Even if you’re managing to stay at home, out of the fray, these are stressful times. Every day seems to be filled with new questions and greater uncertainty about the future. And as it mounts, it’s common to start breaking out from stress.
Stress can manifest in many different ways, including acting as an agitator to our skin. Many of us have likely experienced the notorious stress-induced pimple that crops up right before a meaningful moment, but it goes deeper than that. Stress can also worsen many skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
How stress induces acne
Pimples are caused by a combination of four things: bacteria (called c. acnes), general inflammation, clogged pores, and hormones, the key factor when it comes to stress-induced acne. Specifically, a hormone called cortisol. Stress or lack of sleep increase its presence in the bloodstream. The oil glands in the skin have cortisol receptors, so an increase in cortisol will increase the amount of oil in the skin.
Acne is also influenced by general inflammation. Stress directly increases inflammatory mediators in the skin cells. It also tends to depress the body’s immune system, which can lower its ability to fight inflammation—and, in turn, make your acne worse.
Stress can also cause us to veer away from our good habits, including our skin-care routines. For others, it can prompt them to touch their skin more frequently or aggressively. Acne is exacerbated by picking the skin, which is often triggered by stress.
Tamping down flare-ups
How, then, do you cope with stress breakouts? For starters, try to stick to your routines. I know that’s easier said than done. Since the outbreak upended life for many of us, it’s hard remembering what day it is, let alone how to follow the contours of a “normal” day. But regaining a sense of normalcy begins with maintaining the few things we have control over, like our skin-care routines.
Maybe even more important than that is making sure you’re getting enough sleep and that you’re sticking to a consistent sleep-wake cycle. Sleeping through much of the day and staying up through the night can have the same effect on our cortisol levels as sleeping too little.
In that way, sleep can be the foundation for our day. By going to bed around the same hour, waking at the same hour, and getting enough sleep in between, you’re setting yourself up to eat meals regularly (and eat them mindfully) and allot time for socializing, exercising, and anything else that helps you feel good.
Finally, as a general rule, knowledge is power. But, these days, with the rate at which the news updates pour in and their often dire nature, a little goes a long way. Psychologists have recommended limiting the amount of time we spend reading or watching the news each day by varying degrees—an hour, a half-hour. We all process stress in different ways, so try to find your own balance. Stay informed, of course, but also try to remain conscious of fueling your fear and anxiety.