The Effects of Stress and Diet on Acne

A link exists between stress and the appearance of acne. You may have noticed this yourself, finding new pimples form during exam time or just before a big event.

After genetic predisposition, stress is thought to be the number one contributor to the formation of acne.

Acne, image source:

Why is stress related to acne

To understand why stress causes acne, we need to know what happens to our bodies when we are under stress. Our bodies react to stress by producing hormones from our adrenal glands. One of these hormones is testosterone, which stimulates the pore to produce more oil (for more information see “What is acne”).

So basically, stress contributes to acne by increasing oil production by the skin and also by weakening the body, allowing more pimples to pop up.

Men, women and stress

Women actually suffer more acne flare ups due to stress then men. This is because women have much lower levels of testosterone, so any surge will more dramatically affect oil production.

What is stress

So what is stress? Stress is not just emotional distress like worrying or feeling sad. Stress is any change that your body goes through. That could be something good, like winning a big game, or something bad, like worrying about a big test. Obviously, it would be impossible for us to avoid stress altogether. But, in order to save our skin we should try to avoid constant stressors.

Here are some examples of stress in our lives that we should try to avoid:

  • Being a super-achiever- I know your mom said you could do anything you wanted, but don’t try to do everything. Be realistic in the goals you set for yourself.
  • Lack of sleep or erratic sleep patterns.
  • Too much caffeine or sugar.
  • No exercise (Exercise can be a very valuable addition to your fight against acne due to its ability to decrease the negative effects of stress. However, it is important that you do not exercise with anything on your face. Wash acne prone areas with soap and water both before and directly after you exercise. You may even want to wipe those areas with a medicated cleansing pad or wash with an exfoliating cleanser. This is very important since products such as makeup may be altered by sweat and heat during exercise clog your pores more easily.).
  • Bottled up emotions.

Most important- try to identify what is stressful to you!

Acne and Diet

There is some controversy over whether one’s diet can contribute to acne breakouts. We consume so many different things, it is impossible to say whether one thing or another aggravates acne in one individual. Therefore, it is difficult for anyone to draw solid conclusions about what diet might do to contribute to acne.

Here are a few things that almost everyone agrees on when it comes to acne and diet:

  • Chocolate and greasy foods do not cause acne.
  • Consumption of excessive amounts of iodine can aggravate your skin. High levels of iodine are found in salt, turkey, seaweed and asparagus so try to avoid these foods.
  • Consumption of foods high in zinc may reduce inflammation. High levels of zinc are found in foods that are high in protein (beef, pork, chicken, peanuts, legumes).
  • If you think that a certain food may be triggering your acne try eliminating it for a couple of months and see if you notice an improvement in your skin.
  • Eating large quantities of fish (especially salmon) will have an “anti-inflammatory” effect on your body and is essential for acne treatment. This is somewhat controversial since fish has been found to contain high levels of mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), it is therefore advisable only to eat fish once per week.
  • Reduce your consumption of things that will stress your body – such as refined sugars, caffeine, cigarettes or alcohol.

Always remember that a healthy body is better able to fight disease so eat a well-balanced diet which should include fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, moderate amount of carbohydrates and some protein.


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