Have Teenage-Level Acne Again? Blame the Pandemic.
Experiencing your worst wave of breakouts since junior high? It’s not you — it’s Covid-19. The combination of skyrocketing levels of stress, occlusive protective masks, and upended routines can have negative consequences for skin, dermatologists say.
What’s Causing Acne Right Now
Pandemic-related or not, stress is a major contributor to acne. It creates a domino effect: Our bodies respond to stress by producing more cortisol, aka the stress hormone, which in turn increases the levels of androgen, which ramps up oil production in skin. “Bacteria on the skin feeds on this oil,” explains Sonia Batra, MD, a dermatologist in Santa Monica, CA. Not only that, but the excess oil itself contributes to clogged pores, too.
On top of that, stress causes an uptick in skin inflammation. “Your skin cells are a local nervous system,” explains Melissa Levin, MD, a dermatologist in New York City and clinical instructor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. When you’re under stress, they release a deluge of inflammatory proteins. That can trigger a number of skin conditions, such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.
And if stress has led to habits like late-night Twitter scrolling, interruptions in your sleep schedule, and seeking comfort in, well, comfort foods, those may too contribute to breakouts. “The carbohydrate-rich and sugary foods many crave during stressful times have a high glycemic index, which has been associated with acne,” says Batra. They increase levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which studies suggest may drive oil production. Poor sleep, meanwhile, is another source of stress for the body, increasing cortisol levels. Sleep is also skin’s dedicated time for repair, and skimping on it can further contribute to inflammation.
Another complication: You may be dealing with two types of acne. The stress-related acne is your everyday acne, or acne vulgaris. “Stress breakouts are often more concentrated along the lower face, jawline, and upper neck,” says Batra. The pimples may also be deeper and more tender to the touch. But these days, there’s also acne mechanica, which results from wearing face masks and…