Is Stress Making a Mess of Your Face?

by Sonja on April 17, 2009

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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Post-Holiday Pimples? | THE COVETED
January 14, 2010 at 8:01 am

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Betsey J April 17, 2009 at 7:01 am

ugh I’m so the culprit when it comes to sitting at my computer and putting my hands on my face. so bad.

my favorite treatment for clearing up a pimple, is tea tree oil.

I either buy just a straight up vile of it from whole foods, or burt’s bees makes an amazing one too.


2 Sonja April 17, 2009 at 10:35 am

❤ Betsey J, I know! I totally touch my face waaay too much. But I’m getting better, I swear! I’ve tried tea tree oil but haven’t had much luck with it – such a bummer, because I love using essential oils. I’m glad to hear it works for you. That’s good to know.


3 lisa April 17, 2009 at 11:04 am

Over the past year, I’ve gotten a breakouts on the sides of my face around the same time every month, but the last two months my skin has been behaving remarkably well! I think it’s due to me taking better care of myself-eating more fruit, sleeping more, being more active. Also, I’ve been using Mary Kay TimeWise Night Solution lately; it’s an anti-aging product, but it clarifies pores and I am in awe of its power to prevent breakouts.


4 Sonja April 17, 2009 at 11:25 am

❤ lisa, I’m in a similar boat. I don’t break out nearly as much as I used to since I’ve been eating better, exercising more, and dealing with stress better. They still pop up on occasion but nothing like in past years. That’s interesting that TimeWise helps with aging and breakouts. I’m finding that I’m in that “awkward stage” of occasional breakouts with signs of aging. What’s up with that? I thought we’re supposed to have one or the other! :)


5 Samantha Darko April 17, 2009 at 11:43 am

This article just totally red my face. My Proactive has stopped working and now I am getting even worse acne. The big adult ones. Then they never erupt and scab. Not matter how you cut it you can’t cover a scab with cover-up. I have started to reduce the scabs with a styptic pencil, which stings and redden so you can only do it at night.
Then things calm down for a day and wham blackhead instead.
Does any one have a paper bag I can wear?!?


6 Patti Lee April 17, 2009 at 11:53 am

OMG - I can say that I lived through this nightmare for years even into my 50’s - yeek! You always knew when there was a big project due - my face will tell the tale. The stress showed. I had volcanic eruptions (sorry to be so graphic) because of the job and finally got it under control. I used MD Formula at first, but later the dermatologist provided a pill that miraculously clear my face (and maybe I was less stressed, too) along with MD Forte Cream (this can only be purchased at his office). It was a tough disapline for me to practice “hands off” due to the itchyness. Now I am relaxed and retired and have not (finally) had a breakout these days. We need to take care of our faces - it’s the only one we have and the first thing people see (and make comments). This is a great article. Thanks for sharing this subject.


7 anthea April 17, 2009 at 5:33 pm

Thanks for this post. It made me feel a bit better. I have been living in Japan for four months and I would have to say the stress of moving to another country and working a full time job has definitely taken its toll on my skin. I am going to Okinawa for an eight day vacation though and I am hoping it will help to clear things up! I have been using the body shop aloe products recently don’t know yet if they are making a difference!


8 Maegan April 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm

ugh …I tend to pick at my skin more when I’m stressed I’m not sure what causes what.


9 Aurelia April 18, 2009 at 3:32 am

I’ve used both and they are on par for effectiveness. I have very clear skin except for my chin which seems to be the hot zone for any pimple activity.

But I would recommend that for people with sensitive skin to stay away for Proactiv and go for Mario Badescu.


10 Allison April 19, 2009 at 2:31 pm

Blagh ProActive was the *worst* and most expensive acne treatment I’ve ever tried. It made my face red, hurt, and I’d take the pimples over bleaching everything I own (clothes, towels, pillow cases…) any day!


11 Aurelia April 20, 2009 at 3:55 am

Another recommendation I could make is Cosmedicine. It’s the only cosmetics brand that has medically tested and proven results.


12 Sonja April 21, 2009 at 12:36 pm

❤ Thanks, Patti. It’s amazing how long acne can affect us. You think it’s just for teens but that’s so not the case. Glad to hear that less stress and the right products have helped. I hope I can keep my face “under control.” I’m terrible about touching it, too, especially during allergy season.
❤ anthea, you’re very welcome. Your big changes definitely sounds stressful. I hope the vacation helps! They usually do, thankfully.
❤ …love Maegan, I know what you mean. There are so many factors at play.
❤ Aurelia, my chin is a hot zone, too – so frustrating. Sorry to hear that ProActiv wasn’t a good fit for you. I forgot about the bleaching. Thanks for the tip about Cosmedicine. I’ll have to look into them. I’ve never tried their products.


13 April 23, 2009 at 5:06 am

After dealing with that for more then ten years I found out the pork meat, sugar, smoking and stress are the worst things for my skin. Also not drinking enough water!
I stick to an organic line Dr. Hauschka who use oil for acne prone skin. Oil! It works, the skin does not produce oil anymore, it gets it from outside, but it took 3 weeks to see results. Use it for years now, I have a sensitive an dry skin AND all pimples, but now they are nearly all it is mentioned, you cannot heal it completely, the sacrs will remain another years as I cannot have any aggressive treatment.
If you can afford it, regular facial for sensitive! skin are helpful. acne skin is always very stressed… unless you are young and it is just hormonal.


14 Sonja April 23, 2009 at 11:55 am

❤ mybeautyblog, glad to hear that you’ve figured out what aggravates your acne and what helps it. I was afraid of oils, because I had oily skin for many years. But now I love them, too. They really are wonderful for balancing the skin. Thanks for sharing your experience.


15 With This Diet I Was Able to Lose T h i r t y P o u n d s in Thirty Days May 5, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for blogging. I will likely be subscribing to your blog. Keep up great writing


16 Gerlyn June 19, 2009 at 3:53 am


I just want to know if i cannot afford for that product what should i do.



17 Marcy July 22, 2009 at 8:45 pm

I was a long-time user of Proactiv Solution, and with very good results, until I switched to Rare Minerals in Jan. 2009. What a mistake! The acne raged. I tried to go back to the Proactiv, but felt my skin was not healing fast enough. So, I switched to Mario Badescu in mid-April 2009. It’s okay, and, in my opinion, not as effective as Proactiv Solution.

What I do like about MB, and as was cited in the post, is the more customized approach to skincare. i really like the Glycolic Foaming Cleanser, which is a liquid exfoliator. It’s probably my fave of the MB product line.

I do believe, however, that benzoyl peroxide is a highly effective acne fighting and healing agent, which the MB products lack. Many contain salicylic acid, which is the second most effective, in my opinion, having used it and benzoyl peroxide. However, not much surpasses benzoyl peroxide.

Anyway, at the moment, I am using a combination of MB and Proactiv Solution products: a cleanser and toner from the MB line, and the Oil Free Moisture and the Repairing Lotion from Proactiv Solution. I also use a spot treatment from Neutrogena - the 2 in 1 Acne Spot Treatment. It contains salicylic acid, and is very effective. I am not sure if I will return to using the full Proactiv Solution line, or continue with my current process. The product lines are comparable in price, so, I’m not saving either way. I also use two MB masks.

It’s all trial and error, especially if one is striving to keep her skin acne-free.
Marcy´s last blog ..What It’s Not My ComLuv Profile


18 juergen July 29, 2009 at 2:19 pm

For sure, stress has an heavy impact on health at all - not only acne. Even if you use suh a product it should be only a bridge to a point in time to reduce stress as a root cause - maybe take a nice holiday trip.
juergen´s last blog ..Entwicklung Baugeld - Zinssenkungen sinnvoll? My ComLuv Profile


19 www.mybeautyblog.dea July 30, 2009 at 2:12 am

hey guys&girls, at this time I write my thesis and I am all the time in front of my laptop - and stressed because I write to slow. My skin is awful, so I began to go out for a walk more often and in the evening I try to relax and read something else. It gets better - stress, wronk cosmetic, wrong food, not enough water - everything together causes acne.
Also try to go to a massage or to the manicure, just for having a rest&some soulfood.


20 Maribel Yazon January 27, 2010 at 1:09 am

Great post….The topic which you have discussed is very informative.
I have very much enjoyed reading these entries!
Maribel Yazon´s last blog ..ACNEMED is a new way to fight acne break outs by REDUCING SEBUM PRODUCTION and ATTACKING BACTERIA My ComLuv Profile


21 natural ways to get rid of ance February 19, 2010 at 2:34 am

Great article, nice read, thank you


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