In this moment, as I write this, I have a giant, throbbing, cystic zit on my chin, steadily beating to the rhythm of “The Final Countdown” as if to remind me—as if I dare forget—that things are not freaking okay right now. I hate this zit. I loathe it. I loathe that it seems to symbolize all of my anxieties and fears in one stupid bump, and that it’s found a home on my face, making even the comforting acts of eating and napping uncomfortable.
I also know I’m not alone in the WTF-is-my-skin-doing club, because I have an inbox full of texts and DMs from y’all begging for help with your sudden onslaught of pimples, bumps, and redness. And it’s not surprising—the world seems like it’s on fire, our futures/families/lives feel unstable, and our stress levels are in a stage-five meltdown. A breakout feels almost mandatory at this point, especially considering what’s really happening inside.
“When you’re freaking out, your stress-related hormones spike and send your oil glands into overdrive,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, “and these spikes then lead to inflammation, pimples, dryness, extra oiliness, and even rashes.” Which is why after a sleepless night, or a breakup, or, um, a pandemic, your skin can look anywhere from blah to straight-up pissed off. It’s not your fault, and it’s not really in your control—it’s just part of an evolutionary response that seriously sucks.
And even though on the current scale of What Really Matters, a pimple is incredibly low (like, very, truly low), it can still feel like one more thing, you know? Another frustrating thing to deal with when you’re already at max capacity trying to hold everything else together. And so, if you’re like me, you’ve probably cried. Or Googled. Or attacked your face. Or done all three at once, while simultaneously swearing off dairy, sugar, and all good things in the world.
But here’s a very novel, very insane idea for when the pimple panic creeps in: How about doing…nothing at all? No fighting with your skin, or frantically overthrowing your skincare routine, or obsessing over whether or not your breakouts will get better (they will). Because there’s a bigger battle going on right now—both in the world and in your body—and it’s one you simply can’t control.
There will be a time for you to pick your weapons and worries back up, re-evaluate your diet/routine/habits, talk to a dermatologist, and execute a new plan of action, but now does not have to be that time. Now is the time to be kind to yourself and try—as impossible as it sounds—to accept, hey, my skin is going to do what it’s going to do right now, and I only have so much control over my hormones. I can only control so much.
If you’re feeling up to it, try to squeeze in a quick workout and/or meditation session each day (apps like Tone It Up, Calm, and Nike Training Club are currently free, FYI), which can help reduce your acne-stimulating cortisol levels. Also, limit the time you spend staring in the mirror (yes, the zit is still there, and no, it hasn’t gone away since the last time you checked). And if you’re currently comfort-eating chocolate and cookies all night like I am, remember that fruits and veggies also exist (“the sugar found in sweets and dairy can spike acne-causing hormones,” says Dr. Zeichner).
Or, you know, don’t do any of this. Don’t do anything at all except what feels right for you right now. Remember, no matter how much you’re breaking out now (or next month, or next year), skin is skin, and it will eventually heal. Those pimples will disappear, the scars will fade, and none of this—face-wise or otherwise—will be permanent. Got that? Good.