Can Stress Make Acne Worse?
There are a number of other
factors that can cause acne to get worse, says the
U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).
Those factors include: pollution; irritating
chemicals; some kinds of medications and makeup;
pressure from bike helmets, backpacks or tight
collars; squeezing or picking at acne blemishes; and
hard rubbing of the skin.
Despite what you may have heard, greasy foods and
chocolate have little effect on the development and
course of acne in most people, NIAMS says. Dirty
skin and stress have also been ruled out as causes
ACNE WORSENS AT EXAM TIME
However, a small study showed that acne gets worse
for college students facing the stress of
examinations. The study was published in a recent
issue of the Archives of Dermatology.
"We were interested in exploring whether the
association people commonly thought existed was true
or not," says study author Dr. Alexa B. Kimball,
associate professor of dermatology at Stanford
University School of Medicine. "This is the first
look at that relationship. And although the numbers are small,
the findings are clinically and statistically
Kimball enlisted 22 Stanford students, 15 women and
7 men, with varying degrees of acne. Dermatologists
rated each person for severity about a month before
an examination period and again just before and
after they took their exams. The students also
filled out questionnaires about their stress levels.
Their acne was assessed on the standard Leeds scale,
and the results are reported in strict scientific
form, taking possible confusing factors into
"By using logical regression and adjusting for
change in sleep hours, change in perceived sleep
quality, change in meals per day, and change in
perceived diet quality, an increase in stress
strongly correlated with a progressive increase in
acne severity,” the report says.
Each assessment of acne severity by a dermatologist
was backed up by that of a separate investigator,
who looked at pictures of the students. The
assessments agreed in 16 of the 19 cases that were
MANAGE STRESS TO ZAP THE ZITS
There are several possible explanations for the
effect of stress on the skin, Kimball says.
"Most likely it is due to hormonal changes caused by
stress, especially the glucocorticoids," she says.
"Speaking for myself, I've noticed this for years,
but there has not been good literature to support
it. ”says Dr. Marsha L. Gordon, associate clinical
professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of
Medicine in New York City. "This does provide some
The two dermatologists agree on the best way to
handle the problem: don't pile on medication, but
try ways of making stress more manageable.
"There have been studies showing that relaxation and
imaging techniques are helpful for people with
acne,” Kimball says.
"Learning stress-reduction techniques is really a
good idea," Gordon says. And the benefits are more
than skin-deep, she says: "Later in life those
techniques can help manage hypertension, migraines
and so on.