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The Great Debate: Does Stress Cause Acne?

Many acne sufferers know that in times of stress their breakouts get noticeably worse and unfortunately, stress is all too common in our society so it’s important to know how it affects your skin. Stress can, and does, lead to acne flare ups so finding ways to manage your stress is extremely beneficial. There are two ways stress can cause breakouts. The first form of stress breakout is a delayed reaction. When a person is under stress (this can be anything from wedding planning, studying for finals, being stuck in traffic, or loud noises) the brain interprets this as a threat. Once that happens the pituitary gland secretes a hormone that stimulates the adrenal gland. The adrenal gland begins to release excessive amounts of hormones which stimulate the sebaceous glands. This excess oil secretion triggers a build up of dead cells inside the pores leading to breakouts that will surface in 30-90 days. Unfortunately these breakouts often cause more stress which can lead to a cyclical pattern of acne flare ups. The second form of stress breakout is an immediate response. Stress weakens the body which interrupts healing. For the acne prone individual the follicles, or pores, are already in a weakened state having been constantly dilating, breaking, leaking and healing. When this interruption in healing occurs the body overcompensates, white blood cells flood in, in an attempt to attack any foreign intruders. These foreign intruders may be small breakouts already present in the skin or the remains of a healing breakout. This attempt to protect the follicle leads to an inflammatory response and breakouts that were minor lesions or were healing will flare up. The stress breakout reaction is typically more of an issue for women, as they produce most of their male hormones in the adrenal glands, which, as mentioned above, are stimulated when under stress. Since women only produce about one sixteenth the amount of testosterone, as men do, they are much more sensitive to surges in testosterone and thus see a more significant effect on acne. For male acne sufferers, stress has less effect on acne due to the high levels of testosterone present in their bodies at all times. Most of their testosterone is produced in the testes with only a small amount being produced in the adrenal glands, so even in times of stress, these hormone surges are not as significant. It often seems difficult to control stress in our lives. It’s very important to first recognize what is stressful in your life. Once you’ve identified your stressors you can work on changing the things you have the power to change. For those stressors that are out of your hands, it’s imperative to learn how to diffuse them as best you can. For tips on how to reduce stress check out

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