New Study Links Women’s Adult Acne to Stress

Acne sometimes seems unconquerable. Your parents had it. Your grandparents had it. Heck, cave people probably had it. You might think that there’s nothing new to learn about preventing or treating acne, but doctors are always making discoveries. A recent French study of women in particular highlights the role of work-related stress in triggering adult acne outbreaks.

What Does Stress Do to the Skin?

In both men and women, work-related stress causes the adrenal glands to release extra testosterone. Testosterone triggers the production of oil that can clog pores and cause acne.

With workers being more stressed than ever, acne is getting worse. Researchers at Nantes University Hospital in France report [PDF] that the newest generation of workers is creating a new market for adult acne treatments. Simply put, most of their parents didn’t battle pimples once they reached adulthood.

Testosterone is a constant culprit behind monthly acne flare-ups too. Women produce different ratios of testosterone to estrogen at different times of the month. Most women report having the worst acne problems before and during their periods.

It’s Different for Adults

The French team found that adult acne takes a different form in women than it does in teenagers. For unknown reasons, women past their mid-twenties tend to get deeper blemishes. These spots are described as more cystic and harder to treat than the surface-level eruptions in teens’ T-zones.

The researchers also found that women are more likely than men to have acne. One hypothesis is that women’s skin is more sensitive to testosterone. Women are also more likely than men to have multiple major stressors and to use pore-clogging sunscreens and makeup.

Smoking Doesn’t Help

Cigarette smoking sometimes helps to explain adult acne. It’s long been established that women, on average, are more sensitive than men are to nicotine. It’s possible that nicotine hurts women’s skin more than it hurts men’s, depleting more Vitamin E while boosting the production of sebum. Of course, nicotine consumption tends to increase with other stressors too.

Susannah Baron, a dermatologist commenting on the new acne report, said that the role of acne in adult women’s lives is more significant than people think. She agreed that for many people acne doesn’t appear until adulthood. “Many of the female patients I see also have stressful jobs and a lot to deal with. Interestingly, many of them did not have significant acne as teenagers.”

What Can You Do About Adult Acne?

If your acne is stress-related, just imagine what’s going on deep inside your body. It’s a good idea to reduce your stress for cosmetic, physical and emotional reasons. Here are a few strategies to complement your skincare regime and a healthy diet. These tips can help provide a holistic approach to fighting acne.

  • Take outside breaks at work. Walk around the block. When you see trees, sunshine and people walking their dogs, a bit of work-related stress melts away.
  • Delegate responsibilities. Maybe everything on your to-do list doesn’t need to be there.
  • Get massages. You can even have massages at the office without being weird. More and more workplaces are letting freelance masseurs visit for an hour or two and provide employees with pay-per-minute massages. See if your office is interested in contracting a chair massage service.
  • Take birth control pills. They aren’t just for birth control. They work wonders on women’s stress. That’s especially true for the pills that have just one hormone formulation; the pills that change weekly put your body through more hormone changes.

Besides that, washing your face during the day will help keep skin clear. Bring your products to the workplace and allow yourself a ten-minute mini spa during lunchtime.

In short, the latest news supports the notion that stress causes acne… but you already knew that. Now take action! By this time next week, you could feel better and have less acne too.