Is Stress Making a Mess of Your Face?

Stress and Acne

image by athena1970

Do you feel like hiding your face? As the economy flounders, are you feeling more stressed and finding yourself with more breakouts than usual? That’s highly likely, because “stress is one of the leading triggers of acne,” says Dr. Katie Rodan, one of the dermatologists behind the Proactiv line. She says she and her partner Dr. Kathy Fields are seeing more adult patients experiencing breakouts.

But there’s no need to sit around and stress out over a dotted complexion. There are plenty of things to do to get things under control. I’ve got some helpful tips from pros in the know, including Drs. Rodan and Fields, and Mario Badescu Head Aesthetician Elena Arboleda.

What’s Happening to My Face?

Dr. Fields says many people may not realize what a “huge impact stress has on acne.” She says, “Stress causes a hormonal response in the body in the form of cortisol release. Cortisol triggers the oil glands in your face to produce increased amounts of thick, sticky oil. Once oil production is in high gear, there’s more oil to mix with dead skin cells, clogging pores, and trapping bacteria inside. The result can be a flare-up of inflammatory acne – primarily red papules (bumps) rather than blackheads or whiteheads.”

She says the relationship between stress and acne may not seem obvious, because if you experience something stressful today, it doesn’t show up on your face tomorrow. It can take two weeks for acne to form deep inside the skin.


Get a Handle on Stress

Prevention is the best medicine. Instead of trying to treat each pimple one at a time after the damage is done, the most effective way to counter stress-related acne is to reduce the amount of stress in your life or learn to manage stress better. Some things simply can’t be changed, like getting laid off or having a major increase in your workload, but you can change the way you handle stress. Dr. Rodan recommends, “Get more sleep, try to exercise more, do Yoga, or something relaxing like taking a luxurious bath.” I’ve also found that meditation works wonders in calming the mind – even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.

Preventative Products

Along with doing things to manage stress, there are many skin care products that help prevent acne from showing up in the first place. Proactiv and Mario Badescu are two relatively inexpensive lines that are both very effective in managing acne – the key word here is “managed,” because acne cannot be cured. I’ve had very good success with both lines. Each takes a different approach.


Proactiv SystemYou’re probably familiar with Proactiv, since it’s been used by millions of people. Proactiv, whose fans include Jessica Simpson and Vanessa Williams, is a three-step system that focuses on prevention but also treats acne. “The pimple you woke up with today didn’t form overnight, spot treatment is too little too late, like brushing a tooth after a cavity has formed,” Dr. Fields says. “In order to effectively treat acne, the entire cycle of plug formation, bacterial overgrowth, excessive oil production and inflammation, must be stopped on a daily basis.”

The three core products are what they call combination therapy to deal with all phases of acne development and get to the source of the problem. Tiny, smooth beads in the Renewing Cleanser exfoliate skin to remove dead skin cells and impurities, which can clog pores. The Revitalizing Toner lifts excess oil and calms skin with natural botanicals. The Repairing Lotion kills bacteria with benzoyl peroxide before it combines with dead skin cells and oil to cause blemishes, and treats existing blemishes.

If you’re already using Proactiv or another preventative system and are having a flare up due to stress, Dr. Rodan recommends adding another element, such as a twice weekly mask that contains sulfur, which is a very effective acne fighter. She also recommends the Proactiv Extra Strength system, which provides higher concentrations of benzoyl peroxide and another acne fighter, salicylic acid, in its toner. To learn more about Proactiv, check out their website or speak to someone in person at one of their kiosks, which are at many shopping malls. Find one with their kiosk locator tool.

Mario Badescu

Mario Badescu Acne ProductsMario Badescu, a favorite of many models like Naomi Campbell and celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Martha Stewart, takes a more customized approach that also focuses on prevention. Arboleda says, “At Mario Badescu we don’t believe in one-size-fits-all skin care.  We make anti-acne products for all different kinds of breakouts.  For example, we would recommend a totally different set of products for someone who has mostly whiteheads and blackheads than to someone who is prone to cystic breakouts.”

She says, “There are many factors that come into play when it comes to acne. The acne can be hormonal or the result of using skin care that is not suited for your skin. Skin texture and pore size also varies from one person to the next. These all play a role in what kind of breakouts we get.”

To get a Mario Badescu regimen customized for you, you’ve got three options. Get a free, skin care analysis on their website. You can also call 800-BADESCU and speak to a skin specialist. They’ll even send you samples to try for free. If you want to chat with someone in person, drop into the Mario Badescu Spa and Salon in New York – one of my favorite places to get a facial. Outside of New York, stop by a Nordstom, Harvey Nichols, or one of the other stores where the products are sold. You can find stores with their store locator tool. Occasionally, stores have special events so it’s good to sign up for the Mario Badescu newsletter to find out when they’re happening.


Of course, even if you practice prevention, sometimes those little buggers sprout up anyway so I like to keep a spot treatment on hand just in case. I don’t use them nearly as often as I used to, since I focus more on prevention these days. But when some manage to get through, these are a few of my favorite treatments …

Mario Badescu Drying Cream is very effective on small bumps, the type of acne that is often caused by stress. I’ve used this cream for many years. It absorbs and disinfects without being too drying or abrasive. It also conceals at the same time, which I really like.
Mario Badescu Drying Lotion is Mario Badescu’s bestselling product for good reason. It’s a potent combination of salicylic acid and calamine that works very quickly on whiteheads, which result from pores clogged with excess oil. With this, I’ve had whiteheads disappear overnight without drying out my skin. It dries, disinfects, and soothes to heal pimples and minimize the chance of reinfection.
Proactiv Advanced Blemish Treatment contains a stronger dose of antibacterial benzoyl peroxide (6%) than the three-step Proactiv system. This is a new discovery for me. It doesn’t dry out the skin the way most products with benzoyl peroxide do, because it also contains oil-free moisturizers to keep skin hydrated.

Hands Off

One of the worst things you can do is squeeze or pick at a pimple. It can cause scarring, inflame skin, lead to infection, and worsen breakouts. If you mess with a zit anyway (not that I’ve ever done such a thing), dab on some Mario Badescu Special Healing Powder pronto. This is a sulfur-based powder that absorbs excess oil, dries open, infected pimples, and reduces redness and irritation. I’ve used this for years. It really works.

Consult a Professional

If you continue to have problems, consult with someone who can analyze and address what’s specifically happening with your skin. Consider seeing a dermatologist. While it’s important to have an effective, skin care regiment to use every day, Dr. Fields says a dermatologist may try to control inflammation by prescribing oral antibiotics for a short time. Another option is to check in with an aesthetician or other skin care expert, like someone with Mario Badescu or Proactiv.

Do Tell

So how’s your skin holding up these days? Are you feeling more stress and experiencing more breakouts? Are you finding ways to get a handle on stress? What do you find works in preventing or treating breakouts? Do tell.

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