‘May you live in interesting times’ this quote is an English translation of the Chinese expression “Better an dog in time of tranquility than a human in times of chaos’.
I know your not here for a philospohy lesson, but we do live in ‘interesting/chaoitc’ times right now and I am sure it will not surprise you to learn that ‘intersting times’ – read stress plays havoc with your skin, among other things.
On the surface, it makes sense that stress will make you breakout more. We all know that a little bit of stress is good for you (run away from the sabre-toothed tiger now!) but chronic stress, well that is bad for you.
Guess what, a lot of us live in a state of chronic stress. A few thousand years ago we would be walking through the forest on our way to get water when we would happen apon a large animal that wanted to consume us for breakfast.
Stress would trigger all kinds of hormones and we would be filled with enough energy to run fast, climb fast and be super strong. We would evade the large animal, or be eaten by it and then having used up all our ‘stress’ collape in a heap and rest for a few hours.
Our modern lives contain no sabre-tooth tigers but it does contain 24/7 social media, covid 19, work pressure, relationship angst, and lots of screen time and not a lot of green time.
When it comes to acne and stress though can stress cause acne?
Stress can trigger acne. When you feel overwhelmed your body triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol makes your sebaceous gland produce more oil (sebum) which clogs pores and set up a perfect environment for acne to form.
Acne in itself is a common condition that occurs when pores get clogged. Stress alone can’t cause acne, but it can make people with acne-prone skin more vulnerable to breakouts. In this article, we’ll cover how stress affects acne and what you can do to treat it.
What Causes Acne in the First Place?
There are four primary causes of acne:
- Clogged pores
- Too much oil production
People typically have acne breakouts on their face, chest, back, and shoulders since they contain the most hair follicles. But acne can form almost anywhere on the body that hair would grow. Throughout your body, there are hair follicles that are connected to a sebaceous oil-producing gland.
Dirt, dead skin cells, sebum and bacteria can build up and clog the hair follicles, causing them to bulge. When this happens, small bumps known as whiteheads form, these are also called closed comedones.
If the bumps break through the surface of your skin they oxidise in the air and become blackheads, also called open comedones.
When all this material clogs deeper in the pores, a large red bump called a cyst. These form underneath the skin, and are also known as nodules.
Numerous other factors can play a role in how severe the acne is, such as:
- Hormones. Any significant hormonal changes in men and women can amplify acne breakouts. As a result, you typically see teenagers with acne while they’re going through puberty.
- Medication. Some medications can cause acne, such as those with high amounts of testosterone and lithium. Some medications, such as contraceptives can help treat acne by regulating hormones.
What Exactly Is Stress Acne?
Whenever humans get stressed out, they release hormones, particularly cortisol. Cortisol enhances your oil gland’s sebum production, causing pores to clog and acne to form.
However, stress acne is caused by a hormonal response it’s slightly different from hormonal acne.
Women who experience breakouts during the periods have hormonal acne, which is caused by the same effect on the oil glands.
To tell the difference between stress and hormonal acne, you need to consider what may be causing your breakouts.
Are they happening at the same time of the month? They are likely to be hormonal acne related to your cycle menstrual cycle.
Ance on your jawline, neck and chest is hormonal acne. Acne in your T Zone and unrelated to the time of the month but happens when your feeling emotional stress or overwhelm is stress acne.
Stress acne may also make your face red or itchy around where the pimples are about to form. This is because an increase in stress level triggers histamines, histamines make your skin itchy and inflamed.
Acne whether it is triggered by stress, or hormones will respond in the same way it just may appear in different places on your face.
What Causes Stress Acne?
It’s easy to say that stress acne is caused by, well, stress. However, it’s slightly more complicated than that. Whenever we find ourselves in a stressful situation, the body releases cortisol, its stress hormone. Cortisol has the power to affect several parts of your body, such as your immune system, digestive system, and sleep.
In short, when people are stressed out and releasing a significant amount of cortisol, it creates a hormonal cascade response that makes the body secrete more sebum. Your hormones are good like that, always ready to give you more oil in an attempt to create as much acne as possible.
How To Treat Stress Acne
Treating acne, in general, can be a lengthy and challenging task. However, advances in modern skin care products make the process a lot easier. When you’re trying to treat your stress acne, remember that it’s a step-by-step activity. You won’t see any long-term results overnight.
You can start with over the counter (OTC) products or head off to your dermatologist for a recommended treatment plan. If your stress acne is moderate to mild then there are lots of skincare ingredients you can buy that will help.
Consider giving the following a try:
- Benzoyl peroxide is a top choice of skincare ingredients that treat acne. It kills the bacteria that causes acne and clears out clogged pores.
- Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid and it cleans out pores and exfoliates the skin helping to clear up and remove acne it also reduces inflammation.
- Rosehip oil is a good choice if you like to keep your skincare organic and gentle. Benzoyl peroxide, retinol and salicylic acid are great but they can have side effects such as dryness, peeling and irritation. Rosehip oil has been shown to fight acne while having minimal side effects. The downside is that it will take longer to see results with rosehip oil.
- Retinoids: Retinoic acid is found in medications that are generally used to treat mild to moderate acne. Most retinoids come in the form of lotions, topical creams, and gels for easy application. People apply the medication once in the evening before bed. Retinoids typically take around 4 weeks to show any significant results. They can also cause purging.
Of course, it would also be a good idea to address the stress in your life. If your skin is breaking out because of stress this is a wake-up call.
Your skin is telling you “Address your stress“
That, of course, is not always the easiest thing to do but a great place to start is speaking to someone you trust. Your family doctor or school counsellor or therapist. Stress doesn’t normally go away.
It may fluctuate but it will normally come back and usually get worse and more frequent over time.
If stress is causing you to not sleep well, eat well and making you feel worried or anxious you need to get help.
Stress is such a common part of our lives now that most of us think it’s normal. It’s not and you don’t have to just ‘survive’.
You deserve a life that is not filled with overwhelming worry and stress breakouts!
When To See a Dermatologist
You may need to see a dermatologist if your breakouts are moderate to severe.
If you notice that none of the OTC acne treatments is working after 2 weeks, you should consult with a dermatologist so they can recommend a more potent treatment plan. Only a dermatologist can diagnose the root cause of your acne properly.
A dermatologist is also a trained doctors and any good dermatologist will understand the enormous emotional cost of acne to some people.
Acne in itself can be stressful because of the self-esteem and confidence blow that it can cause
If your feeling that your acne is causing you to become depressed or anxious your dermatologist will be able to recommend ways of dealing with the emotional side of acne as well.
Stress Acne Where To From Here?
Without a doubt, being stressed out can be challenging to deal with, and a breakout can just make stress work.
Start by treating the acne topically and try to address some of the stress in your life. Saying no to some stuff and getting a solid 8 hours of sleep is certainly a great place to start.
But if your are feeling overwhelmed and acne is adding to those feeling then see a dermatologist or your family doctor for some help. You do not need to suffer in silence.
Acne is treatable and stress is treatable there is lots you can do to help both of these conditions and getting control of your stress and your acne can make such a huge difference in your life.
Oh, and wear sunscreen. That is very important.