If you asked me not too long ago whether or not stress could cause acne I would’ve laughed in your face. I would’ve then told you to see a dermatologist, take some Cod Liver Oil along with a chill pill twice daily.
It was a bit shortsighted of me to think that seeing that there was a tremendous amount of anecdotal evidence on the matter. However, when it comes to acne, there is so much that relies on anecdotal evidence so it’s hard to tell when someone is bullshitting or not.
The best way to understand skin and the human body as a whole is to do research for yourself. And as a man who hates science, I went to seek out science to help me settle the score of whether or not stress causes acne.
What the Studies Say
I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were indeed several studies/articles written on the topic from various sources. Let’s go over them one by one:
National Center for Biotechnology
“The aims of this study were to determine: (i) if psychological stress in adolescents is associated with increased sebum production; and (ii) if stress is associated with increased acne severity independent of, or in conjunction with, increased sebum production. “
“For the study population as a whole, we observed a statistically significant positive correlation (r=0.23, p=0.029) between stress levels and severity of acne papulopustulosa. In adolescents, psychological stress does not appear to affect the quantity of sebum production. The study suggests a significant association between stress and severity of acne papulopustulosa, especially in males. Increased acne severity associated with stress may result from factors other than sebum quantity.”
“It’s probably not just your imagination, says Lisa A. Garner, MD, FAAD, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. “When you already have acne and you get into a stressful situation that seems to be when your acne really flares up.”
In other words, emotional stress won’t trigger a new case of acne, but it may worsen matters in someone who already has the skin disorder.
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.
These researchers hypothesized that the increase in acne might be due to higher levels of sebum produced during stressful times. However, they found that psychological stress didn’t increase sebum production significantly in the teens, leading them to suggest that that acne linked to stress may involve other root causes.
These researchers hypothesized that the increase in acne might be due to higher levels of sebum produced during stressful times. However, they found that psychological stress didn’t increase sebum production significantly in the teens, leading them to suggest that that acne linked to stress may involve other root causes.”
The New York Times
“The study, conducted by researchers at Wake Forest, followed 94 high school students with mild or moderate acne for several months. Acne is generally associated with high levels of sebum, the oily substance that coats the skin and protects the hair. Because sebum levels are known to wax and wane with variations in weather, the study was conducted where the temperature and humidity rarely change, Singapore.
Using a standard measure of stress, the researchers showed that in periods of high emotional strain, like before major exams, the students were 23 percent more likely to experience breakouts. At the same time, their sebum production did not vary much whether they were experiencing high or low stress, indicating that levels of the substance had little or no role. Instead, the results may have more to do with inflammation. Other studies have shown that stress can provoke inflammation, and acne is an inflammatory disease.”
Putting it All Together
Based on the sources and studies provided above, the link between stress and acne can’t be denied. What can be argued though is the extent to which stress affects acne levels.
From what I can see, the findings show that stress is usually only responsible for periodic breakouts at times of heightened stress levels. It is unlikely that people who are suffering from chronic acne as a result of full time stress.
Likely? Not so much.
The causes of acne can always be traced back to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, hormonal imbalances, and digestive and gut health. Stress likely falls into the hormonal camp, but again, its extent seems to be limited.
Despite this, occasional breakouts are nothing to scoff at, and these harsh breakouts can cause a lot of frustration. It is therefore important that we keep our stress levels as low as possible.
How to Keep Stress Levels Low
Stress is something that affects millions upon millions of people. It is usually a result of heightened anxiety regarding an important aspect of our lives. From the examples above, students who were focusing on exams had heightened stress levels. This comes from anxiety about the potential to fail said test. Whether it be work, family, relationships, money etc. all of these can cause us stress because of the perceived potential to fail or fall short at something.
Tackling this problem is beyond the scope of this article, let alone this website, but I will share some ways to lower stress levels that I have used personally:
Nothing bets stress better than physical activity. A lot of people have excess stress bottled up because over time stress can manifest itself physically in our muscles and it create tension. If we don’t use our muscles to exercise than that stress will get nice and cozy in our bodies which is terrible.
I personally lift weights four times per week, do yoga at least once a week, stretch and do mobility drills multiple times a week, walk all the time, and take an occasional jog. As you can see I like to move around.
Our bodies were meant to move, and when you don’t use it for what it was designed for our bodies, to borrow a tech phrase, “short circuit”. Not only does exercise help reduce stress levels, but it has numerous other health benefits for skin.
It’s simple: When you eat well, you feel well.
How do you feel when you scarf down half a pizza? Awful.
Do you know how I feel after drinking a big glass of fresh fruit and vegetable juice? FANTASTIC!
Sure, junk food tastes good and it’s fun to indulge occasionally, but it’s terrible for our health.
When it comes to stress levels, diet is important for several reasons. One reason pertains to body image. Overweight an obese people are not likely to be pleased with the way they look. This will turn into anger and frustration, and in turn stress.
Eating healthy can also clear our minds and make our joints feel great, all of which contribute t overall health and stress levels.
IT’s rare that people today just… stop.
Think about it: With smartphones, laptops, MP3 players etc. our minds never get a break. This is not how our brains were designed. When we meditate, we allow our minds to rest and take a break.
Not only that, but by meditating we can clear our minds. We can forget about the past and anything that may be troubling us and simply focus on the present moment.
One of the saddest, and in my opinion pathetic, behaviors is to knowingly be involved in an unhealthy relationship. It’s truly amazing to see both men and women devote themselves to someone who has no respect for them and treats them with little dignity. On top of all that, this person is usually head over heels for their significant other and feels that the other is not reciprocating.
Or it could be that they are jealous of their partner. Or always worrying about what their up to.
Whatever it may be, nothing good comes from unhealthy, unstable and immature relationships. If you’re in one, it’s not likely that a few paragraphs will convince you to jump ship, but it’s something to think about.
Also, sex. Sex is good. Sex is great! Have a lot of sex because it’s hard to be stressed out after having sex. It also does a good job of balancing out hormones, which is essential for clear skin.
There is an entire medical profession focused on helping people with their emotional and mental issues. If you feel like you need help then I suggest you seek out a professional as they will do more than a website can.
Do you dislike your job? Then quit. I did and it felt fantastic!
I was in a situation where I could afford to quit, but if that’s not your case then no, keep your job. But if it’s causing you that much stress consider other lines of work, or other places of employment.
Have fun, enjoy life. That’s what gives our life meaning.
So there you have it. I went off on a little tangent there, but a healthy mind is something that’s important to me, and important when it comes to dealing with acne.
Acne can torture us. It can cause anxiety, depression, stress and more. In order to overcome acne and fight it head on you need a clear mind. I hope you put into practice the methods above.
I hope that helps! Post any questions or comments below.