- Multiple studies have shown a positive correlation between stress and the likelihood of acne breakouts.
- While stress does not cause acne directly, it can make skin more acne prone or worsen cases of existing acne.
- Although stress is at the root cause of stress acne, treatments similar to those used for other forms of acne can be very effective.
Dermatologists have long supposed there was a connection between stress and acne breakouts. In spite of past debates about whether external stressors leads to acne or whether an individual’s predisposition to certain stress responses is the culprit, research has demonstrated that stress and acne interact closely.
Although stress is never the sole cause of acne breakouts (the presence of acne-producing bacteria and other factors may be factors), stress can instigate breakouts as well as make existing acne more severe.
Does Stress Really Cause Acne?
Yes, stress has been identified as a factor in the incidence and severity of acne. At the first sign of stress, a rush of hormones, including cortisol and adrenal androgens like testosterone are released by the skin in an effort to protect you.
While this reaction is a simple defense mechanism, it also stimulates and inflames the skin’s sebaceous (sebum-producing) glands, which can cause or exacerbate acne flare-ups. Sebum is the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria. It is often responsible for oil production which can in turn clog the hair follicles, leading to a pimple or an acne cyst.
One study found the frequency and severity of acne to vastly increase during stressful events like school exams, while another, older study found that relaxation and stress reduction techniques, when practiced regularly, can reduce and improve acne. The same study found acne likely to recur when stress reduction practices are discontinued.
Similarly, a study published in a Swedish medical journal found that acne became more severe during student exams, in comparison to periods of relative low stress like summer break. Researchers attributed this type of increase in acne to higher levels of sebum produced during stressful periods.
Stress (particularly chronic stress) triggers an increase in your levels of stress hormones. These include cortisol and androgens such as testosterone.
While these hormones are safe when produced in normal quantities, stress sends the skin’s sebaceous glands into overdrive, causing an excess of sebum to be produced, which then mixes with dead skin cells on the surface of your skin and acne-causing bacteria. The result is a higher likelihood of acne.
Age can also be a factor in the occurrence of stress acne, since the frequency of natural cell turnover slows down over time. This is why adult acne is characterized by an increased buildup of dead skin cells present on the skin’s surface.
Some people also experience worsened acne during times of stress due to a predisposition toward picking their skin when stressed. The phenomenon of turning mild acne into permanent scars by picking at it is known as acne excoriee. In order to prevent stress acne scarring, it’s important not to pick or squeeze your acne under any circumstances.
Identifying Stress Acne
Typically, you can tell if you’re experiencing a stress acne breakout it may be accompanied by redness, itching and an increase in the number of blackheads and whiteheads you have. If your acne is usually manageable, but you are experiencing sudden flare-ups, that is another sign that stress may be playing a role in your acne.
Where on the body will it appear?
How to Get Rid of Stress Acne
For many, stress acne and stress alike are chronic issues that do not simply disappear once a stressful situation has subsided. While it’s not so easy to address stress acne at its root cause by immediately eliminating stress in your life, there are ways to manage and mitigate its effects and reduce your chances of developing stress acne.
Strategies for getting rid of stress acne include the following:
Integrating certain changes to your daily routine or usual way of living may help to reduce or even eliminate your stress acne over time. While what works for one person may not work for another, some popular lifestyle change strategies include yoga, meditation, more exercise, speaking with a friend or therapist, deep breathing exercises and taking steps to create a healthier work-life balance.
Over the counter treatments
Fortunately, even though the underlying cause of stress acne is stress, topical treatments that work for other types of acne breakouts typically work here too. Topical benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid (both of which are found in OTC cleansers, moisturizers, and other topical treatments) can be applied directly on individual pimple or blemish as a spot treatment, or over an entire affected area as long as you do not experience dryness or irritation. They work to remove dead skin cells, clear away sebum, and kill bacteria.
Other OTC stress acne options include applying an alpha hydroxy acid solution to particular problem areas to clear away dead skin cells and reduce pore size, thereby reducing your chances of an acne-causing buildup on your skin.
You might even try including green tea compresses into your skin care routine, as it green tea has been shown to help reduce sebum production.
Staying well hydrated and switching to a low-glycemic diet, has also been shown to help reduce acne. Some research has even found that native people living in countries such as Papua New Guinea and Paraguay, which have low GI diets, have far fewer reports of acne.
Preventing Stress Acne
The best way to prevent stress acne is to reduce your overall stress levels by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This means getting enough exercise, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, and minimizing your stressors, be they at work, school, or in your personal life. Seeing a therapist is helpful to some in working out their best strategies for reducing psychological or emotional stress.
Other acne prevention tips include avoiding the wearing of tight-fitting hats that cover the forehead and the use of harsh skin products. Practicing proper hygiene by removing makeup before bed and using face scrubs to deep cleanse your skin can also help to prevent a breakout, as can resisting the temptation to scratch or pick your acne.
The presence of ongoing or extreme stress causes your skin’s sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum, which in turn mixes with dead skin and acne-causing bacteria. The result can be a stress acne breakout, or the exacerbation of an existing acne problem.
For many, stress acne and stress alike are chronic issues that do not simply disappear once a stressful situation has gone away. While it’s not always so easy to address the root cause of stress acne by immediately eliminating stress in your life, there are ways to manage and mitigate its effects and reduce your chances of developing stress acne.
Strategies for getting rid of stress acne include lifestyle changes like exercising more and eating better, relaxation techniques like meditation, talk therapy, topical skin care treatments, or some combination of these. Overall, the best way to prevent stress acne is to reduce your overall stress in whatever ways work best for you personally.
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