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10 Products I Use That Help Me Get Rid of Stress Acne

By Adam Hurly,


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The body perceives “stress” in many forms — a lack of sleep, a poor diet, dehydration, and more. In turn, the body increases its cortisol levels, triggering all sorts of biological actions, one of which is increasing sebum production in the skin. This increase leads to clogged pores and something called stress acne.

I am somebody who is both easily stressed out and acne prone. Together the two create the Adam Paradox: when I stress, I get a pimple; if I get a pimple, I stress. And while pimples aren’t the actual stressor in my life, they don’t help.

Due to my propensity for stress and acne, I do my best to get ahead of these blemishes with specific products and behaviors that lower my odds of dealing with a pimple. I’ll eventually get a big blemish because while these prevention methods will help mitigate most problems, every so often, one gets past the guards. If you’re wondering how to get rid of stress acne, here are the products and ingredients that have worked to keep my skin as clear as possible.

How to Get Rid of Stress Acne

Many of the best means of treating a stress pimple also align with the ways to prevent them. As such, I’ll outline all advice together, and address how each one contributes to keeping your skin clear.

Live A Healthy Lifestyle

Everything we do impacts health. I’m no saint, but in my 37 years, I’ve learned that swapping alcohol for water, getting more sleep, and exercising more, though we hear it all the time, actually does improve a person’s entire well-being including their skin. Have fun, but maybe increase some preventative measures at the same time.

While a supplement is no panacea, one thing I’ve added to my morning routine is ashwagandha, which is proven to reduce cortisol levels in the body and in turn, improve things like sleep and mood. If you’re a stressed or anxious person, consider adding it to your regimen as well.

Best Naturals Ashwagandha Capsules, 500 mg, 120 Count

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Use Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredient as well as a heavy hitter against acne. If you are prone to stress acne or need to treat it, this ingredient helps break down the bacteria that often accumulate in the pores and worsens breakouts.

You can get different concentrations of it (10% tends to be considered “maximum strength”), and a topical acne cream will be more effective than a rinse-away face cleanser in terms of treating severe concerns. As for me, I use this gentle 4% benzoyl cleanser from CeraVe to more or less keep breakouts at bay.

To ensure its efficacy, I apply it and allow it to sit for 30 seconds before I rinse it away. I make sure to moisturize quickly after showering since the ingredient sometimes leaves my skin dry (though this CeraVee cleanser also has hyaluronic acid which helps maintain moisture while using the cleanser).

It’s worth noting that benzoyl can bleach your towels and pillowcases. So if you use a topical gel or a high-grade cleanser, use either white towels and pillowcases or be sure to thoroughly rinse your face and hands before they come into contact with fabric.

CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

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Use Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid might be the most universal solution for acne in terms of its ability to seep into the pore and break down the buildup of sebum and any dead cells. I like to use it regularly throughout the week in cleansers or serums, but whenever I have an active blemish, I bring out the big guns.

That includes a spot-treatment gel like this one from Murad (2% is a high grade without aggravating your skin), as well as these salicylic acid acne patches from Peace Out Skincare.

The latter works overnight or throughout the day to neutralize inflammation while salicylic acid seeps directly into the problem area.

Murad Rapid Relief Acne Spot Treatment with 2% Salicylic Acid

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Peace Out Salicylic Acid Acne Healing Dots

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Use Clay

If you want to do some deep-pore expunging, then clay is the best ingredient you can get in a cleanser or mask. It has the most absorbent properties — more than charcoal, even — which is why this ingredient is part of my regular regimen.

I have a lot of clay cleansers I love, like Cardon’s and Fieldtrip’s , but when I’m targeting an actual breakout, I’m usually preoccupied with my benzoyl cleanser. That’s when I bring out a deep-cleaning clay mask , which sits on the skin for 10-15 minutes and actively soaks up the moisture.

Currently, I’m counting on Mudmasky’s “Vitamin A Booster” clay mask, which adds bakuchiol (a Vitamin A alternative to retinol) to help jump-start cellular turnover and skin healing.

This turnover is especially helpful if you worry about hyperpigmentation from the acne mark and want it to disappear faster. I wear it for about 10 minutes since my skin is especially oily, but you can cut that in half if you have dry skin.

MUDMASKY Vitamin-A Booster Blue Clay Mask

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Use Sulfur, Yes — Sulfur!

Sulfur is antimicrobial, and like salicylic acid can help break down the contents of clogged pores (dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria). It’s effective on mild breakouts and can help reduce blackheads and whiteheads alike.

That being said, sulfur has a certain stench that many people like to avoid; for this reason, it’s best to deploy sulfur as a spot treatment for blemishes so that you never have to smell it in large or unnecessary doses. Some brands, like Dr. Barbara Sturm, even lean into the stink. She calls her product “Ultimate Stinky Pimple Treatment,” as a cheeky nod to the ingredient.

But damn, this stuff works: I apply a small amount to any blemish and let it absorb. Once it dries into a light, chalky residue, I even apply a concealer over the top so that I get a nice “treat and conceal” one-two punch out of the regimen as opposed to choosing one option over the other.

Dr. Barabara Sturm The Ultimate Stinky Pimple Treatment

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Use Vitamin C

Vitamin C is one of the best ingredients you can use to preventatively avoid hyperpigmentation — which, in the case of getting rid of stress acne, is just a way to not be faced with the remnants of your blemish for many months after the fact.

Choose a source of Vitamin C that promises to stay fresh throughout its use, since the ingredient has a short shelf life and is volatile when exposed to light or air. I like Drunk Elephant’s serum for this reason since you get to play the role of a chemist when you open it. Unlike most products, the user is in charge of combining the serum base with the Vitamin C powder. This way, you know it isn’t past its expiry date even before you take the product home.

It should be fine for the next couple of months as you work your way through a routine morning application. Because it can be difficult to find a really great, non-volatile Vitamin C product, I suggest aiming for higher-end products (like Drunk Elephant’s) rather than risk buying a pointless low-grade option.

Drunk Elephant C-Firma Fresh Day Serum

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Use Daytime SPF

SPF, like Vitamin C, is also an imperative defense against hyperpigmentation from acne blemishes and getting rid of stress acne. While I hope you’re already wearing SPF 30+ every single day (to drastically slow the onset of signs of aging), it’s all the more important for limiting the stay of those dark acne marks.

Get yours from an SPF-packed moisturizer or a face-approved SPF that layers over top of your non-SPF moisturizer. A favorite option of mine in the latter camp is Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen SPF40, a moisturizing and imperceivable layer of sunscreen that wears light on the skin.

It’s water and sweat-resistant for up to 40 minutes, and like all SPFs, should be worn year-round, even if you barely go outdoors during the day, and even if it’s cloudy and cold outside. If the sun is in the sky (even blocked out), then its UV rays are omnipresent.

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40

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Use Retinoids

A Vitamin A derivative, retinoids are one of the best gifts you can give your face. They actually reverse fine lines and wrinkles, improve cellular turnover, treat inflammation, minimize pore visibility, and balance sebum levels. So, in terms of getting rid of stress acne, this means keeping pores clearer, as well as reducing their lasting effects by turning over cells efficiently.

This is an ingredient to apply nightly so that it can sync with your body’s regenerative cycle and thus magnify its potential to heal and improve skin. Plus, retinoids can make skin more sensitive to the sun, so be sure to cleanse in the morning and wear your facial SPF.

I’m an advocate of getting a prescription-grade option from your board-certified dermatologist (ask about tretinoin), but I also incorporate over-the-counter retinol into my regimen. These non-prescription retinoids are much more tolerable for newbies to the ingredient. Alternatively, you can seek out bakuchiol as a more sensitivity-suitable Vitamin A derivative.

The OTC option I’ve found to give the best results is Kiehl’s Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum. I even got my partner to use it since his skin is too finicky for the high-grade stuff.

Kiehl's Micro-Dose Anti-Aging Retinol Serum with Ceramides and Peptide

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Use a Pore Steamer

I just acquired my first pore steamer from Dr. Dennis Gross, so this is the latest addition to my anti-acne regimen. If you want to bring the spa home with you, this thing acts like a mini steam room for your skin to both hydrate and detoxify.

By helping open up your pores, it can draw out anything waiting to accumulate inside there, while also allowing your anti-acne products easier absorption on the backend of the session. This isn’t going to be a miracle acne-disappearing act on its own, but then again, few things on this list are standalone problem solvers.

It’s one big production of doing all that you can to prevent and treat the issue, and damn do these steamers deliver the most enjoyable, stress-reducing pause of your day. For that alone, I highly recommend it.

Dr. Dennis Gross Pro Facial Steamer for Facial Deep Cleaning

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About the Author

Adam Hurly has been covering the grooming industry for a decade after getting his start at Birchbox in 2013. Since becoming a freelance journalist in 2016, he has written for nearly every men’s title. In addition to SPY, his frequent clients include GQ, Men’s Journal, Robb Report, Forbes, and more. Hurly is a South Dakota native, a University of Kansas graduate, a New Yorker at heart, and has resided in Berlin for 5 years.

Recently at SPY, Hurly has weighed in on the difference between Finasteride vs. Minoxidil , has laid out the best hair loss treatments , and has even shared his top 10 men’s fragrances from his collection of over 300 scents.

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