Stress and acne

Most of us have had or at least known someone who’s had acne. Data shows that 85 percent of us will have some form of acne during our lives. For some it may just be one or two bumps or pimples, but for others it can be extreme and lead to scarring.

Acne usually appears on your face, back, or even your neck and shoulders. Although it occurs most often during the teenage years, it can affect you at any age.

The relationship between stress and acne has been misunderstood by many. Stress can’t directly cause acne. However, studies have shown that if you already have acne, stress does make it worse.

Researchers have found that wounds, including acne, are much slower in healing when a person is under stress. Slower healing of acne means that the pimples stay longer and are more susceptible to increasing in severity. It can also mean that more acne is visible at one time because it takes longer for each pimple to heal during a breakout.

Acne occurs when excess oils, dead skin cells, bacteria, and sometimes hair block pores in your skin. However, the exact cause of why this happens isn’t clearly known.

Some things are generally thought to cause acne. These include:

  • hormones during pregnancy and the teen years
  • certain medications including birth control pills
  • family history of acne

Once pores on your skin are blocked, they become irritated and will swell into a pimple or bump.

There are several types of acne that range from mild to severe. The mild types include blackheads and whiteheads and are considered mild inflammatory acne.

Moderate to severe inflammatory acne includes pink pimples that are relatively small and sore. It has a mix of papules and pustules (bumps that have pus on top with a red base).

Acne is considered severe when there are nodules, cysts, or scarring. Cysts and nodules are large, painful, and deeper in the skin.

Treatment of acne differs somewhat depending on the severity. Mild acne, which is most common, may be treated by simple hygiene and over-the-counter (OTC) creams or topical treatments. Treatment for mild acne may include:

  • Washing gently with soap and water: Scrubbing your acne or using a harsh soap doesn’t help in the treatment of acne. In fact, it may make your acne worse.
  • Using OTC treatments: Ingredients in these treatments include benzoyl-peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, and others.
  • Practicing relaxation techniques: If you’re under a lot of stress, using relaxation techniques may help speed up the healing of your acne.

If these fail, topical creams such as retinoids may need to be prescribed.

Treatment for moderate to severe acne requires the use of topical or oral prescription medications from your doctor. These include antibiotics, retinoids (derived from vitamin A), and others that your doctor may suggest.

If you experience a breakout of severe acne, you should visit a dermatologist, a doctor specializing in skin conditions. A dermatologist will be able to better assess what medications or treatments will be most effective for your acne.

Your dermatologist may try some of the treatments listed previously. But if those don’t help, they may prescribe a medication called isotretinoin (Sotret, Claravis). This medication helps reduce severe acne. However, it does have some side effects you’ll want to ask your dermatologist about. It can cause birth defects, so women who’re pregnant or thinking about pregnancy shouldn’t take it.

You doctor may also inject your acne with corticosteroids. This can help with any pain or redness you have.

To prevent all types of acne, certain simple daily practices and OTC solutions can help. Some prevention techniques include:

  • washing your face gently and not more than two times per day
  • using OTC products that help reduce oils on your skin
  • using water-based, nonirritating skin products including sunscreen and cosmetics
  • keeping things off your face as much as possible that may contain oils like your hands, hair, or telephone
  • wearing loose clothing that reduces sweating
  • not squeezing pimples

Learning to reduce and manage your stress can be important in the treatment of your acne since stress can make your acne worse. Even if your environment or job isn’t stressful to you, sometimes an acne breakout can cause emotional stress.

Some simple steps you can take to reduce stress include:

  • taking a few deep breaths
  • practicing meditation or yoga
  • getting a good night’s sleep
  • maintaining a healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • talking about it to a friend, family member, or a counselor