Acne and stress, like thunder and lightning, are two things we all feel better without, and all too often show up at about the same time. Individually, they take up too much of our thoughts and tend to interfere with our daily functioning, while together they are even more overwhelming.
This article will discuss the complicated interrelationship between stress and acne and what you can do to get rid of both of these annoying bodily occurrences.
Acne = Anxiety?
Acne can both create anxiety and be the product of anxiety. If you think you have too much anxiety or stress, make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test now to find out how to get rid of it.
Hormone Imbalances and Acne
There is no denying that living with acne is stressful. But your stress and anxiety may also be causing your acne. If you're interested in finding out more of the severity of your stress, make sure you take my anxiety test before reading onward.
Acne is predominantly caused by hormonal imbalances. When you are stressed, your body produces excess stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. Hormonal imbalances often cause sweating, which will discussed later in the article, but they also wreak havoc with the rest of your system, with acne as one of the primary secondary symptoms.
The hormone cortisol in particular appears in excess in people experiencing hormonal imbalances such as teens and premenstrual, pregnant, or menopausal women, who also often experience acne. Anxiety and stress may also cause shifts in other hormones, or cause your body to process those hormones poorly.
Cortisol also leads to the suppression of the immune system, which gives propionibacterium acne (a type of acne that occurs as a result of slow-growing bacteria) the chance to form.
Regulating out-of-balance hormones may require medications and supplements in some cases, but in other cases can be resolved by engaging in serotonin-restoring and cortisol-depleting activities, such as getting regular exercise and eating healthy foods.
How Stress-Sweating Affects Acne
Stress hormones are the hormones that cause all the physical symptoms of anxiety. The physical symptom of anxiety that can lead to the increased likelihood of a breakout is one you have probably experienced before in your life even if you don't have an anxiety problem namely, sweat.
Some people believe that sweat actually removes toxins from the body and therefore can actually help prevent breakouts. However, this is a common misconception. The sweat glands - known as eccrine glands - do excrete sweat containing salt, fatty materials, and cellular waste, and therefore do remove some waste materials from your skin. But cellular waste is not the material that gets trapped in your pores causing acne. The material that does is actually believed to originate in cells and capillaries deeper beneath the surface of the skin.
In addition, the salt excreted by the eccrine glands can aggravate already clogged skin pores, leading to breakouts, while the warmth of a sweating body can cause the bacteria within clogged pores to happily multiply, making acne more visible. This is the reason that showering after exercise may be important - to reduce these clogs that cause acne.
In summary, while pores clogged with dirt and dead skin cells are the real reason behind acne, sweat from stress can be a contributing factor, causing acne bacteria to multiply and surface. To avoid sweat-related acne, it's a good idea to wash your face regularly, particularly when you are feeling sweaty from anxiety.
Stress Eating and Acne
Some people eat to calm their stress. While not necessarily a healthy option, particularly if you don't do any compensatory exercise, this is a pretty effective short term method of stress relief. Foods that are high in carbohydrates and particularly bad for us in high quantities are particularly good for producing the hormone serotonin, which improves mood and decreases anxiety.
In the long term, however, stress eating can not only make you gain unwanted excess weight, but it can also lead to increased amounts of acne.
When you eat unhealthy foods, they often contain materials that are unnecessary for your body, otherwise known as waste materials. These materials travel through your body looking for ways to get out, and one of those ways is through your pores. Usually, this works just fine however, if facial pores are already clogged, the excess material gets trapped and forms an irritated spot where bacteria begins to grow around the waste material.
Keeping your face clean and using a cleansing product is a good way to recover from stress eating acne, but a good way not to get it in the first place is to eat healthy foods instead of unhealthy ones. There are often foods that provide the same nutrition that you crave, but in a healthier way and one that won't cause acne.
Acne Can Cause Stress
Acne may also be the cause of your stress. Many people experience lower self confidence when they have acne breakouts, and often that self-confidence bleeds into their anxiety levels - both now and in the future. It's the same reason that those that used to have braces refuse to smile with their teeth even when their braces are taken out. Those with acne may be uncomfortable with their appearance long after they have acne, resulting in more stress and, potentially, more acne.
The Vicious Stress-Acne Cycle
You may find that having bad acne in and of itself is enough to cause anxiety, which is hardly fair considering that your anxiety may have been a contributing factor to your breakout in the first place.
Having acne can be very stressful, particularly in adults, for whom stress is considered to be a leading cause of acne. It is culturally assumed that teenagers get acne, but that once they grow into adults the acne breakouts fade away. For some people, this is true. However, acne in adults is growing more common, which may be related to increased stress caused by our modern lives of rushing from place to place in our cars and answering all of our electronic devices.
Even though it is now more common for adults to have acne, the assumptions, judgments and shame surrounding adults with acne persists. It is important to remember that acne is a natural, if unpleasant, function of our bodies. As with most natural and unpleasant functions of our bodies such as sneezing, coughing, or bloating, it is trying to tell us to change our ways.
Whether this involves going to a therapist and taking medication or simply eating better, exercising more and washing your face more often, listening to your body can help you to reduce your stress, along with your stress-related acne.
You should also make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test now. I have helped many people suffering from anxiety acne control their anxiety symptoms and reduce the frequency of their acne breakouts.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.