Midterm season is upon us in full–force, and most of us emerge on the other side with a few scrapes, a bruised ego, and worst of all: acne flare–ups. Your face is suddenly red for a plethora of reasons: the embarrassment at the thought of receiving the worst grade in the class, the red pimples spotting your face, and it's all made even worse by the dry winter climate. Street spoke to dermatologist Rochelle Weiss, M.D. about how stress causes acne and how to avoid it.

“A lot of acne is due to genetics,” admits Weiss, but environmental factors also have a big impact on the condition of your skin. The main culprit? Hormones. “Hormones aren’t always completely environmental, but women can especially be exposed to erogenous hormones—birth control pills and things like that.” Things such as stress.

When your stress levels are high, your adrenal gland releases more of the stress hormone cortisol to help your body combat that stress, but that also causes your skin to produce more oil, specifically sebum, and make your acne flare. This raises the question: are you doomed to break out twice a semester due to stress? (Ed. note: Or, like, all semester?) After all, stress is inevitable during testing seasons. Weiss agrees, saying, “It’s stupid to say ‘don’t be stressed’ because everyone has stress.”

She offers some advice in dealing with the situation and preventing your acne from getting worse. “It’s simply about keeping your skin clean. Keep your hands off your face—it sounds like a ‘duh’, but that’s a really big one. If studying makes you lean with your hand compressed on your face for 45 minutes, or if stress makes you manipulate and pick at your skin, it can be bad for breakouts. Sleep is another big one, because the less you sleep, the more stress hormones you will release.”

However, there’s one positive fact about acne that will make you feel better about certain unhealthy stress–induced habits. “Diet plays a much smaller role than people think—with the exception of dairy products,” says Weiss. “It’s thought that the hormones given to cows to help them produce milk may be one of the explanations as to why dairy can cause flares in acne. So that’s why we try to encourage eating organic dairy but of course, that can be costly.”

But before you jump to the conclusion that eating six cinnamon pop tarts and three Mark’s Café pastries in the Van Pelt basement is a totally acceptable and healthy way of coping, Weiss goes on to discuss the importance of maintaining healthy habits all around.  While “eating pizza and chocolate won’t make your acne worse,” anything that makes you stressed, like having a crappy diet or not sleeping often or well enough, “can make your acne worse.”

If you’re suffering from flare–ups right now, make sure you’re washing your face every morning and before you go to bed at night, as your face accumulates grime throughout the day. And don’t forget to moisturize, which is important even if you have oily skin, as a proper moisturizer will help reduce sebum production and hydrate your skin. 

Moral of the story: let yourself indulge in a little study break—your skin (and brain!) will thank you.


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