Does stress cause acne?
The link between stress and acne has historically been largely anecdotal but, in the past decade, research has found evidence to support the theory. Not all stress causes acne but prolonged, chronic stress has been proven to make existing symptoms worse.
Is there any evidence?
A Stanford University study in 2003 found that stressful exams periods exacerbated student acne flare-ups, compared to other times in their study. The researchers concluded that acne severity correlated highly with increasing stress.
What happens physiologically?
Acne is caused by excess sebum and dead skin cells block hair follicles and, subsequently, becoming infected. Scientists have discovered that the cells that produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones. When a person is stressed they’re “upregulated”, producing excess sebum and, consequently, have more blocked pores for bacteria to infect.
Are there any other root causes?
In 2007 researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine ran a similar study with students in Singapore. Again, student acne worsened during exam periods, compared with the summer recess, but they found that psychological stress didn’t increase sebum production significantly in the teens, leading them to suggest that acne linked to stress may involve other root causes.
What do we know for sure?
Stress can’t directly cause acne. However, if you already have acne, studies have shown that stress does make it worse. Researchers have also found that wounds, including acne, heal much slower when the sufferer is experiencing stress. Slower healing of acne means that the pimples stay around longer and are more susceptible to infection. This, in turn, leads to an increase 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.