Dermatologist says knowing acne cause and type means you can target treatment

Person with acne
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Emotional and psychological stress, particularly over a long period of time, can take a toll on a person’s physical health in a myriad of ways but many may not even know they are experiencing stress-caused acne. While it’s hard to decipher which type of acne a person is suffering from, knowing the cause can help sufferer treat their breakouts more efficiently with targeted solutions.

Chronic stress triggers the corticotropin-releasing hormone, CRH, which in turn stimulates the production of sebum. While this secretion usually protects the skin, an excess mixes with dead skin cells and forms a plug in the follicle, the start of a pimple. CRH can also contribute to general inflammation, which can be one of the differentiating factors between stress-related breakouts and other forms of acne.

Dermatologist David Kim revealed to Vogue that stress acne will usually be more “painful, red and inflamed” than hormonal breakouts. It can also appear anywhere across the body and face but usually collects around the forehead, nose, chin, chest, back and upper arms, surfacing as a combination of whiteheads, blackheads and inflamed pimples.

Hormonal acne will usually be concentrated around the jawline and chin in sync with one’s menstrual cycle or other hormonal changes. Kim also noted that stress acne will pop up “more acutely and rapidly than regular pimples”.

Once you can decipher whether you’re suffering from stress or hormonal acne can help narrow down which treatments will be the most effective both in calming down breakouts as soon as possible as well as long-term preventative skincare. UnionDerm dermatologist Nkem Ugonabo urged people with stress acne to look for ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulphur, and retinoids in their skincare.

These acne-fighting ingredients also reduce inflammation, clear pores and kill bacteria. She also recommended talking to a dermatologist to find out about prescription treatment options for particularly stubborn or severe acne or chemical peels for those wanting a more aggressive treatment, although Kim argued that intense treatments like this can “further inflame the skin and make it angrier” during a breakout.

NYC dermatologist Michelle Henry also added “non-comedogenic moisturisers” which will keep the skin moisturised without clogging pores. For those who tend to pick at their acne, the doctor recommended pimple patches to keep the spots covered while it heals.

The experts all agreed the best form of treatment is prevention and with stress acne, arguably, the most obvious prevention is reducing the stress in your life by addressing the underlying causes. Henry recommended: “Find ways to soothe and renew yourself, whether that be through mindful meditation or vigorous exercise."