Maybe you have a major project due at work or you are facing finals week, perhaps your wedding day is only a few days away and suddenly, as if from nowhere, your face breaks out in a mass of acne. Have you ever noticed that when you are faced with unusual amounts of stress in your life, your complexion seems to erupt in sympathy?
According to Lisa A. Garner, MD, FAAD, clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, you are not imagining things, she states that “When you already have acne and you get into a stressful situation, that seems to be when your acne really flares up.” However, this does not mean that stress can literally cause acne to start, but undue amounts of stress can certainly exacerbate the problem for anyone who is already suffering from this skin disorder.
Is There a Relationship Between Stress and Acne?
To many this is the eternal question and one that has been subjected to many studies. For many years, the medical community has suspected that there may be a link between increased amounts of acne and stress. Unfortunately, any evidence that might lead one to think there is a relationship has always been considered subjective. Over the past decade, however, a number of research studies have begun to find there may be more to the story than was previously thought.
A study conducted at Stanford University and published in the Archives of Dermatology in 2003 noted that a number of test subjects experienced significant outbreaks of acne during finals week. According to the study, students stated that they felt significantly higher levels of stress during this period of time in comparison to the rest of the quarter. The study went on to say that the severity of the outbreak appeared to increase as the level of stress in each of the test subjects elevated.
Cause Still Uncertain
Despite a number of research studies, the scientific community is still not certain why increasing levels of stress can actually cause a person’s acne to become worse. One thing that has been discovered, however, is that the cells responsible for producing Sebum also have stress receptors. Sebum is that oily substance, which when mixed with bacteria and dead skin cells, clogs a person’s hair follicles. This, in turn, leads to the development of pimples or acne cysts.
Garner went on to say that when a person with acne experiences an elevated level of stress, the sebum producing cells seem to go in an unregulated production mode. This in turn means that more of the oily substance is created increasing the speed at which the hair follicles clog, which leads to an increase in blemishes.
The Stanford University study is not the only one, in 2007, Wake Forest University School of Medicine conducted a study involving high school students in Singapore. This study was published in the Swedish medical journal, Acta Derm Vernereol, and concluded that those students involved in the study experienced much higher levels of acne during high-stress periods such as exams than they did during lower stress periods such as summer vacation.
This study, however, failed to find a direct link between psychological stress and an increase in the production of sebum, leading the researchers to believe there has to be a much deeper root cause of the increase in acne.
Stress, Your Skin, and Your Behavior
There also seems to be a direct correlation between stress, acne, and the way a person behaves. For many, the more “stressed out” they feel, the more likely they are to pick at blemishes on their skin, including acne pimples. For many, it is not uncommon to pick at their skin as they become stressed, this includes scabs and of course acne pimples.
Although most people will pick at the occasional acne pimple, this is quite normal, others tend to constantly and obsessively pick at their pimples. This may be because they are embarrassed or worried about their appearance. According to Garner,” Every little thing that shows up on a person’s skin — every small pimple — they pick it. They can’t make themselves stop.”
This condition is referred to as being an acne excoriee, and according to Garner,” They literally don’t have a pimple in existence,” she says. Instead, they have scabs that can lead to scarring. “Those patients can actually turn very mild acne into terrible scars.”
Will Stress Reduction Lead to Acne Reduction?
The big question then runs along the line of, “If I reduce or eliminate the stress in my life, will my acne finally go away?” The reality is that while increased levels of stress can lead to worse acne, reducing your levels of stress by medication or meditation will not eliminate a person’s acne. If the problem is chronic, you may need to seek treatment in the form of supplements for your skin or a designated acne skin care routine. You may even need a combination of both to clear up severe acne.