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Acne Health Center

Stress and Acne

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When Stress Makes You Mess With Your Skin

Sometimes, stress and acne can interact in a harmful cycle. When some people are anxious or upset, they’re more likely to exacerbate their blemishes, Garner says. "Some people pick their skin when they’re stressed. If they have a pimple to pick, that’s where they’re going."

What Is Acne Excoriee?

While many people squeeze a pimple occasionally, Garner sees more extreme cases in which patients pick at their blemishes compulsively because they’re worried and embarrassed about their skin. "Every little thing that shows up on a person’s skin -- every small pimple -- they pick it. They can’t make themselves stop."

This condition is called acne excoriee. When these patients see Garner, ''they literally don’t have a pimple in existence," she says. Instead, they have scabs that can lead to scarring. "Those patients can actually turn very mild acne into terrible scars."

Garner treats their acne. If their skin clears up, "there’s nothing to pick," she says.

Sometimes, she can convince patients to stop picking, but if not, she might refer them for psychological help, she says.

To prevent scarring, "It’s really important that people do not pick and squeeze their pimples," Garner says. 

Treating Acne

What can be done? A person can’t really use stress reduction as an acne treatment, Garner says.

"If I treat my stress, will my acne go away? No," Garner says. "You can’t treat acne with a Valium."

For many people, acne is a chronic problem that doesn’t just vanish after finals week. It’s often a long-term issue that requires acne treatment, which can include benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, antibiotics applied to the skin or taken by mouth, hormonal treatments, and in more difficult cases, isotretinoin (Accutane).   

That said, people with acne can also take advantage of seeing a psychologist or learning biofeedback if they need to reduce high levels of stress overall, Garner says.

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Reviewed on April 22, 2011

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