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Stress and Teen Acne

Can Stress Make Teen Acne Worse?

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Updated May 31, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

The teen years are exciting, but they can also be stressful. With school assignments and tests, after-school activities and jobs, plus the pressures of dealing with relationships and family life, lots of teenagers feel overloaded, over scheduled and stressed out.

Maybe you've noticed your acne getting worse, and wondered if there is any connection between the stress you feel and the pimples you see. Can stress really make acne worse, or is that just a another acne myth?

Some dermatologists and skin care professionals believe that stress can indeed make teen acne worse.

Dermatologist and clinical psychologist Richard Fried has spent years studying the correlation between our thoughts and our skin. "If you are acne prone," he explains, "you will break out more, you will break out more severely, and your acne will take longer to improve when you are under stress." He's quick to point out that stress in and of itself doesn't actually cause acne, but rather it can make the acne you already have worse.

Those sentiments are echoed by dermatologist Tony Nakhla in his book The Skin Commandments. "Stress acne occur when stress hormones are released during periods of stress, causing oil glands to enlarge, increase oil production, and clog pores," he writes.

At least a few studies seem to back up the connection. Research published in Acta Dermato-Venereologica suggests that high stress levels do indeed aggravate acne in teenagers. The study measured the stress levels, sebum production, and acne severity of 94 teenagers in Singapore. The average age of the teens was about 15, and most had mild acne to moderate acne.

The teens' stress levels were measured one day before an important school exam, and again two months later during a school holiday. Acne severity and oil levels were tracked, too. (Singapore was chosen because of its fairly consistent temperature and humidity levels, both of which are known to influence oil production.)

During the period of high stress (just before the exam) teens were 23 percent more likely to experience worsening acne compared to the period of low stress (during the school holiday). Interestingly enough, there was no real difference in the amount of oil on the skin during high or low stress times.

So maybe it's not that stress revs up oil production, but increases inflammation of existing pimples. Previous studies have shown stress causes inflammation within the body.

Even so, there are still plenty of pros who don't think stress has much, if anything, to do with acne at all. They say, rightfully so, that acne tends to wax and wane on its own. What may be attributed to stress could be just the natural progression of acne itself.

Still, most physicians recommend listening to your body. Does your acne tend to get worse when you're stressed out? Doing things to help lower your stress levels might be in order. Try listening to music, exercising, talking to friends and family about things that are bugging you. And don't underestimate the power of getting enough sleep and eating right!

Just reducing stress won't clear up acne completely. To do that, you'll need a good over-the-counter acne treatment (if your acne is mild) or, even better, a prescription acne medication.

But you can consider stress management a piece in your acne treatment toolbox. Even if it doesn't affect your acne directly, stress reduction is good for your entire body, and it's a healthy habit you can take with you into adulthood.

 

Sources:

Nakhla, Tony. The Skin Commandments: 10 Rules to Healthy, Beautiful Skin. St. Louis: Reedy Press, 2011. Print.

Yosipovitch, G. "Study of Psychological Stress, Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris in Adolescents." Acta Dermato-Venereologica (2007); 87(2): 135-139.

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