If you have ever thought that your skin seems to erupt with more acne cysts and pimples when you are stressed, it probably is not all in your imagination. Acne sufferers have long shared anecdotal evidence of acne flares during times of intense stress. Science is now lending validity to these claims and suggesting possible reasons for the connection.

What Causes Acne?

Acne is a condition affecting the oil glands in the skin. The pores in your skin are connected to oil glands located just under the surface of the skin by follicles. These glands produce a substance called sebum, which is meant to lubricate and waterproof the skin. When the follicle becomes clogged with the oily sebum and dead skin cells, a pimple can develop. It is unclear why certain people develop severe cases of acne; however, certain factors may predispose an individual to the condition:

• Hormonal changes during adolescence can increase the production of sebum, which can cause the glands to clog more often
• Hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy may trigger acne
• Individuals with family members with acne are more likely to develop it themselves
• Certain medications, including birth control pills, may cause acne
• Greasy makeup or face creams can clog pores and trigger acne

Stress Acne vs. Regular Acne

It is not clear exactly how stress affects acne. Most researchers believe that emotional stress does not actually cause new acne, but it may trigger a flare or exacerbation in someone who already has the condition. Scientists do know that sebum-producing cells also have receptors for various stress hormones. One theory is that stress hormones stimulate these cells to produce more sebum, which leads to more clogged pores. On the other hand, a 2007 study published in a Swedish medical journal concluded that psychological stress did not affect sebum production, so there could be another root cause for stress-related acne.

Dealing with Acne Scars

Regardless of the cause, one of the unfortunate side effects of acne is scarring that can leave the individual feeling embarrassed and self-conscious. There are a number of reliable methods available for treating acne scars, including laser treatments. Laser skin resurfacing helps even out the skin’s surface and stimulates the production of new collagen that can fill in scars. Non-ablative laser treatments activate collagen production without causing damage to the skin’s surface. Ablative laser treatments work by vaporizing the scar so that new, healthy skin can take its place.

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