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4 Ways Your College Lifestyle is Ruining Your Skin (& How to Fix It)

When you left high school, you thought your acne was gone for good. Maybe you never even struggled with acne in your middle school and high school days, making you think you’d have flawless skin forever (or, you know, at least for a while). But now you’re in college and you’re dealing with skin problems. Ahhh, what happened?

Though it might seem like your acne developed out of nowhere, your social life in college might be impacting your skin more than you think. Starting college is associated with several lifestyle changes that could be impacting your skin, says Yunyoung Claire Chang, M.D., of Union Square Laser Dermatology.

Wondering what’s up with your acne? Here are some reasons your social life might be to blame.

1. You’re not sleeping enough

Photo by Maddi Bazzocco on Unsplash

Do you find yourself sleeping less than you used to before college? Dr. Chang says that not getting enough quality sleep can worsen skin conditions like acne and cause your skin to age faster.

“If staying up late at night, many students forget to wash their face and apply a good skincare regimen, which can cause a build up of oils and residue on the skin,” Dr. Chang says. “This can clog the pores and increase inflammation to make the skin more acne-prone.”

Basically, if you find yourself having a lot of those nights where you stay up late and immediately go to bed or don’t follow the skincare routine you otherwise would when you get home, you might be seeing the unfortunate after-effects that go along with that lifestyle.

Skincare expert and esthetician Renee Rouleau notes that your lack of sleep could be because you’re having a lot of fun, but in reality, it’s often because of the stress of college life.

Related: 8 Ways to Get Rid of Acne, From Gentle & Natural to Aggressive 

2. You’re super stressed out

Stress is also a big reason you might be dealing with acne. “Stress not only affects acne flare-ups; in general, it worsens the overall skin condition,” Rouleau says. “In stressful periods, people experiencing an increase in acne get more inflamed, puss-filled papules rather than simple whiteheads or blackheads.”

For many students, college is a combination of lots of fun and lots of stress –– and maybe lots of acne as a result. Though it’s easier said than done, make sure you practice self-care while in college, whether that means taking time to do yoga each morning, squeezing in a nap in between your class instead of joining that extra club, or making time for an activity that you truly enjoy.

3. Your diet has changed

Recent research has also shown a link between diet and acne, Dr. Chang says. If your diet is rich in sugars, processed carbohydrates and low-fat dairy, you could be seeing worse acne as a result. “I ask my patients if they find a correlation between acne flares and their diet, and I recommend low glycemic diets to my patients with stubborn acne,” Dr. Chang says. “I do not recommend skipping dairy altogether as more evidence is needed on the link between dairy and acne.”

Rouleau says dairy might be an issue because it can be difficult to digest, possibly resulting in cystic acne around your chin and jawline. “Grabbing a slice of pizza in the cafeteria may be causing your skin more breakouts, including cystic acne, than you know,” Rouleau says.

If you often crave these types of foods—sugary, processed carbs and dairy—when you’re out with friends or after a night out, it could be causing flare-ups. Though it might be tempting to grad a piece of pizza or some fries after a long night out, foods such as fish, nuts, avocados and sweet potatoes will treat your skin quite a bit nicer — and of course, don’t forget to drink lots of water.

4. Blame it on the alcohol


And what about your drinking habits? If you’ve started consuming more alcohol, you might’ve noticed that your skin has become less clear. 

Alcohol increases inflammation, changes the hormonal balance, and dilates blood vessels in the skin, making your acne worse and increasing redness, says Dr. Chang. Over time, you might notice the redness of your skin increasing. Drinking too much can also lead to premature aging of your skin.

We get it — sometimes you’re out with friends and everyone else is drinking. Being sober might seem boring to you, but your friends should be understanding of this lifestyle choice. You can still have fun dancing and talking with your friends without the assistance of alcohol, plus you can volunteer to drive. And if being at parties while sober is getting too boring for you, suggest doing something else every so often.

Related: 5 Signs Your Sleep Habits Are Ruining You

How to fix it

It’s evident that acne surely can still follow you to college — or maybe develop during that time. But don’t worry, because there are measures you can take to keep your skin looking great without sacrificing your social life. “Adult breakouts tend to be more infrequent than teenage breakouts so keeping to a skincare routine in your younger years is a great way to ensure clear skin,” Rouleau says.

Rouleau suggests thinking about what you eat and also trying to get as much sleep as possible, as getting enough sleep can really help improve your skin. “Eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting good quality sleep, taking measures to de-stress, limiting alcohol consumption and maintaining a good skincare regimen can all help maintain healthy, clear skin, even during college,” Dr. Chang says.

Unfortunately, there are various things that can cause adult acne (ugh). Though it’s tough sometimes with classes, sleep and a social life, focusing on self-care and a healthy lifestyle overall can also help your skin.

Paige recently graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in journalism. She loves live music, coffee and hummus. When she's not reading or writing articles, she's probably fantasizing about traveling the world or laughing at her own jokes.