doesn’t directly cause acne, it does play a significant role in making it happen.

According to skincare pro Joshua Zeichner, M.D., stress “interferes with proper skin barrier function, impairs wound healing, and causes skin conditions like eczema and rosacea to worsen.”

Like regular acne, stress acne is caused by hormones, oil, bacteria, and inflammation. When the body overproduces hormones like cortisol (aka, the stress hormone), it generates an overproduction of oil that clogs the pores, causing breakouts.



You’ll know it’s stress acne if it resembles the breakouts you got back in your teens. It appears on the oiliest parts of your face – your forehead, nose, and chin, also known as the T-zone.

Dermatologists say stress acne looks like a combination of blackheads, whiteheads and red bumps. They also claim that stress breakouts come in clusters. So, for example, you won’t just get one painful bump, you’ll get several at once.

You may also experience redness and itching if you’re dealing with stress acne.

“When you’re under an increased amount of stress, this can trigger hormonal changes that simply worsen your acne,” says dermatologist Michele S. Green. “Stress acne can happen at any time, at any age. Usually, in adults it’s because they’re stressed at work or at home, in younger adults, it’s mostly because of school.”



To treat stress acne, you need to start by switching your skincare routine. Adapt it to one that addresses blemishes.

“During stressful periods, switch your cleanser over to one that contains salicylic acid,” says Zeichner. “It will help remove excess oil and dead cells from the surface of your skin to keep your pores clear.”

In addition to using an acne-formulated cleanser, add a topical spot treatment into your routine to actively zap your zit.

Try Truly’s Super Hemp Bundle, which contains a salicylic acid-infused cleanser, face mask, and 18 acne patches.



The best way to prevent stress acne is to reduce your stress levels. Or even better, stop stress from happening in the first place.

Luckily, there are many ways to manage stress, though. You could try yoga, meditation, therapy, or even hours of Netflix time to really unwind. Figure out what soothes your mind and helps you relax – and do more of it!

By calming down your body, you can minimize the stress hormones you make, so that you can enjoy smoother, clearer skin.

“The best thing to do is to take a step back and remind yourself that this too shall pass,” says cosmetic dermatologist Shereene Idriss. “The simple conscious act of adopting such a mindset will diminish your stress levels several notches and speed up your skin's road to recovery.”

Soothe your mind and soul with Truly’s Moon Bath Essentials. Made with adaptogenic herbs, this body cleanser + spa mist helps to calm the mind, reduce inflammation, and promote relaxation.


Other ways to ward off stress breakouts:

  • Keep your hands off your face – popping your pimples will only push more dirt into your breakout and can potentially cause scarring.
  • Avoid heavy moisturizers – thick, rich lotions can clog the pores, worsening breakouts. Opt for lightweight lotions instead.
  • Don’t use hot water on your face – it’s something people do every day, but it’s terrible for your skin. That’s because the heat causes inflammation, which injures scar tissue and screws with the skin barrier.



Acne goes beyond its physical manifestation of pimples. Simply experiencing a heightened degree of stress is enough to trigger an acne flareup. But it goes way, way further than that. See, it’s not just our mind or hormones that trigger breakouts – the breakouts can affect our mental wellbeing, too.

According to child and adult psychotherapist, Matthew Traube, MFT, there are two kinds of relationships people have with their skin.

“Some people have a very threatening relationship with acne, meaning when they get acne, they can feel like somehow they’re unloveable or aren’t going to achieve at work or somehow shouldn’t socialize,” explains Traube. “Now, other people and their relationship is less threatening. They get some acne and it doesn’t always make a big difference.”

While there isn’t a set way to deal with emotional acne, there are things you can do to alleviate your negative relationship with your skin. For one, try stress-management routines like exercising, following a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep.

It’s also important to step away from your skin. By that, we mean avoid scrutinizing your complexion several times a day. Focus your attention on something more positive. Acne might be frustrating, but’s a natural, commonplace skin complaint.




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