Is stress the cause and how to treat it?

Although dermatological experts advise that stress does not cause acne, some research identifies a link and medical professionals agree that stress can make symptoms worse.

Stress can affect a person’s hormonal balance and the immune function of the skin. This can increase the risk of having oily skin and clogged pores.

This article explains who gets acne and what factors cause it. We explore what the research says about the links between stress and acne and provide tips and advice on managing the conditions.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million people a year.

Acne occurs due to clogged pores, and scientists believe that hormones play a role in its development. It usually begins at puberty and affects many teenagers and young adults. However, the AAD explains that it can occur at any stage of life:

  • Neonatal acne: This type of acne occurs in about 1 in 5 newborns, usually appearing between the second and fourth week of life. It goes away on its own without scarring and does not increase the risk of developing severe acne later in life.
  • Childhood acne: Rarely some children develop acne between 3 and 6 months. It can cause deep acne nodules and cysts and lead to permanent scarring.
  • Teen Acne: The most common type develops during puberty due to androgen hormones that increase the size of oil glands in the skin.
  • Adult acne: This is more common in women going through menopause and those with polycystic ovary syndrome due to fluctuating hormone levels. However, it can also occur in men and can develop as a side effect of medications or hair and skin products.

Additionally, other factors can cause or worsen acne. These include:

  • family history
  • age
  • medications
  • smoking
  • diet
  • environmental irritants
  • pressure from sports helmets, tight clothing, or backpacks
  • stress

According to the AAD, stress cannot cause acne, but it can make it worse if it already exists. Studies suggest that when stress escalates, the severity of acne increases.

However, limited research has attempted to identify how stress is linked to acne and could potentially cause or worsen it. For example, searching in 2020 and 2007 suggest that there may be several mechanisms involved:

  • Hormones: Neuropeptides and hormones involved in stress reactions stimulate sebaceous glands to produce oils.
  • Inflammation: Stress can increase inflammation of the sebaceous glands.
  • The skin’s defenses: Stress hormones can adversely affect the skin’s antimicrobial defenses.

Learn more about the role of hormones in acne here.

According to a study 2018adverse stressful life events and psychiatric illnesses were more apparent in acne patients aged 12-45 years compared to the control group.

Similarly, another, small study 2018 found that a stress management technique improved symptoms in almost all participants.

A study 2020 emphasizes that there is no one-way relationship between acne and stress. Although stressful life events such as college exams or marriage can increase acne lesions, the psychological effects of acne can interfere with a person’s quality of life, leading to anxiety and depression.

Additionally, researchers found that acne patients suffered from social withdrawal, loneliness, and internet addiction.

A 2020 International Round Table suggests that doctors should ask patients with acne about their sleep, stress and emotions, as these may be triggers that they can treat.

Other research in 2017 and 2020 supports the idea that psychological factors influence the development of acne.

Evidence suggests that an interdisciplinary approach to acne is needed, involving dermatologists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

People can speak with dermatologists, healthcare professionals, doctors, or pediatricians for advice on treating acne.

Depending on the person and the severity of the condition, they may use the following treatments:

Learn more about acne scar treatment here.

Most people deal with daily stress, but to manage it positively, experts suggest the following for a person:

  • take deep breaths or do a breath meditation to calm the body and mind
  • take time for yourself
  • get enough sleep
  • have a healthy diet
  • engaging in physical activity or exercise
  • talking with friends or family members
  • volunteering in the local community to make friends and feel good about helping others
  • use lists to organize
  • trying not to deal with stress in unhealthy ways, such as overeating, drinking alcohol, or using drugs or cigarettes
  • get help from a mental health professional if they need it

Learn more about stress management here.

Stress can trigger or worsen acne. Doctors can prescribe medication to treat the physical symptoms of it.

Additionally, people can use expert advice to manage stress and seek professional help.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a balanced diet and not relying on alcohol or drugs to manage stress can be a helpful starting strategy.

About Sally Dominguez

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