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Yes, “Back To Reality” Breakouts Are A Thing — Here’s How To Deal

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mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

By Hannah Frye

mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

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Even if you don’t typically deal with frequent breakouts (read: You don’t have acne-prone skin), the occasional pimple may still pop up. There’s a long list of reasons for these so-called “sudden” breakouts–traveling, weather, and sleep (or rather lack thereof) included.

It can be difficult to know what, exactly, causes those pesky breakouts, but a 2019 investigational study is on the case: Researchers measure what causes this kind of sporadic acne and what to do about it, and we grabbed all of the details below.

What is occasional acne?

In this study, the term “occasional acne,” is used to describe breakouts driven by mental or physical stress (or both). Research shows occasional acne is most common in adult females, and breakouts tend to pop up on the lower half of the face with some presenting on the forehead as well.

Other common names for this kind of acne include “airplane acne” and “nightshift acne,” due to some of the common causes–which you’ll learn more about below.

Common causes.

After a long summer (hopefully) filled with fun and relaxation, you may be experiencing sudden zits as you embrace a fall schedule–a concept board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D., refers to over email as “back to reality” breakouts. Here’s what may be causing those unwelcome visitors and how to deal.


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Again, vacation is meant to be a time of rest and relaxation. However, this study reveals that it’s also a big culprit in terms of sudden breakouts. Try to avoid touching your face to unclean table trays, chairs, and headrests. In addition, be mindful of touching your face when you haven’t washed your hands with soap and water. This will help mitigate the transfer of dirt, grime, and bacteria.

Low humidity.

Lower levels of humidity can dry out the skin, and when the skin gets too dehydrated, it can often produce even more oil to compensate (which can result in breakouts). In order to avoid this dilemma, balance hydration by using a thicker topical moisturizer, even if it feels counterintuitive over oilier areas.

Different skin care products.

The study shines a light on another end-of-summer traveling woe: new products. If you’re using the skin care provided by your hotel, train, plane, etc., then your skin may have an adverse reaction. Similarly, many people buy travel-friendly products that may fit the bill size-wise but aren’t always a perfect match for your skin type.

Not to mention, trying new products at any time may cause an initial breakout or irritation (this is different from person to person), so it’s best to keep it consistent while traveling. Rather than buying pre-packed, TSA-approved products, invest in some refillable containers to bring your favorite routine on the go.

Lack of sleep.

Sleep and skin health are very much intertwined. Specifically, a lack of sleep can lead to increased cortisol. This stress hormone is an “important player,” in every acne breakout, as researchers state–occasional acne included.

While one night of poor sleep won’t tip the scales too far, try to be mindful of the amount and quality of sleep you’re getting each night. Not sure how to go about this? Here are 15 expert-backed sleep tips for a truly restful night.

The takeaway.

Occasional acne is especially common during this time, especially if you’re embarking on end-of-summer travels and not getting enough sleep, research finds. Not every factor can be avoided, but you can be mindful about what you can control in an effort to reduce the chances of breakouts. If you want to dive deeper into what causes different forms of acne, check out this comprehensive guide.

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