Women, Stress, and Acne
Stress Is Associated with Acne, and Women Experience More Stress
The Essential Information
Everyone gets stressed from time to time, but if stress becomes chronic it may lead to inflammation in the skin. Since acne is at its core an inflammatory disease, more inflammation in the skin may lead to more acne.
Females as a whole tend to experience more stress than males throughout their lives, with research showing us that females experience on average 50% more chronic stress-related disorders when compared to males. This is mainly due to the fluctuating hormones during the menstrual cycle, but also partly due to socioeconomic factors like gender-based discrimination and lower pay. Furthermore, the extra responsibility that comes with roles that women often fill, like care-taking, can add to chronic stress.
Some stress is unavoidable, but studies show us that women can effectively reduce stress with:
- Exercise: Regular exercise is far and away the best way to reduce stress. Getting "blood in the brain" instantly reduces stress.
- Nutrition: Eating whole foods instead of processed foods, particularly including colorful fruits and veggies and omega-3 fats (3-6 fish oil pills a day), gives the body what it needs to stay calm.
- Meditation: Meditation is not just "Eastern philosophy" anymore. Evidence shows us clearly that 8-15 minutes a day helps calm the brain and keeps women feeling more "in control" all day long.
- Community: We are tribal animals. Being part of a group and getting touch is huge. Loneliness leads to stress, so take the time to join and attend a group, and touch the people you love.
Psychological stress is a negative state of mind that women as a whole tend to experience more than men. If stress continues for long periods of time, it can become chronic, leading to disorders like chronic anxiety and depression, and also potentially more acne.
To understand how stress might result in more acne, let's delve deeper into the connection between the two.
The Connection Between Stress and Acne
Research is clear that people with acne are more stressed than people without acne. Having acne naturally increases stress, but whether stress itself worsens acne is unknown.
The hypothesis for how stress may lead to acne: Researchers believe that stress may cause inflammation inside skin pores. This is relevant because acne is an inflammatory disease, meaning that inflammation plays an important role in all aspects of acne development. So, if stress causes inflammation in skin pores, it is possible that it will aggravate acne.
Stress might lead to inflammation by means of chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters exist all over the human body and are released by the brain when the body is stressed. Research has discovered that people with acne have more stress-related neurotransmitters in their skin than people without acne. Whether these stress-related neurotransmitters are the cause of the inflammation present in acne is unknown, but it is a possibility that researchers are investigating.1-3
Now let's compare stress in women vs. in men.
Women Experience More Stress than Men
Generally, women and men are equally likely to develop a mental health disorder. When it comes to stress-related disorders like anxiety and depression, though, women are 50% more likely to develop one.1,4,5 There is much debate regarding why, and the answer is not known.
Women experience the most stress during:
- Adult life
- Periods of hormonal shifts (puberty, pregnancy, postpartum, and menopause)
So essentially, women experience more stress throughout their entire lives.
Let's now explore why they experience more stress than men.
Women experience more stress but not more acne than men
Although women experience a higher rate of stress and this could increase the rates of stress-related acne, this does not mean that women have more acne than men. In fact, males are more prone to developing acne than females. However, since women experience more stress, they are theoretically more likely to specifically develop stress-related acne than men.
Why Women Experience More Stress than Men
There are two main reasons that women experience more stress than men: hormones, and social factors.
Hormones and stress in women
The main reason that women experience stress more than men is due to differences in hormones between women and men. During a female's monthly cycle, the levels of hormones fluctuate, and this impacts the body in several respects, including in how it responds to stress.
One particularly important hormone is estrogen. Estrogen levels fluctuate throughout a woman's monthly cycle. During days when there is a low amount of estrogen, women's brains are more sensitive to stress.4,6
Social factors and stress in women
In addition to fluctuating hormone levels, women are more likely to experience stress-inducing social factors, including:
- Socioeconomic disadvantages
- Lower social rank
- Gender-based violence
- Gender-based discrimination
These societal pressures cause stress in all women, but can be especially stressful for those in difficult situations, such as single parenting and care-taking of elderly parents. This stress may lead to several stress-induced disorders, and potentially more acne.1
Now that we know why women experience more stress than men, let's explore how to manage this stress.
How to Manage Stress
Managing stress is important in preventing it from becoming chronic stress. There are several methods of managing stress, but the main way is through nutrition. Other ways to reduce stress include exercise, getting outside, meditation, and deep breathing.
One way to manage stress is to maintain balanced nutrition. This can be accomplished by increasing the intake of nutrients important for brain health, production of anti-stress molecules, and stress response hormones. These nutrients include:
- B vitamins: The group of B vitamins works in the brain to help regulate stress via serotonin production. B vitamins are commonly found in turkey, tuna, liver, legumes, whole grains, potatoes, and bananas.
- Vitamin C: Vitamin C works in the brain to help regulate stress via serotonin production. It also helps regulate the production of the hormone adrenalin, which increases in response to stress. Vitamin C is commonly found in fruits and vegetables like oranges, kiwis, peppers, and broccoli.
- Zinc: Zinc works in the brain to help regulate stress via serotonin production. It also helps regulate the production of the hormone adrenalin, which increases in response to stress. Zinc is commonly found in meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, dairy, grains, beans, and nuts. Oysters contain by far the highest percentage of zinc compared with any other food.
- Magnesium: Magnesium works in the brain to help regulate stress via serotonin production. It also helps regulate the production of the hormone adrenalin, which increases in response to stress. Magnesium is commonly found in spices, nuts, cereals, cocoa, and vegetables like spinach.1
Other ways to reduce stress
- Exercise: Exercise is a great way to reduce stress. During exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins, which act as natural painkillers and can help to reduce stress.
- Getting outside: Being outdoors helps to relax the body and is a great way to improve one's mood and decrease stress
- Meditation: Meditation is a practice that helps to center oneself and focus on the present. This practice is a great stress reducer.
- Deep breathing: Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress because deep breaths send a message to the brain to calm down and relax. Deep breathing and breathing exercises help a person to relax and can reduce stress.
- McCabe, D. & Colbeck, M. The effectiveness of essential fatty acid, B vitamin, Vitamin C, magnesium and zinc supplementation for managing stress in women: a systematic review protocol. JBI Database Syst Rev Implement Reports 13, 104 - 118 (2015). https://www.nursingcenter.com/journalarticle?Article_ID=3467525&Journal_ID=3425880&Issue_ID=3466946
- Chiu, A., Chon, S. Y. & Kimball, A. B. The response of skin disease to stress. Arch Dermatol 139, 897 - 900 (2003). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12873885
- Bowe, W. Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future? Gut Pathog 3, 1 - 11 (2011). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21281494
- Maeng, L. Y. & Milad, M. R. Hormones and behavior sex differences in anxiety disorders: Interactions between fear, stress, and gonadal hormones. Horm Behav 76, 106 - 117 (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25888456
- Bale, T. L. & Epperson, C. N. Sex differences and stress across the lifespan. Nat Neurosci 18, 1413 - 1420 (2015). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26404716
- Li, S. H. & Graham, B. M. Why are women so vulnerable to anxiety, trauma-related and stress-related disorders? The potential role of sex hormones. Lancet Psychiatry 4, 73 - 82 (2017). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27856395