Can stress cause acne?

We’ve all been through times of high stress and suffered the consequences including sleepless nights, weight fluctuations and even hair loss. But prolonged bouts of worrying can also take their toll on your skin. For Dr Sarah Wakelin, “There’s a direct link between the skin and the mind.” And there is growing evidence that stress can be an important factor in adult acne. Dr Wakelin breaks down the consequences stress can have on skin and how to remedy the impact.

How stress can cause acne

While scientists still can’t pinpoint the exact correlation between stress and blemishes, it is known that acne is directly affected by fluctuating hormones. Both psychological stress and physical stress can cause a release of cortisol, which is the main stress hormone in our body. Cells that produce sebum, an oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog the hair follicles that can cause acne, have receptors for stress hormones. So when you’re going through demanding times, sebum production increases, contributing to the ideal situation for problem skin.

And while stress itself can be the cause of pimples, breakouts can also be a consequence of our reactions to tough times, which also includes the emotional strain caused by breakouts. Who doesn’t become a bit self-conscious and embarrassed about their appearance when faced with problem skin? It’s also difficult to resist picking at spots, which in turn spreads bacteria and leads to more breakouts. And so the vicious cycle continues.

How to avoid the impact stress can have on acne

So is there any way to tame anxiety-related acne? With the increasing demands of personal and professional life making this generation one of the most time-pressured ever, it’s not always possible to control chronic stress. But there are ways to manage a busy life that will also have long-term benefits for your skin. Taking good care of your body by exercising, eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables while avoiding sugary and processed foods, is a good start. Plus, ensuring you get a good night’s sleep is key to skin health as that’s the time when the body repairs itself.

To keep your skin looking at its best, choose an acne-friendly skincare regime and cleanse daily to remove excess sebum, pollution and makeup.  For dry areas on the face, use an oil-free moisturiser and avoid ordinary moisturisers as these can clog the pores. 

This article reflects the opinion of Dr Sarah Wakelin and is intended as general information only.  You should seek advice from a professional before starting any new regime or course of conduct.

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