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Why You Are Breaking Out During COVID-19 Quarantine More Than Normal

April 21, 2020

In times like these, zits may be the least of your worries—there are certainly much more pressing matters to be concerned about. That being said, the way you feel about your skin is significant. And if you find yourself breaking out right now or more than you're used to, it might be bothering you.

This is probably especially true if you are using this time to skip makeup and load up on homemade masks, "spa" treatments, or the like. After all, isn't skipping makeup supposed to stop breakouts? What gives?

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So you stopped wearing makeup, but you're still breaking out right now.

There are many benefits of skipping makeup and giving your skin a breather—one of the most notable benefits is fewer clogged pores, theoretically leading to fewer breakouts. So if you find yourself with more breakouts right now you might be wondering what's happening. 

But first, let's start with what's not happening: You might hear internet-led anecdotes that when you first stop wearing makeup, your skin will "purge." However, your skin only purges when you start using ingredients that encourage cell turnover, as the gunk deep in your pores is moved to the surface at a faster rate.

So even if you are breaking out more now, it's not because the lack of makeup is triggering it. Here's what might be happening instead:


Stress triggers breakouts.

There are a lot of reasons to be anxious right now—ranging from worrying for your loved ones to a bad night's sleep. Well, your mental health and your skin are intricately connected via the skin-brain axis. Stress is a significant trigger for breakouts.

When you are stressed, your body releases the hormone cortisol. This hormone is part of the famed "fight or flight" response and is actually quite beneficial in the body in the right circumstances. What it's not beneficial for? Your skin. It triggers an inflammatory response that can cause breakouts in an individual's predisposition to acne already. 

"Our skin is both an immediate stress perceiver as well as a target of the stress responses," board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D., tells mbg. "This is why the presence of acne not only contributes to a feeling of stress, but acne is more common in those who experience a higher intensity of stress from life events."

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Changes in diet. 

Because all of our standard routines have been changed significantly, it would be absolutely understandable if your diet has changed as well, for whatever reason. What you eat has an effect on your complexion, through the gut-skin axis1. This, again, has to do with inflammation: When the microflora in your gut is off-balance, it results in inflammation and hormonal responses throughout the body. And your gut microflora is a delicate thing—so changes in your day-to-day eating habits will absolutely affect its balance. 

"Gut inflammation eventually can become systemic inflammation. And that, along with oxidative stress, blood sugar imbalances, and other problems2 can all show up on your skin—especially if you are genetically predisposed to these conditions," writes board-certified internist Vincent M. Pedre, M.D. This can show up in your skin via breakouts or other inflammatory skin conditions like rosacea and eczema. 


You are just noticing it more. 

Finally, you might just be noticing small skin changes more acutely since you don't have makeup covering your complexion up most of the day. If you are normally one to wear makeup, you likely apply it in the morning, carry about your business, and rinse it off at night. So now that you don't have that all-day cover-up, when you see yourself in mirrors or on screens throughout the day, you're more likely to notice small changes in your skin or new breakouts forming. Not to mention, with the influx of FaceTime hangouts and Zoom meetings, we're all likely looking at our reflections a bit more than we're used to. It used to be out of sight, out of mind. Now? Not so much. So in reality, you may not actually be breaking out more than normal—you're just paying it more attention than you would be otherwise. 

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The take-away.

If you're breaking out more than normal right now, there are plenty of perfectly normal explanations. The most important thing is that you are trying your best to manage your stress levels, care for your body internally via what you're ingesting, and tend to your skin care routine as best you can. There's only so much you can do right now—so just stick to what you can and don't sweat the rest.

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Alexandra Engler
Alexandra Engler
mbg Beauty Director

Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.