Skin Health, How To

The Ultimate Guide for Preventing and Managing Stress Acne In College

by Anubha Charan
August 23, 2023

College can be the most exciting time in your life — and the most stress-inducing. One major manifestation of the latter is stress acne. Or, as it's often called, "college acne blues." Why does it creep up on so many college students? And how do you tackle it? Read on to find out what you can do to battle acne caused by stress.

Can Stress Cause Acne in College Students?

A blemish begins when pores get clogged with oil, dirt and dead skin cells. This leads to blackheads or whiteheads that escalate into inflammatory acne — complete with pain, redness, swelling and pus — if bacteria enters the equation.

So, what does the pressure of making your way through college have to do with it? While stress doesn't directly cause acne, it can exacerbate some conditions that lead to acne. Stress in general triggers the production of various hormones, like cortisol, which increases the sugars (glucose) in your bloodstream and sends your skin's oil glands into overdrive — thereby exacerbating clogged pores.

Stress also weakens your skin's natural barrier, making it less resistant to acne-causing bacteria. Add up these factors, and you have the perfect storm for cystic and chronic acne. It's common among college students as they juggle dorm life, disruption in diet, uneven sleep cycles, overloaded study schedules, exam anxiety and a busy social calendar.

Common Stress Acne Areas on the Face

Since stress causes an overproduction of oil in your skin, stress acne typically appears in your T-zone: forehead, nose, cheeks and chin.

How to Get Rid of Stress Acne

So, you're cramming for exams, consuming a lot of sugar and getting little sleep. As a result, your skin is in freak-out mode. Don't panic — that'll just make it worse. Reach for trusty products that contain ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, which kills acne-causing bacteria, helps shed dead skin cells and curbs the overproduction of oil. The Neutrogena® Stubborn Acne Morning Treatment is formulated with a hefty 2.5% benzoyl peroxide dosage, which helps clear up your complexion. Looking for a spot formulation? The Neutrogena® On-the-Spot Acne Treatment is another potent powerhouse.

Another ingredient, salicylic acid, can be added to your regimen to fight acne. This beta hydroxy acid dissolves pore-clogging debris, balancing out excessive oil and helping to dry out the pimple. You can find it in the soothing Neutrogena® Oil-Free Acne Stress Control Triple-Action Toner.

How to Prevent Stress Acne

Stress acne follows the maxim that "prevention is better than cure." By maintaining a regular skincare routine and making small lifestyle changes, you can get your skin under control so that your clear, glowing skin can shine through. Here's how:

1. Keep Your Skin Clean

Cleanse your face twice a day to bust all the grime and grease that cross your skin's path. Bonus points for using a cleanser with salicylic acid, like the Neutrogena® Oil-Free Acne Wash to help keep pores clear.

2. Exfoliate Regularly

This will help purge dead cells, oil and other debris that can lead to clogged pores. Look for an exfoliator with alpha hydoxy acids — like the Neutrogena® Skin Perfecting Liquid Face Exfoliant — that also help dislodge old, damaged skin to reveal fresher, acne-free skin underneath. Start slow because some people with sensitive skin cannot handle frequent exfoliation. For added skin cred, treat your complexion to the Neutrogena® Hydro Boost Daily Gel Cream Exfoliating Cleanser With Hyaluronic Acid that hydrates the skin while busting dirt, oil, grime, impurities, and bacteria.

3. Use a Mask

Indulging in a mask after a stressful day will soothe both you and your complexion. A clay mask that controls excess sebum is perfect for skin that's excessively oily, clogged or prone to acne.

4. Switch to Noncomedogenic Products

Swap out your skincare and makeup for noncomedogenic versions, which are specifically designed to not clog pores. The oil-, fragrance- and sulfate-free Neutrogena® Clear Coverage collection is the perfect option, with everything from CC creams to compact powders that not only give flawless coverage but also color correct to even out the skin tone. Added bonus: They contain niacinamide, which helps fade discoloration from old blemishes and boosts skin renewal.

5. Keep Your Hands Off

Your hands pick up a lot of dirt and bacteria throughout the day. Touching your face transfers these to your skin, which means more breakouts. Also, look out for other objects that can put your face in direct contact with grime — such as pillowcases or cellphones — and keep them clean.

6. Make Time for Self-Care

Stress happens, but small lifestyle changes, like moderate exercise, meditation, aromatherapy, eating wholesome foods and drinking enough water will help keep your skin — and your mind — clear!

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