Preventing Acne in College: A CF Survival Guide

Yes, you can prevent acne before it starts. Here’s how.

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This post will show you how to prevent college acne, especially during stressful times like finals week.

College acne tips: The ultimate guide to preventing acne in college

While I’ve been excited for summer to come since winter started, life’s cruel joke is that you can’t get to summer without first going through finals week. It’s that time of the year where you don’t know what the sun looks like anymore, where you forget to shower, and you understand why the phrase “college acne” is a real thing.

And finals week is so much worse when classes are online. You’re doing everything in the confinement of your room, and then have to perform in often time, more stressful situations. Serious talk: Online proctoring is the scariest thing: I’m scared of having them think I’m cheating when I’m just looking at my picture of Harry Styles on the wall to calm down.

And with the stress, for me, comes stress induced acne.

This, in my case, just leads to me stressing out about my skin, and descending into a downward spiral of stressing about every decision I’ve ever made in my life. It’s safe to say I don’t deal well with stress. But knowing this since I was in high school, I’ve been able to master a plan to curb the effects of stress on my skin

{RELATED POST: The Best Ordinary Products for Acne That Are Honestly Magic}

I’ll tell you right now, my college acne prevention regimen does not involve drowning your skin in millions of products or getting expensive facials every week. But it does involve the little amount of science I do know.

If you too get stress-induced acne, this is the time to get prepared, to prevent your skin from feeling its effects pretty soon. And just keep in mind, after finals comes summer. So here are the best tips to curbing stress induced acne.

Try a little sun exposure

As finals begin to creep up on us, we tend to crawl away into our rooms, only to reemerge the moment after our last final ends and summer begins. Which is perfect so we can then bring some color to our pale, tired faces.

But you actually desperately need sun exposure on a regular basis — literally your body needs Vitamin D to function. This doesn’t mean you need to lay out in the sun for 3 hours during prime UV, actually that’s an awful idea. But 15 minutes of sun exposure a day will keep the doctor away.

Why does it help with your skin, though? Exposure to sun is directly linked to people’s moods, so being in the sun every day will lower your stress levels. Less stress = less stress induced acne.

Also, this might be an urban myth, but I really do believe the sun helps dry up my skin if it has acne, but don’t quote me on this.


The last thing you have time to do is work out when you’re stressed for finals. It’s not just the 30 mins to 1 hour that you’re carving out of your schedule, it’s getting there, getting back, having to wash your hair every day, I mean, it is time consuming.

But exercising goes beyond helping with your skin, it will also help with your performance on tests.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that reduce your stress levels, which in turn means less acne. (Be sure to wash your face and reapply your skincare products after you sweat so your pores won’t clog.)

And just remember to not exercise right before a test, a studies show that usually leads to decreased performance.

Healthy eating

While this may seem very intuitive, I think it’s worth paying extra attention to when you’re stressed. Before a stressful period, I used to go to the store and load up on snacks. Most of which were extremely unhealthy, high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. 

Let’s be real, this is 100% normal. College students don’t have time to cook when we’re nonstop studying. And sugary and chocolate snacks are definite comfort foods in times of stress.

While by no means should you not treat yourself with some sugar for your hard work, or in my case my 5 minutes of studying a day, you should watch out for how much is too much. These unhealthy snacks are bad for your skin and will make you break out if consumed in large quantities.

So, opt for quick frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, or making a quick sandwich or salad when you need a bite to eat. It might take a little more time, but you’ll also feel much more well fed.

Don’t touch your skin

You’ve heard it from your mom, you’ve heard it from your doctor, you’ve heard it from your friend with flawless skin and how you’re going to hear it from me. I’m probably the worst person to give any advice on this, because it’s my stress habit, but I realize what it does to my skin. 

Now it’s a lot easier said than done but there are ways to stop yourself from touching your skin and causing breakouts.

First of all, remove mirrors from your room (if possible) during stressful times, especially from your desk. Secondly, if you can study somewhere other than your room, do. This is definitely harder now that we don’t have many places to go, and libraries, at least at my school, are closed. But even studying in a friend’s room will help you stop obsessively touching your skin.

Another way to keep your natural oils away from your face is to regularly wash your pillowcases (at least once per week), or sleep with a clean white towel over your pillow.

And lastly, whenever you find the need to touch your skin, substitute with an activity that helps you reduce stress, such as watching 10 mins of Netflix or making yourself a cup of tea. If this doesn’t work, cover your fingers with duct tape. (Just kidding, but it might work?)

Don’t change your skincare routine

We all love to treat ourselves, to have a self-care night, to put on some face masks. But if this isn’t part of your normal routine, do not do this! Do not go to Target and buy every $1 face mask you see and put one on your face every night.

Introducing new products to your skin all at once will lead to a breakout. And most of these masks have far too concentrated products that your skin just doesn’t need.

If you are someone who uses a mask every night, then continue, but you don’t have to add a million products to have good skin. You should actually try to reduce the number of products you’re putting on your skin. Even if all of your friends are doing it, well it’s too bad they don’t read CF.

Add salicylic acid

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Having said that, no matter how much you try to reduce your stress, not touch your face and keep your usual routine, stress leads to at least some acne.

So, adding a wash with salicylic acid, once to two times a week in the few weeks prior to and after your finals, is a good idea. In most cases this is enough to counteract the effects of your stress hormones.

Again, don’t go crazy with this using it every day, salicylic acid is strong, so use sparingly. 

Stress is normal, acne is normal, especially in college. Don’t beat yourself up or get stressed out for having acne in college. At the end of the day, the most important thing is managing your stress, for your skin but most importantly for your performance and health. So good luck on your finals and remember to be easy on yourself.

6 thoughts on “Preventing Acne in College: A CF Survival Guide”

  1. I’m halfway through my third semester, and I have still had acne since I was 14. It’s exhausting! College and acne are two things that just don’t mix. Between classes, stress, crazy relationships and trying to eat healthy, it’s hard to keep up the best skincare routine. I love this College Fashion article, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll take all the tips and advice you can get. I would greatly also recommend this article:

    It’s all about getting clear skin and being healthy, even with a crazy busy college lifestyle. It’ll help!

  2. So this spring I decided to clear up my skin for the summer weather and i found out two things
    1. Cetaphil is the best EVER. Hands down. i use the wash every morning, then moisturizer morning and afternoon.
    2. Now to contradict point 1. My dermatoligist told me that you can use Cerave soap, rub it into your face (No water!), then pat it off with a tissue. It takes off all my makeup and dirt and sweat, and it is so easy! One of my biggest issues before was I would go to bed, remember I didn’t wash my face, then be too lazy to go to the bathroom and wash it of. This way is so much easier, you feel so much guiltier if you don’t do it. Just simple steps of washing and moisturizing do so much.

  3. Hands-down, my favourite face wash is the Aveeno Smart Essentials Daily Detoxifying scrub. It’s seriously the best ever. I have really sensitive skin, so I have to go with the really basic stuff. The detergent without dye or fragrance, the face wash without much of anything… You get the idea. I use that face wash because it’s got the right amount of scrubbies and is gentle enough to clean my face without causing trouble.
    I used to use really harsh facial cleansers, like Stridex pads, but they make me break out worse because of all the chemicals. I can’t use zit-zappers, either. But that face wash keeps my skin clear, and I love it.

  4. I had terrible terrible skin for a while. I didn’t even want to leave my dorm to go to class. I gave up dairy over the summer, and, with the exception of the occasional breakout, my skin is flawless. I think dietary changes are at least worth a shot for anyone struggling with acne.

  5. I use the three step Proactiv treatment and I use Origins moisturizer, concealer, and foundation. Proactiv works – plain and simple. A bit pricey, but my skin is now crystal clear! Plus, I stay away from extra dairy!

  6. Cleaning your phone (with rubbing alcohol) is also super important when it comes to diminishing acne and most people forget that it carries so many germs but it’s crucial for clearer skin.


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