Stress acne: how to fight?

The pace of life of a modern person is incredible. At the same time, you need to manage to make a living, support your everyday life, raise children, and engage in self-development. The cult of success as an invariable attribute of happiness pushes a person to increase the load on the body and nervous system.

What is stress?

When psychologists and doctors talk about stress, they mean a set of nervous and somatic reactions in response to a sharp change in the external environment, or to the appearance of an irritant. It is accepted to understand a stressful situation as connected with troubles, hardships and difficulties. However, abrupt positive events and changes are no less burden for a person.

Nervous tension in itself, although it temporarily disrupts homeostasis, does not bring fatal changes to the body. Over the millennia of evolution, the nervous system has learned to cope. It is much worse when the stress is permanent and the stress is not followed by relaxation. In this case, resources are depleted, the survival mode is turned on, immunity is suppressed, and the cardiovascular system suffers . The skin, as the largest organ of the body, cannot but respond to internal processes. Acne is one of the likely manifestations of stress .

Stress acne: root causes

The fact that stress can provoke acne is largely to blame for cortisol – a hormone that the adrenal cortex produces when we need to mobilize as much as possible to solve difficult life problems. Under its action, the vessels constrict to save body heat, sweating and the release of stress hormone metabolites through sweat (dogs feel them when we are afraid), the sebaceous glands work more intensively, trying to protect the skin from damage.

Evolution is wise. Our ancient ancestors easily survived the cold, harsh winds and the scorching sun, because during difficult periods their skin became oily and received a natural barrier from an aggressive environment. This allowed humanity to survive to this day.

A useful survival mechanism is now far more often redundant. The crush on public transport, family discord, or dissatisfaction with salary have nothing to do with a threat to physical existence. However, the endocrine system triggers the sebaceous glands over and over again in response to signals from the nervous system.

Not only is cortisol directly linked to increased secretion and acne. Depending on the nature of the stressful situation, other hormones and factors are involved in the process that must be understood in order to prevent and treat unwanted cosmetic defects.

Lack of sleep and overwork

Normally, an adult needs at least seven hours of sleep to recuperate. During rest, the hormone melatonin is intensively produced, which regulates circadian rhythms. Without it, a person’s internal clock malfunctions, the day gets confused with the night, and the sleep and wakefulness regime can be disrupted so much that the brain cannot withstand the overloads and actually starts the process of self-destruction. It is very important to sleep in complete darkness. Under light, the production of melatonin decreases by about 70%, and the stress hormone cortisol increases proportionally.

Sleep deprivation triggers a struggle for survival in the body. Small capillaries approaching the surface of the skin are narrowed, cell nutrition is reduced. The upper layer of the epidermis becomes denser, keratinized. The sebaceous glands secrete more secretion, but due to the forced lack of moisture and pores clogged with dead scales, its exit to the surface is difficult. Instead of a thin lipid film, comedones are formed .

Excessive physical activity

Not only hard physical work is recognized by the body as stress, but also intense training in the gym. This is especially true of everyone’s favorite cardio workouts . The nervous and endocrine systems read long-term physical activity unambiguously. If you have to run for a long time or work hard, then life is under threat, conditions are unfavorable, it is time to turn on protective mechanisms.

This is how the body begins to behave in the exact opposite of expectations. It retains water, it is difficult to part with adipose tissue, increases appetite, while slowing down digestion, reduces libido, and makes the skin more oily.

Moderation and variety are important in everything. Anyone who works hard should rest a lot, otherwise chronic stress will not keep itself waiting long.

Difficulties in personal life and at work

Social stress affects a person more than biological stress. In the end, after training or hard work, the body itself wants to relax. If the stress response is triggered by a social factor, it is extremely difficult to avoid, isolate, and even simply release the stress.

The body reacts to problems in the family and at work in the same way as to an external challenge. The ancient reaction “hit and run” is triggered, but the criminal code prohibits hitting, and there is nowhere to run. Therefore, a person is in constant mobilization, the adrenal glands produce cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn make all tissues and organs work differently. The skin suffers from intoxication, lack of water and vitamins, overproduction of sebum and decreased immunity, due to which bacteria and mites rapidly multiply in comedones .

Pimples that appear on a nervous basis take a very long time. This is due to the slow elimination of cortisol and its derivatives from tissues. There is no cure unless you reevaluate your relationship with stress and learn how to relax properly.

Stress acne: indirect causes

The body’s response to stress is not just hormones and somatics . The psyche in the process of defense implements many behavioral factors. This is the reason why different people behave the same in moments of nervous overstrain.

The diet

Eating behavior during stress develops according to two possible scenarios:

  • Increased appetite when a person tries to compensate for the lack of positive emotions and hormones of joy at the expense of food. Especially after the hardships I have experienced, I am drawn to sweet, fatty and spicy foods. Enjoying your favorite foods partially compensates for hormonal imbalances, but does not solve the problem of chronic stress. Against the background of constant problems, a person develops food addiction. Either the food intake becomes reflexive and turns into compulsive overeating. The increase in sugar and unsaturated fat causes the pancreas to produce more insulin, which in turn stimulates the secretion of sebum.
  • Loss of appetite to the point of exhaustion. Difficult experiences, when “a piece does not fit in the throat” can last for weeks and months. At the same time, limiting calorie intake is in itself stressful for the body. Hypovitaminosis, dehydration, lack of protein and fat leads to thinning of the epidermis, dryness, irritation and microcracks , which easily get infected. 

Cigarettes and alcohol

The brain has evolved into a perfectly functioning reward system. For a positive experience, we get a surge of hormonal joy, and neurons are trying to quickly build a path along which decisions will continue to be made in a positive way, but reflexively. Nicotine and alcohol play a cruel joke with a person. Muscle relaxation and inhibition of reactions after a cigarette or a glass of wine is perceived by the brain as the easiest and most effective way to suppress stress. Next time, the hand itself will reach for the lighter and glass.

At the same time, nicotine and ethanol are toxic, the body will try to get rid of their decay products as quickly as possible, loading the entire excretory system, including the skin. Cigarette smoke with toxins and resins clogs pores and is irritating. Sweet alcohol leads to surges in blood glucose, which will certainly affect the face.

Weakened immunity

Short-term stress mobilizes the immune system, prolonged or chronic stress depressing. The body sacrifices its ability to resist germs for survival. Skin immunity is one of the first to suffer, wound healing worsens, and pathogens freely multiply on the surface. If the population exceeds the permissible safe threshold, a person develops demodecosis, in the event of a meeting with a demodex mite , or furunculosis from Staphylococcus aureus.

How to deal with stress acne?

It is necessary to approach the treatment of acne that have arisen after strong experiences or a difficult period in life in a complex and stepwise manner. You have to be prepared for the fact that this process can take several weeks. The main and main thing in this matter is to get rid of the source of stress or learn how to cope with it, accept it as an everyday occurrence. Mindfulness practices and counseling with a psychologist will help with this.

Adjusting the diet

To help your skin heal faster, you need to rethink your diet in favor of healthier foods. It is necessary to exclude fried, spicy and salty foods, eat more fresh vegetables and herbs, nuts, berries, drink at least two liters of clean water. It is not necessary to completely give up sweets so as not to provoke new stress due to the diet. It is better to give preference to dark chocolate, dates, dried fruits. You can reduce your cravings for sweets by using polyunsaturated fatty acids found in sea fish and avocados.


First of all, you need to understand that antidepressants are not a cure for stress. They can only be prescribed by a doctor after they have been diagnosed with depression or borderline depressive disorder. These are much more serious conditions than chronic fatigue, lack of sleep, or nervous strain. Depression is characterized not only by depression, but also by multiple somatic disorders. Acne against the background of depressive conditions is not uncommon, and well-chosen drugs will help to cope with the problem more easily.

Important! Other illnesses can be disguised as depression. For example, apathy, chronic fatigue, and even suicidal thoughts can occur with disorders of the thyroid gland, protracted inflammatory processes, and certain diseases of the nervous system. An accurate diagnosis can only be made by a doctor after a thorough examination. 

Folk remedies

To cope with chronic stress and acne due to it, you can use simple folk remedies.

  • Peppermint tea is a mild sedative that can be drunk and used to cleanse. It has a cooling, anti-inflammatory and soothing effect on the skin.
  • An infusion of chamomile officinalis is also suitable both for oral administration and for lotions and compresses on areas affected by pustules.
  • Honey with lemon strengthens the immune system, replenishes vitamin deficiencies, and helps to fall asleep faster in the evening.


Nervous acne is common. Since they are difficult to treat, the approach to the problem should be as systematic as possible. It is necessary not only to maintain the skin and immunity, but also to deal with the cause of stress, learn how to deal with it environmentally and, if necessary, undergo psychotherapy.

event_note November 21, 2020

account_box Dr. Peter B Milburn

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