On 9:21 AM by NY Drs. Urgent Care
College may be good for the mind, but it can be tough on your skin. Pizza, breadsticks, ice cream, heavy course loads, and a shift in sleep patterns can all lead to "a monumental skin freak-out."
"The college years are a prime time for breaking out, even for people who went through the bulk of their teen years without acne," says Jody Levine, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Your skin reflects your overall health, and the disruptions in diet, exercise, and sleep, plus stress, can all lead to acne flare-ups."
Stress and Acne: Is There a Connection?
For a long time, doctors have suspected that stress worsens acne, but evidence was mostly unreliable. In the past decade, though, research has suggested that the doctors may be on the right track.
In 2003, a Stanford University study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that college students had acne flare-ups during exams, a period in which they reported more stress, compared to periods without testing. Acne severity correlated highly with increasing stress, the researchers concluded.
Still, scientists don’t know exactly how stress worsens acne. They do know that cells that produce sebum, have receptors for stress hormones. Sebum is the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog the hair follicles, leading to a pimple or acne cyst.
When a person with acne experiences a lot of stress, "somehow, they’re upregulated." This means that more oil is produced to clog the hair follicles to allow more acne to form -- and give the stressed individual more to pick at.
In a 2007 study of high school students in Singapore, researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine also found that acne worsened during exam times, compared to low-stress periods, such as summer break.
These researchers hypothesized that the increase in acne might be due to higher levels of sebum produced during stressful times. However, they found that psychological stress didn’t increase sebum production significantly in the teens, leading them to suggest that that acne linked to stress may involve other root causes.
When Stress Makes You Mess With Your Skin
Sometimes, stress and acne can interact in a harmful cycle. When some people are anxious or upset, they’re more likely to exacerbate their blemishes. Some people pick their skin when they’re stressed. If they have a pimple to pick, that’s where they’re going.
What Is Acne Excoriee?
While many people squeeze a pimple occasionally, they're more extreme cases in which patients pick at their blemishes compulsively because they’re worried and embarrassed about their skin.
This condition is called acne excoriee. When these patients see, literally don’t have a pimple in existence. Instead, they have scabs that can lead to scarring. Patients can actually turn very mild acne into terrible scars.
What can be done? A person can’t really use stress reduction as an acne treatment. You can’t treat acne with a Valium.
For many people, acne is a chronic problem that doesn’t just vanish after finals week. It’s often a long-term issue that requires acne treatment, which can include benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, antibiotics applied to the skin or taken by mouth, hormonal treatments, and in more difficult cases, isotretinoin (Accutane).
That said, people with acne can also take advantage of seeing a psychologist or learning biofeedback if they need to reduce high levels of stress overall.
Remember, you can get all your questions answered here at the New York Doctor's Urgent Care Offices and through our FB and Twitter pages. We're always here to help, 365 days a year! www.nyorkdoctorsurgentcare.com
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