Does stress cause acne?
It always seems to happen right when you have that big event, an exam , or you are worrying about something – a pimple or pimples appear. Even in my 50’s I just had two pop up on my chin right before and during a very hectic work week.
It certainly seems to go hand in hand, doesn’t it? Remember in the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” on the wedding day the bride woke up with a big pimple. She put coverup on it, and then her groom told her later he had developed one, but it went away when he sprayed Windex on it!
“Lisa A. Garner, MD, FAAD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, (says that) “When you already have acne and you get into a stressful situation, that seems to be when your acne really flares up.””
Is there science to back up this seeming correlation?
“In 2003, a Stanford University study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that college students had acne flare-ups during exams, a period in which they reported more stress, compared to periods without testing. Acne severity correlated highly with increasing stress, the researchers concluded.
Still, scientists don’t know exactly how stress worsens acne. They do know that cells that produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones, according to Garner. Sebum is the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog the hair follicles, leading to a pimple or acne cyst.
When a person with acne experiences a lot of stress, “somehow, they’re upregulated,” Garner says of the sebum-producing cells. This means that more oil is produced to clog the hair follicles to allow more acne to form..”
There is a little more to this upregulating, which is result of our natural “Fight or Flight” response to a stressful event. Your body stimulates the adrenal glands, which respond by producing more cortisol and other hormones. If the stressor is continuous, such as prolonged anxiety, the hormones produce more oil over a longer period of time, setting up the skin for inflammation and bacterial infection.
“That said, people with acne can also take advantage of seeing a psychologist or learning biofeedback If they need to reduce high levels of stress overall, Garner says.” Learning how to control your breathing to take full breathes, rather than the rapid shallow breathes that come with anxious thoughts, focusing on the here and now which is also called mindfulness, exercising regularly, and having trusted family and friends to talk to, all help relieve stress.”
If you are prone to stress, such as college students are, and tend towards acne, you might want to make sure you are cleansing your face twice a day with a natural cleanser, or one with sulfur added. You will also want to keep your hands away from your skin, and perhaps use a glycolic / lactic / salicylic acid peel twice a week.