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How Stress Causes Pimples and What to Do About It

This is one piece of advice doled out so commonly to acne prone folk – “stop worrying”. It is so common that it almost sounds clichéd  – like “drink more water”.

This kind of advice usually comes from well-meaning aunties and uncles who’ve not had a pimple in their lives.

As clichéd as it sounds though, it is true – stress does cause acne.

Research shows stress causes acne.

Then again, you might have noticed it yourself that your pimples increase at a time of major stress – upcoming exams, relationship problems, family emergencies and so on.

Being stressed, anxious or depressed affects the intestinal bacteria which in turn worsens inflammatory skin conditions like acne.  Constipation and abdominal bloating are common signs that your intestinal health isn’t all ship-shape.

But wait, just when you thought you had understood it all, it gets worse.

That’s because stress and acne are brothers in arms. They feed each other until it turns into a vicious cycle. This vicious cycle then takes on a life of its own. From then on, whether or not you have an external reason to worry, your acne is getting fed a daily dose of stress and being kept alive.

Studies shows that depression and acne are commonly found together in the same person. Yes, you could be depressed because of acne, but it is more likely that it is your depression that is feeding the acne.

The stress-acne cycle

how to control stress induced acne breakouts

Sad / depressed / worried (e.g. girlfriend problem)

Intestinal flora is affected, leading to poor absorption of nutrients and increase in inflammation

Skin inflammation leading to more pimples

More worry because of pimples

↓ ↑

More pimples because of worry

How to break the stress-acne cycle

While stress and intestinal health alone cannot be pinned as the causes of acne, they are strong factors behind it.

  1. Explore Yoga, deep breathing, meditation or Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to keep stress levels under control.
  2. Add probiotics to your diet. Probiotics are the “good bacteria” that not only keep your intestines healthy, they also make you feel happy and keep you in a good mood. Bifilac is a good prebiotic and probiotic brand in India. Yakult is just too much sugar.
  3. Cod liver oil / fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that prevents over-growth of intestinal bacteria. Plus it makes you happy. I use Nature’s Bounty Fish Oil.
  4. Get tested for vitamin D3 deficiency. Vitamin D3 deficiency is a major factor behind depression as well as acne.
  5. Zinc supplements help with depression as well as acne. In India, Zincovit tablets are a decent zinc supplement.
  6. Eat less fatty / fried / sugary foods (low glycemic diet) in order to prevent internal inflammation that can lead to pimples.

You will still need to use a basic all-non-comedogenic skincare routine alongside at all times to benefit from supplements and exercise.

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