I’ve heard from countless people, especially women, that stress can give you pimples. I usually trust women with cosmetic advice, but this one I’m not so sure about it. I don’t understand the science behind it, and it seems like some old wives’ tale to me. But as I have seen tiny traces of pimples appear on my own face, correlated with increasing stress levels, I began to wonder if it indeed were true. Assuming the alternative hypothesis is correct–that stress can cause pimples–how can we relieve ourselves of stress to erase these unwanted blemishes. But for now, I have no grounds to reject the null–that stress does nothing to contribute to pimples.
Stanford published the findings of a 2003 study which analyzed the relationship between stress and acne. Researches observed college students’ changes in acne throughout periods of regular classes as well as exams. The participants included 22 students, 7 men and 15 women, with an average acne severity scale of 0.5 according to the Leeds acne scale (what we would consider ‘minimum’ acne). By the end of the study, the team had observed that students had a higher degree of acne around the time of their exams. Scientists considered confounding variables including the quantity and quality of both food and sleep, and their possible effect on stress.
The researchers concluded that students who already experience acne may see worsened symptoms during periods of examinations or stress. However, the study didn’t say why this occurred–that is to say–what the mechanism was. What is it about stress that causes acne, if any? Another shortcoming of the study was the sample size. The study consisted of only 22 students who had pre-existing cases of acne. Although the results ‘seem legit’ according to the scientific method, I would suggest that the researchers also observe students without acne during examination periods, to see if acne caused stress in subjects who had no previously experienced the condition. This strategy would better support the findings because the researchers would be analyzing a more diverse demographic.
So I took my curiosity to the ever-trustworthy WebMD, and was met with somewhat satisfying results. Sebum is an oily substance that may explain why acne appears during periods of stress, according to Lisa A. Garner, an expert in dermatology at the University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. The professor explains that receptors within sebum-producing cells interact with stress hormones, which could produce these red devils. She also claims that sebum-cells are irritated by the individual’s stress, which produces oil to clog hair follicles where a pimple then appears. However, this is simply scientific speculation which has yet to be confirmed.
It seems curious to me that while we can send a man to the moon and look at craters on mars, we can’t figure out what’s going on with our damn faces. I speculate that this could be due to a lack of funding or interest on the subject. Therefore, more studies need to be done! For now, I would recommend maintaining a steady diet, exercising regularly, and preparing in advance for tests to avoid stress. So don’t take your grandmother’s word for gold, but maybe one day science will give me a reason to believe that stress can cause acne.
Stanford study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12873885
intimate stressed guy: http://blog.menscience.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/stress-acne-1.gif