We’ve all been there. It’s the morning of a momentous occasion, like your wedding, graduation, a holiday gathering, or your child’s first birthday party, and you wake up to a smattering of nasty red bumps on your face. “Breakouts from stress are common and usually involve tender pus-filled bumps on the face,” says Malinee Saxena, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota. “These differ in appearance from allergic reactions to cosmetics or creams, which would look more like a rash and are typically itchy.” Hiding out and missing all the action is not an option. Your best bet is taking good care of your face to banish the breakout at the earliest while aiming to keep stress levels from going haywire in future.


When we are under a high level of stress, our bodies make more of the stress hormone, cortisol. “This causes increased oil production in the hair follicles,” says Dr. Saxena. “When these hair follicles get plugged and inflammation starts, you get a big pimple.”


The bottom line is that you want to be aware of your stress levels and keep them in check. But if it’s too late to take preventive steps at the moment, and you’re staring in the mirror at a burst of unsightly bumps, take action by washing your face each morning and night with a gentle acne cleanser. These are designed to help remove bacteria from the skin that could cause inflammation in the hair follicles, says Dr. Saxena.


Over-the-counter spot treatments may also decrease inflammation. Look for products that contain salicylic acid as an ingredient. At the dermatologist’s office, topical antibiotics, retinoids (a class of chemical compounds related to vitamin A), oral antibiotics, and hormonal medications may also be used to treat chronic acne that has not improved with OTC medicines. Sometimes, tender cystic acne can be injected by a dermatologist with a little bit of steroid to calm inflammation very quickly when an instant fix is needed (that means blemish-be-gone within 6 to 8 hours of injection).

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