I’m always on the lookout for ways to combat stress. Stress can wreak havoc with hormone levels and, especially in women, can aggravate breakouts. This is because stress activates the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland is where we produce adrenaline, which the body pumps out in response to stress. Well, it just so happens that women make much of their testosterone in the adrenal gland as well. So, that means stress can alter testosterone levels in women more radically and inconsistently than in men. Voila…breakouts. Even though the stress/acne issue may be a larger issue for women than for men, I heavily suspect it is also of real concern for men.

So on comes Oprah talking about how she’s done with endless dieting and declares that her war with food is over. My interest was piqued, partly because I have so many women in my life with food issues (don’t we all…), and partly because I had a sneaking suspicion that the food/stress psychology that Oprah says was liberating her might be of interest to all of us, regardless of our stressors.

So I bought the book she was speaking about, Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth, and read it. At first I read it just keeping in mind women whom I care about who have food issues, and it rang true. Then I read it again, trying to imagine that Ms. Roth was speaking about stress in general. It made good sense again.

In a nutshell: Stress, and its subsequent outgrowths of overeating, overworking, overthinking, overdrinking, drug use, etc. is precipitated by “leaving ourselves” many times a day. She means this quite literally. We become so afraid that our emotions in our bodies will “kill us” that we escape into our chosen method of flight from what is happening inside our bodies. The remedy is to stay with whatever we’re feeling in our body, bringing curiosity to it, and giving it the time to expand and unwind. Feelings, Ms. Roth contends, simply want the attention and room to dissolve on their own. She urges the reader to practice living a new, embodied life in the moment through eating guidelines, and a process she calls “Inquiry”.

If you guys read this, let me know if it affects your stress levels. Thanks!

I got a massage last week and it got me thinking about massage and acne. I did a little research. Here are my thoughts:

Benefits of massage:

Reduced stress: I was a puddle of relaxation after my massage–completely content. We all know that mental stress and acne can be related. Massage has been shown to calm the adrenal gland (which is activated during times of stress), a sure fire way to bring that stress under control. This is especially effective for women who make so much of their testosterone in the adrenal gland. Keeping testosterone in check helps control acne as well.

Increased lymphatic system functioning: Every one of our cells is bathed in a clear-ish fluid called lymph, which is filtered in the lymph nodes. This system helps with our immune system and our body’s constant fight against bacteria. Massage can help keep the lymphatic system moving and the lymph nodes filtering properly.

Increased circulation, deeper breathing (better oxygen consumption), better digestion, better sleep: These are among the other benefits of massage. Physical stress is also associated with acne, so anything that can reduce physical stress on the body should help keep us more clear.

Risks of massage:

Skin irritation: Inflammatory acne, the kind most of us get that creates red lesions that usually come to a head, responds poorly to irritation. This is why it is so important to keep the acne-prone areas of your skin relatively untouched when treating inflammatory acne. Massage obviously includes lots of touch. Depending on how sensitive your skin is to irritation, massage can potentially disrupt the delicate balance in the pores, which can cause temporary pore damage and ensuing inflammation (a zit). This is why I avoid facial massage when getting massaged. Since body acne is becoming less of an issue at this point in my life, my back tends to be able to handle massage fairly well without breaking out too much. Another potential irritant during massage is the pillow on which you rest your face. I much prefer getting a massage on a professional massage table. These tables have specially designed facial cushions which help reduce irritation you might get from having your face smooshed into a regular pillow for an hour or so during your massage.

Massage oil: Many oils are comedogenic (clog pores). I always take along some jojoba oil when I get a massage. If you make an appointment for a massage, you may want to either ask if the masseuse/massueur has some jojoba oil around, and if not, take some with you. Jojoba oil makes for a perfect massage oil.

Bottom line: Massage has many benefits and helps get the body into a natural balance. It can reduce stress which can help reduce acne symptoms. However, this must be balanced against the potential irritation the actual massage can engender. I would personally avoid massage if I had active body acne. For those of us with only light body acne, I think massage can still be a great part of life. To ensure that I don’t break out after a massage, I’ll take a shower and treat my upper back with benzoyl peroxide and AHA. I may treat the area for a few days afterward as well.