Cover We ask a dermatologist to explain the relationship between stress and your skin, and how to manage it. (Photo: Pexels)

Suffering from stress-related acne? We asked a dermatologist to break down the effect that stress and anxiety has on the skin and what you can do to prevent it

Due the pandemic and the ongoing daily habit of wearing face masks, many of us have become well-versed in tackling new skin problems such as maskne, but another unwanted skin condition is creeping onto the scene––stressne.

There are multiple reasons why we get stressed, from pressures at work and trying to maintain balance, to you know, living through an ongoing global pandemic. We all know that stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on our lives, causing everything from low energy and moods, to insomnia, headaches and more––but have you ever though of the impact it's having on your skin?

A year into Covid-19, you're not alone if you're feeling slightly out of sorts, with ongoing global travel bans and lockdowns affecting our mental health, the overall impact may also be taking its toll physicalyl, presenting itself in the form of unwanted breakouts. Here, we seek the expert advice of Dr. Yoram Harth, Board Certified Dermatologist and Medical Director of MDacne to find out the true relationship between stress and your skin, and exactly what we can do to combat it.

See also: How To Treat Dark Circles, According To Skincare Scientist Dr. Barbara Sturm

How does stress contribute to acne?

"Acne flares up for many different reasons, including diet, exercise regimens, poor skin routine and hormone imbalances" explains Dr. Harth.

However, she continues, "Despite the amount of research done around skincare, the relationship between acne and stress has been misunderstood for years. Contrary to popular belief, stress alone cannot directly cause acne. However, one thing is definite––stress hinders the skin's healing process and can contribute to breakouts by affecting various systems within the body".

"While it's been determined that stress single-handedly cannot cause acne, it's clear that stress can trigger unwanted activities in the body, which may lead to acne and other skin conditions, including eczema, rashes, and rosacea." she states.

These activities include hormone imbalances, which can lead to higher levels of sebum oil; a lower cell turnover rate; a weakened skin barrier function; and quite simply, causing individuals to touch their face more often than usual.

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What is stress acne?

Dr. Harth explains that "Generally, acne caused by hormones, including stress acne, develops on the body's oiliest parts. This includes the chin, jawline, and cheek area and shows up on the face and neck sides. More times than not, they present themselves as deep cysts that evolve into angry, red pimples".

Continuing, she states "If you're dealing with more breakouts than usual, you may be experiencing one result of the domino effect caused by stress. Another telltale sign that you're facing a stress-related eruption is that you'll notice several new pimples at once, even if you aren't usually acne-prone. Unfortunately, those who are predisposed to acne are likely to experience flare-ups when stressed––they may also be more susceptible to other unpleasant problems such as hyperpigmentation, wrinkles, premature ageing, and dark spots".

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How to treat stress acne

While Dr Harth recommends that for to severe acne it's best to visit a dermatologist, mild acne can typically be treated with the right skincare routine and over-the-counter medications.

If you're prone to breakouts, and have had to contend with problems such as maskne in recent months, it's likely that you'll be more than familiar with the ingredients recommended.

  1. Salicylic acid 
    "Deeply penetrates the sebaceous glands and helps dissolve skin debris and unclog pores. It also acts as an anti-inflammatory and exfoliant––helping to break down dead skin cells and soften the outer layer of skin. Salicylic acid is the active ingredient in some of the best-medicated acne cleansers and anti-acne treatment creams. It provides effective treatment without over-drying the skin."
  2. Benzoyl peroxide 
    "Works to treat and prevent acne by killing acne bacteria on the skin's surface and deep in oil glands, unclogs skin pores, reduces excess sebum production in the skin's oil glands, and skin inflammation."
  3. Retinol 
    "One of the Vitamin A derivatives that dermatologists highly recommend, retinol increases cell turnover rate, removing the top layer of dead skin cells, drying up excess oil, and killing any acne-causing bacteria. Retinol is especially effective in preventing and reduce comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) and improving skin texture."
  4. Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) supplements 
    "Pantothenic acid (Vitamin B5) is also called the anti-stress vitamin). Women with adult acne can benefit from DIM supplements. DIM supplements contain a natural extract of cruciferous vegetables (kale, broccoli, alfalfa, and spinach) specially formulated to help balance hormones and reduce acne signs in women. Hormonal acne is typically located on the lower parts of the face (chin and jawline) and is influenced by the monthly cycle."

Aside from adding these ingredients to your skincare routine, Dr Harth advises that practising relaxation techniques and ensuring you are getting adequate hydration can also help combat stress acne.

See also: Retinol: The Collagen-Boosting Ingredient For Youthful Skin

How to prevent stress acne

While it's great to know how to tackle stress acne, it's worthwhile taking note of the simple ways that you can reduce your chances of dealing with it in the first place. From maintaining a solid skincare routine, to getting enough sleep and taking time out to actually relax, here's what Dr Harth recommends:

  1. Find your zen 
    "This one may seem obvious, but one way to reduce acne is to decrease your stress levels. Take some time to decompress and relax––yoga, exercise, meditation, painting, deep breathing––whatever you can do to help keep your mind at ease. Incorporating regular self-care can be a game-changer when it comes to skin clarity and mental health."
  2. Maintain your skincare routine 
    "Don't skip on your basic skincare needs! When you're feeling stressed or down, it's easy to forgo your typical routine. But, you have to keep taking care of your skin. Remember to wash your face twice a day, use a gentle toner, exfoliate regularly, and use SPF daily." 
  3. Catch enough Zzz's 
    "Lack of sleep can create many reactions within the body, including increased inflammation and production of stress hormones, both of which can destabilise your immune health and contribute to skin issues. Without regular restorative sleep, your body might not feel adequately rested and could jumpstart a cortisol surge, putting you at risk for breakouts."
  4. Fix your gut health 
    "It seems that stress can alter your intestinal microflora and contribute to systemic inflammation and insulin spikes. Increased inflammation and insulin levels lead to excess oil, which in turn leads to blemishes and pimples. When your digestive tract is healthy, everything else in the body can function as usual––keeping your skin clear and healthy. When your microbiomes are off, everything from your brain function to your energy levels, and of course, skin clarity can be impacted.æ
  5. Keep your hands off 
    "Do not touch, scratch, or pick your skin. This puts you at risk of contracting infection-causing bacteria that can make existing breakouts worse and increase your risk of developing new pimples. Excessive popping and touching can even lead to permanent scarring. If you're finding yourself subconsciously picking, consider putting a pimple patch on stubborn blemishes to help keep your hands off and speed up healing."

See also: Dermatologists' Face Mask Tips For Sensitive Skin

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