Stressed-out skin at exam time?

Unfortunately, stressing about things has the potential to make acne worse. Stress can show its ugly side in many ways – one of those is through your skin.

Yes, exam time can lead to stress pimples

Similar to the hormone rush of puberty that can kick start acne and the menstrual cycle that triggers monthly acne outbreaks for some, stress hormones can also upset the skin.

According to Professor Kurt Gebauer, co-chair of All About Acne and a dermatologist with more than 20 years of experience, the hormones released during prolonged or severe stress can over-stimulate the skin cells responsible for producing oil.

“Excess oil then contributes to blocked pores and pimples,” he said.

Research has shown that the worse the stress, the worse acne can become. In one study of university students, acne became worse during their exam period. The most anxious students were also the ones whose acne worsened the most.

Beyond exams, work pressures, relationship and financial pressures also cause stress. Skin specialists have noticed that women who suffer most from adult acne often have fast paced, stressful jobs.

There are going to be times in your life when you can’t change the source of the stress but you can change your coping strategies.

Plan and ask for help

If you’re a student, plan some extra study periods, study with a friend or ask for extra assistance. In the workplace, ask about training in time management or negotiating skills to help you manage your workload better. Talk to your manager to arrange more realistic deadlines or see if you can delegate some tasks.

Keep up the basics

Don’t let stress stop you eating well and getting plenty of fresh air and exercise. Maintaining a healthy diet and taking the time for a walk or gym session is important, even when you’re busy. Sleep is also critical for overall good health.


Psychologists recommend a range of relaxation techniques for overall health and wellbeing. Deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and visualisation techniques are some of the methods that might suit you.

Skin care

Professor Gebauer said over-the-counter acne products containing salicylic or fruit acids are good first options for acne breakouts. “These products open up oil glands and help deal with the problem in mild or moderate acne.

Prescription products are also useful, either alone or in combination with other products,” he said.

Don’t be tempted to pick, squeeze or scrub pimples! Treat your skin gently for better results.

Seek help

Talking about it with a trusted friend might help relieve your stress. They may not have a solution for your situation but may have similar life experiences and will understand. If your stress is longstanding, linked to a traumatic or major life event, then talking to a health professional may help.

Stress is now recognised as a major health problem in our society, causing sleep problems, eating disorders, headaches, stomach upsets and more.

Persistent acne that is not responding to treatment may be one of the signs that stress is getting the better of you. As always, talk to your doctor as help is available.

Find out more about stress and acne

Dermatologist - MBBS, FACD, FACP Dr Gebauer is a consultant dermatologist predominantly in private practice in Fremantle, Western Australia. He also served as Head of Department at Fremantle Hospital, a State government teaching hospital. Dr Gebauer has ongoing interests in clinical research and trial work, having conducted trials in acne as well as a wide variety of other dermatological diseases.

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