Stress is an indispensable part of life. Whether you’re going through finals, moving house, changing career paths or making other important life decisions, chances are your cortisol levels will be higher than usual. And oftentimes, we can’t do anything about that.
But have you ever wondered how stress affects our body as a whole? The truth is – stress has a larger influence on us than we’re aware of, mostly due to the fact that our minds are good at ignoring symptoms. If we can’t do anything about it, then why bother detecting the problem in the first place?
One of those commonly misinterpreted symptoms of stress is acne. Acne can be caused by all sorts of issues – overproduction of sebum, hormonal imbalance, puberty, bacteria. What’s the actual correlation between stress and acne? Let’s find out.
It goes without saying that all of us experience stressful times differently, and not every single person will get breakouts during stressful times. However, the cells which are responsible for producing sebum have receptors for stress hormones is a fact. Sebum, along with dead skin cells and bacteria, is what contributes to the appearance of breakouts.
During periods when our bodies are put under a lot of stress, more cortisol is produced in the body, which results in an overproduction of oil in the hair follicles, leading to more breakouts or to the worsening of already existing ones.
Stress also worsens inflammation in our bodies, which is another major cause of acne breakouts. Not only can inflammation trigger acne, but it can also lead to other skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema. You can decrease the inflammation levels by including a lot of anti-inflammatory food in your diet such as vegetables, fruits, and food high in omega-3 fatty acids like flax seeds or chia seeds. Exercising can also go a long way when it comes to decreasing overall inflammation levels.
Stress raises the levels of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. When the body produces more cortisol than it’s healthy, the immune system is enfeebled. This, in turn, raises inflammation levels, which, as we’ve established, are not good for the skin. Not everybody will get the same response from increased inflammation. Some people can experience other symptoms which can be a sign of increased inflammation levels. If you’re one of those people who is prone to breaking out, it’s important to establish the cause and treat it on time.
Another way in which stress can worsen acne is by making us more prone to picking the skin. Popping blemishes under no dermatological supervision is never a bad idea, especially when you’re doing it subconsciously or using it as a mechanism for dealing with stress. Luckily, you can avoid this side-effect of stress by avoiding picking at your skin, no matter how alluring the idea might be.
Other than increasing the oil which is produced in the skin, high stress levels can also cause your skin to dry out. The idea that something might make your skin drier and oilier is paradoxical, but hear us out. When we experience a spike in the so-called stress hormones, our skin starts to sweat profusely. You might have noticed sweat as a symptom of stress and anxiety whenever you were in a stressful situation before. Well, when that sweat affects the palms of our hands, we don’t experience any side-effects. However, when the sweat glands on our face are triggered to sweat, our skin becomes dehydrated as a result and loses a large amount of water.
This condition has a domino effect on other skin problems such as eczema. Drier skin is more prone to eczema, meaning that if you suffer from eczema, stress can definitely be a major trigger.
Speaking of domino effects, stress can have an impact on our lifestyle as well, including the small choices we make on a daily basis that influence our health in a major way. Our habits are out of order. Our sleeping patterns are pretty much non-existent. And the dietary choices we make seem to be the most disrupted. This will change from person to person. Some people eat more than they usually do when they’re stressed, and others eat less than what they’d typically eat. Neither option is healthy. If you’re one of those people that consumes more calories when they’re stressed, be wary of the effects of a bad diet on your skin.
Stressful periods cause us to reach for fast food which will provide energy faster. Trouble is, highly processed foods filled with refined sugar, oils, and other nasty ingredients don’t agree well with our skin. If you want to minimize the damage caused by stress, make sure you consume vegetables, fruits, and whole grains regularly. Healthy food takes more time to prepare (which you might not have the energy for), but it’s worth it in the end. Next time you’re reaching for takeout pizza, remember how your skin will react in the morning and maybe you’ll get the motivation needed to go for a salad instead.
Here’s another indirect way in which stress makes our skin break out. When we’re stressed, our mind is consumed by so many thoughts that it’s hard to keep track of all of them. Well, in the midst of that chaos happening in your mind, chances are, you won’t remember to keep up with your regular skincare routine, especially if you have an extensive list of skincare products that you use daily.
The good news is – this is within your control! Just remember to keep reminders about your skincare routine during stressful times – either write it down as a chore on your to-do list or set a reminder on your phone daily. Taking your skincare seriously is crucial for maintaining healthy skin in the long run. And no, it doesn’t have to be a complicated skincare routine consisting of lots of products. When you’re stressed, stick to the basics such as a good-quality moisturizer, an effective cleanser and maybe a toner. If you’re feeling up to it, try pampering yourself with a mask. It might reduce your stress levels, at least for the time being.
So you know all the ways stress can worsen your acne, or create them in the first place. The next step is identifying whether emerging acne can be attributed solely to stress. There are a couple of ways you can find out whether stress has everything to do with your acne.
It’s not an easy process, but one that will require a lot of attention and perceptiveness. The first step is to note whenever you’re feeling stressed and whenever you’re experiencing any breakouts. Continue this process for a couple of weeks. Journal the majority of the changes you notice on your face. The next step is to reflect on what you’ve written down and see whether the stressful times coincide with the breakouts. If they do, there is a possible connection between your stress levels and the breakouts.
If, however, they don’t match, you should look for the cause of your acne elsewhere. There are multiple factors that can be attributed as a cause of acne such as environmental factors, hormonal imbalances, certain types of medication, excess of sebum and a skincare routine that doesn’t match your particular skin type.
This process of determining where your acne comes from sounds very difficult and time-consuming, but in actuality, it’s not that hard to keep at it. It’s similar to keeping a food diary in order to determine which food isn’t agreeing with your organism.
There is another catch. As I’ve mentioned, the habits people tend to pick up during stressful times might be the causes of acne, and not the stress itself. These habits include eating processed food high in refined sugar and saturated fats, consuming a lot more caffeine than usual, not getting enough sleep and disturbing your sleeping patterns, neglecting your skincare routine and many more. This is where determining the source of your acne becomes difficult. If you’re in this situation, the best course of action would be to visit a dermatologist and let them determine the cause of your acne, and along with that, the correct treatment for your particular case. By doing so, you’ll be saving yourself of any additional worries in the future.
You know how to identify stress acne and its triggers by now. You know the functions of stress and how it affects acne. Now it’s time to explore all the different ways you can treat stress-related acne if going to a dermatologist isn’t an option for you.
If your acne isn’t severe, treating your pimples at home is more than doable. You will need a lot of patience, determinism and time to create your own, in-depth skincare routine, but once you get the gist of it, the process won’t be that time-consuming.
If you’re experiencing the occasional pimple and you don’t need severe acne treatment, then topical spot treatments are the perfect fit for you. On top of that, if you like DIY skincare products, then we have the perfect article for you! Spot treatments are very easy to make, they don’t take a lot of time to prepare, and most importantly – they’re very cost-efficient. So, don’t hesitate and try one at home yourself. Don’t try and pop the pimples yourself, since that can lead to unwanted scarring and marks which are difficult to get rid of.
When it comes to more serious products or ingredients you can try, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are an amazing option. They can also function as spot treatments or in a gel and cleanser form. Alpha hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are very effective in exfoliating the skin and thus preventing any congestion and clogged pores. AHAs are a great option if you suffer from scarring from previous acne or any redness.
Getting on oral medication is an option for those who’ve suffered from acne for a long time and haven’t found a suitable solution. Oral medication includes birth control pills, isotretinoin (brand name Accutane), antibiotics, and spironolactone. Most of these treatments last for a couple of months and you’ll need to wait for a while in order to see results. The topical skincare regimen that your dermatologist will prescribe simultaneously with the oral treatment is also going to be of immense help, but you’ll need to follow it carefully and go to regular check-ups so that they can measure your progress.
If you think you’re a good fit for oral acne medication, you’ll need to visit a doctor and have the medication prescribed to you. Since most of them come with pretty serious side-effects, your doctor will explain all of them to you and give you guidance and advice so that you can have optimal results and successful treatment. Difficult and persistent acne is no joke, so if you do suffer from stubborn acne that just won’t go away, visiting a dermatologist is your best bet.
Other than treating acne directly and topically, or taking oral medication, certain lifestyle factors also have a role in acne that’s caused by stress. So, what are these lifestyle factors?
First and foremost, make sure your diet is on point. Include lots of unprocessed, whole foods in your diet which will provide you with essential nutrients and help you fight acne. Avoid acne-triggering food such as dairy and processed sugar whenever you can. Get at least seven hours of sleep each night and exercise regularly. Get a proper skincare regimen and stick to it. If you’re a fan of wearing makeup, look for one that’s non-comedogenic so that your pores don’t get clogged up and make sure you take off your makeup every night before you go to bed.
Now let’s see what you can do in terms of minimizing your stress levels so that you can prevent stress acne in the first place. There are many ways you can get rid of stress, so choose a method that’s going to fit in with your lifestyle best. Find ways of coping with anxiety and stressful periods which aren’t self-destructive and that can help you in other areas of your life, such as exercise or yoga.
Pay attention to your diet, as that also has an effect. Minimize your consumption of alcohol and caffeine, since these substances can exasperate your problems and stress levels. When times get rough, talk it out with somebody. Talking might not help you solve your problems, but sharing your struggles with somebody can make you see things more clearly and provide you with an alternative perspective.
Stressful periods are inevitable and they happen to all of us. We’ve all felt the negative effect of raised stress hormones at some point in our lives and we know how easy it is to indulge in bad habits, neglect our skin and become pessimistic about life. But you must rise above it, keep fighting and finding new ways to cope with the stress and anxiety that this modern age brings us.
Stress can have a negative impact on acne and our skin in general. It makes us neglect the habits that make our skin healthy and glowy, forget to use appropriate products on our skin and not pay attention to our diet and sleeping patterns, leading to more breakouts than we usually get. But with a few lifestyle switches, a carefully selected skincare routine and a lot of patience you too can get rid of stress acne once and for all.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.