Q Are stress and acne related?

A Yes. Stress can aggravate symptoms, but we can almost always overcome moderate or light stress with proper topical treatment.

Q What exactly is "stress" anyway?

A Stress is any taxing of our emotional or physical being. Widely defined this can include pretty much everything, but for our purposes we'll define it as any undue emotional or physical strain. It might be surprising that this definition includes physical strain. Many people view stress as just an emotional issue, but when we're speaking about acne, it is best to include undue physical strain in our definition since both can come into play.

Examples of emotional stress

  • Anxiety regarding an upcoming big event, like a wedding or important test
  • Bullying
  • Relationship problems
  • Overwhelming workload
  • Health of a loved one

Examples of physical stress

  • Overly demanding sports or exercise schedule without adequate rest
  • Lack of sleep
  • A hectic lifestyle which can lead to physical tension and shallow breathing
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking/Drugs

Q How does stress affect acne?

A The average acne sufferer's skin contains clogged pores that they can't even see. Stress causes an inflammatory response in the body and can cause the walls of these pores to break. When this happens, the body responds with redness around the broken pore, and an influx of pus (a zit).1-2

Also, when we experience stress, our adrenal gland goes into overdrive. Androgens (male hormones), which this gland produces, increase. Higher androgen levels can lead to more acne. This is especially true in women, who produce a much larger percentage of their androgens in the adrenal gland than men. This may explain why stress seems to affect women more than men when it comes to acne.

Q What are some effective tools to handle stress?

A Some effective tools to handle stress:

  1. Exercise: as long as you're not overdoing it, exercise is far and away the best way to reduce emotional stress. We are first and foremost physical animals. Get your heart going and more oxygen will flow to your brain, resulting in a reduced stress response. Try to get your body moving at least three times a week for a good half hour or more. Don't believe it? Try it and see. It makes an incredible difference.
    A note on exercise motivation: In exercise motivation, paradoxically, ACTION preceeds--comes before--EMOTION, so just turn your brain off and get your butt moving. ;-)
  2. Take time each day to meditate or do deep breathing exercises. Even 8-15 minutes of quiet "connected" or "prayer" time per morning makes a huge difference for many people.
  3. Get a good night's sleep. Helpful link: Sleep Foundation

  1. Zouboulis CC and Bohm M. "Neuroendocrine regulation of sebocytes – a pathogenetic link between stress and acne." Experimental Dermatology. 2004; 13(Suppl 4): 31-5.
  2. Lee WJ, et al. "Influence of substance-P on cultured sebocytes." Archives of Dermatological Research. 2008; 300(6): 311-317.

Further reading

  1. Purvis D, et al. "Acne, anxiety, depression and suicide in teenagers: A cross-sectional survey of New Zealand secondary school students." Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2006; 42(12): 793-6.