If you’ve dealt with breakouts, you’re probably reeeal familiar with this spiral: Your skin freaks out. Then you freak out. Then your skin gets worse. Then your feels follow suit. Then….
It’s vicious and cyclical, for sure—but it’s also science. Research shows that people with acne have an increased risk for anxiety and depression *and* that anxiety and depression can lead to breakouts in the first place (or just exacerbate any kind of acne you already have). Basically, your emotional state and your skin are deeply linked, mostly thanks to a little substance called cortisol.
When you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed—about a breakout or literally anything—your body produces this stress hormone, which, among many other functions, tells your skin to produce more oil. And more oil can attract more bacteria, creating more acne, explains dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor at Yale University. Cortisol can also cause inflammation, making skin red and puffy—which maybe explains those super-angry zits you always got during finals.
You see where I’m going with this, but just in case: Treating your skin could help your mental health—and treating your mental health could help your skin, says Amy Wechsler, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist and psychiatrist.
Therapy can teach you coping skills to better manage zit-promoting stress in general.
Specifically, therapy can teach you coping skills to better manage zit-promoting
stress, says Matt Traube, a therapist who specializes in treating the psychological aspects of skin conditions. Anyone can start down this skin-clearing road by trying calming exercises like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or even getting more sleep. But working with an actual therapist can help you dig into what, exactly, is making you most anxious—and how to make those triggers feel less scary. You might realize that, say, you always break out after giving a big presentation at work—your therapist can then help you find ways to make public speaking feel less intimidating. Which, in turn, should lower your cortisol levels and, hopefully, keep skin eruptions away.
Of course, it’s not always that simple. But consider this: Even if therapy doesn’t fix your skin issues—whether they stem from or are causing emotional ones—it can definitely help with your mental health. And if you find yourself stuck ruminating on your breakouts, this is a good way to refocus and set a new, healthier cycle in motion—one where even if your skin isn’t Facetune-level clear, your mind is. And that, friends, can make any lingering acne feel way less traumatic. Amen.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.