Here’s What Causes Stress Acne—and 8 Products That Can Help

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Over the past few weeks, our skin has been breaking out like crazy. And considering we’ve been taking a break from wearing makeup while working from home, it didn’t make sense at first. But after talking to a couple of derms, the answer became pretty clear: stress acne.

“We know that stress has a significant impact on the skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. “It interferes with wound healing, contributes to skin inflammation and is known to cause breakouts.” Yikes.

What causes stress acne?

It all comes down to hormones. “Stress-related hormones can increase both oil production and inflammation in the skin, leading to clogged pores and red, itchy blemishes,” explains Sara Perkins, M.D., dermatologist with Hims and Hers.

How can you tell if you’re experiencing stress acne?

Perkins and Zeichner agree that stress acne tends to be more inflammatory (think red, itchy bumps), but that’s not always the case. It can occur anywhere on the face, so the biggest tell-tale sign that you’re dealing with stress acne is that the breakouts appear during a stressful period, says Perkins.

If you do suspect you’re experiencing stress acne, here are eight products that will help banish it for good.

6 Ways to Cure Red, Angry Jawline Acne, According to Dermatologists

Expert Recommendations

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1. aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Cleanser

One of the best ways to treat stress acne is by switching to a cleanser that contains salicylic acid to help keep your pores clear, says Zeichner. He recommends this formula from Aveeno because it’s gentle, so it won’t cause irritation or dryness as it cleanses.

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2. skinceuticals Lha Cleanser Gel

Looking for something a little stronger? SkinCeuticals’s LHA cleanser gel uses salicylic acid for that pore cleaning power you need, plus lipo-hydroxy acid, glycolic acid, glycerin and sorbitol to remove excess oil, exfoliate and brighten the skin.

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3. la Roche-posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment With Benzoyl Peroxide

If a salicylic acid cleanser alone isn’t gonna cut it, Zeichner recommends opting for a topical treatment with benzoyl peroxide. “It kills acne-causing bacteria to reduce inflammation and clear pimples,” he explains. Dab a bit of this cream (which contains 5.5 percent of the active ingredient) onto any blemishes to dry them out.

What’s Been Working For Us

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1. hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Set

“I’ve been breaking out like I’m 16 again, and these help so much,” says senior commerce editor Bri Lapolla. Once you stick ‘em on your zits, the hydrocolloid patches work by gently pulling out gunk to heal each pimple. Plus, they prevent you from picking which can cause scarring. Associate editor Abby Hepworth is also a fan of the Mighty Patch, but she prefers the Micropoint version which penetrates the skin to deliver acne-fighting ingredients under the surface.

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Paula's Choice

2. paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster

This leave-on treatment combats breakouts, redness and dark spots all at once thanks to its combination of azelaic acid and salicylic acid. “It’s very gentle but very effective and also targets those annoying dark spots you get after a pimple...or picking a pimple which is all I seem to be able to do these days,” says food editor Katherine Gillen.

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Urban Outfitters

3. good Science Beauty 001-pu Purifying Face Mask

A face mask that actually creates a visible difference? Sign us up. Fashion editor Dena Silver says this mask, which was specifically created for acne-prone skin, has noticeably reduced her skin’s oiliness since she’s started using it a few times a week. It’s also super easy to rinse off, which is much appreciated.

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4. dr. Jart+ Teetreement Cleansing Foam

Infused with a blend of tea tree leaf extract, tea tree leaf oil and aloe vera leaf extract, this foaming cleanser is designed to clear blemishes and rebalance the skin’s pH—while making sure it’s soothed and hydrated. “This stuff works wonders when it comes to treating existing pimples and fighting future breakouts,” says Silver.

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5. gaelle Organic Soap Superieure Rose Geranium Face Cleanser

“Between stress and hormones, my skin has been a lot more oily and acne prone than normal lately. I love this cleanser because it’s so natural—it’s literally made on a farm in Ojai, California—so I feel good about putting it on my skin. It’s definitely cleared up my skin and given me a little glow,” says entertainment and news editor Lex Goodman. Each bar contains white clay, coconut oil, olive oil and shea butter to purify the skin without drying.