The Stress of Acne


Alone, the very thought of acne is stressful. The irony of it all – that self-fulfilling prophecy. Actually, don’t get me started on sel-fulfilling prophecies. They are enough to make us believe in the ‘positive thinking’ movement. But maybe there is something to positive thought afterall.

Stress and Acne. Are they first cousins or something? They seem to go hand-in-hand like two little schoolgirls with pigtails skipping down the lane. Why is this? How can a thought process affect our hormonal balance and how can it be self-fulfilling for that matter?

Thinking it’s so

How much power is in a thought? If history has shown us anything about cause and effect, it has shown that just a seed of misguided thought can fuel a lifetime of wars. What does this have to do with stress? War, hatred and misunderstanding are pretty stressful things. I can’t say much in 500 words about war and hatred, but let’s try to tackle misunderstanding, at least from a stress and acne point of view.


It seems fair to say that stress is caused by an overburdening of thoughts. Aparently our bodies’ chemical makeup is susceptible to self-doubt, impending doom, real or imagined, and all manner of sadface thinking. But if this is true, might the opposite be so too?

If we begin to feel stressed out by something, work maybe, study and exams, personal relationships, socio-economic issues on the rise, singing in front of an audience, etc., etc., we can bet that stress starts to show on our faces. We will look either haggard, pimple-faced, or both.

What happens? A physiological fallout from a thought. Cause and effect.


Under the magnifying glass

TIME online talks about stress and acne being a bit sympatico too. They say its not that simple, because there are several puppetmasters pulling strings in the background. There is a dirty stress-related hormone known as CRH (corticotrophin-releasing hormone) that increases oil production and contributes to nasty pimples. (If only the earth had CRH in its skin’s sebaceous glands to increase its oil production, then we might all get along.)

The article goes on to say that stress causes inflammation in the skin. The longer you have the stress, the longer you can have the inflammation and therefore the pimples. And there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight to life’s stresses. Boo! That leads us to think that there might be no end in sight to the pimple breakouts either.

Those of us who have made it through puberty thinks this is unfair. Thanks a lot, life!

Adages and new-age thinking

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” — Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Is this an argument for positive thinking? The “eye of the beholder” (Margaret Wolfe Hungerford) and all of that?

It is at least an argument for subjective thinking. Hamlet may not have chosen positive thought, but maybe he didn’t know about yoga and the mindfulness movement. And who said tai chi is just for old people? (That may have been me.)

Perhaps the mind and the body do share a co-dependency that needs to be tempered. Psychodermatology and all that. Yoga and mindfulness it is then. has some good tips for keeping the stress in check and therefore the pimples at bay. If it comes to being positive about our life choices, positive thinking is a great addition to these psychosemantics. (Am I using that right?)

The Experts

Since stressful thoughts cause us stress, and stress causes hormonal anomalies in the body, thinking more positively in the mind can only help ease the burden of effect on the body’s outputs. This is the best I can do regarding positive thinking, as I am not a believer in thinking that just because we think something, everything else will fall perfectly into place. Bad things happen regardless if we think negatively or positively – that is life and chaos, and these powers cannot be controlled just with some pluck and happy thoughts.

But the experts do say that there is help to be had in the forms of positive mindfulness tricks, a sensible diet and healthy lifestyle, e.g. exercise, hydration, sleep, moderation in all things, etc. Some topical treatments can be helpful for our breakouts to help combat the stress of having pimples, while we soul-search to lower our other stressors that trigger our breakouts and inflammation.

The Bottom Line

Stress isn’t good for anyone, unless we believe in it as a toxic but effective, success motivator (which we don’t). Anything we can do to cause lower stress levels will have a follow-on effect on the body fallout of the a-word: acne. In a word: de-stress.

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