Stress can manifest in a myriad of ways -- whether it's hair loss, sleeping problems or turning your hair gray (sorta). But what about the havoc it can wreak on our skin? We've all been under pressure for different reasons, and likely noticed breakouts appear around this time. (Convenient, right?) But stress can be a nebulous force that's hard to diagnose, so we sought the advice of a few dermatologists to explain what excessive worrying and even physical stress actually means in terms of acne.
"We're always under a lot of demands and pressures," says Dr. Anne Chapas, founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology. "I think that there is psychological stress and there is physical stress, and I see changes in people's skin as a result of [the two]." Both types cause a release of cortisol, which is our major stress hormone in our body, she explains. "Cortisol works on the testosterone pathway, and one of the more common things we see in direct response to raising cortisol levels is acne," says Chapas. "Alexa Kimble [of Stanford University], did a study looking at college students not too long ago, and saw peaks in their acne lesions right around the time of their exams."
While mid-terms may not be adding anxiety to our lives these days, we can definitely relate. But we have to ask the bigger question: Are those breakouts stress-related? Or are the things we do as a result of stress the root of the acne? "When people are under psychological or physical stress, maybe they aren't eating as well, maybe they aren't getting enough sleep, maybe they're not taking their makeup off at night," says Chapas. "Sometime it's hard to pinpoint, whether it's the underlying cause or the things you do in response to the stress." Dr. Hillary Woolery-Lloyd, dermatologist and founder of Specific Beauty Skincare, notes that "people who have insomnia have higher cortisol levels, which has been associated with acne."
As far as dealing with stress-related breakouts, the answer might seem obvious. New York-based dermatologist Rebecca Baxt suggests an anti-acne or anti-rosacea program designed by your dermatologist to fit your needs. "Some people require oral antibiotics to control it, some need cortisone injections, laser or light treatments, chemical peels, topical creams and gels," she says. "Of course, reducing the stress in your life and taking good care of your body and getting enough sleep and eating well can minimize breakouts." Another option is meditation, which Dr. Woolery-Lloyd notes has been proven to help skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema." Either way, we could all benefit from chilling out a little.
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