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how diet, stress, lack of sleep, tanning and smoking worsen acneHow stress, diet, sports, lack of sleep, tanning and smoking can worsen acne

You know that acne affects your lifestyle, but did you know that your lifestyle might affect your acne? Although the main causes of acne are hormones and heredity, acne may be worsened by stress, diet, sports, sleep patterns, tanning and smoking.

Stress and Acne

Stress can worsen acne in several ways. First, stress increases the body’s production of the hormone cortisol. Cortisol increases sebum (oil) production and can increase the production of inflammatory factors. In women, stress can increase the production of male hormones, which worsen acne. When you are under stress, often diet, sleep and skin care, suffer.

Diet and Acne

The role of diet in acne is controversial, with preliminary research showing some influence but no large scale or definitive studies confirming an effect. The food types most commonly implicated are milk, caffeine and a high glycemic index (GI) diet.

Dairy, especially skim milk, has been weakly though consistently associated with acne in several observational retrospective studies. The mechanism is unknown, but it has been suggested that hormones and growth factors in milk might account for the association.  There is some evidence that caffeine in coffee, chocolate, caffeinated soft drinks may aggravate acne in some people. 

Glycemic index refers to a food's potential to increase blood glucose and insulin levels compared to the effects from the same amount of carbohydrates of another food. Examples of high GI foods include white bread, potatoes and many processed foods. Proponents of the link between high GI foods and acne point to endocrine responses of increased insulin-like growth factor one, growth factor binding protein, androgens and retinoid signaling pathways, which may lead to increased oil gland activity and plugging of the pores. There have been several small studies showing improvement in acne in patients following a low GI diet, but even the proponents of the low GI approach indicate that it is a helpful addition to standard acne treatment and will not clear acne.  

Dietary influences in acne are an area that needs more research. Hopefully, well-controlled, randomized trials will help sort out the role of milk and high GI foods in the development of acne and whether dietary manipulations will influence the course and if so to what degree. With dairy being a major source of much needed calcium, the benefits would need to outweigh the risks of inadequate calcium intake. A trial of less caffeine intake may be tried to see if your acne improves, if you can live in a world that does not include coffee and chocolate. A lower GI diet appears to have little downside but is hard to follow.

Exercise, Sports, Sweating and Acne

Exercise, sports, hot humid environments, increased sweating, friction all seem to worsen acne. Exercise and sports increase male hormone levels, and hot humid environment, sweating and friction increase oil production and swell the pore openings closed. Sweaty workout clothes and sports gear such as football helmets and pads, and grime and oil on cell phones may increase acne in contact areas. This is certainly not a reason to discontinue sports or exercise as the benefits outweigh the downsides. Change out of sweaty clothing, shower as soon as possible, and try to keep gear clean—good luck with that. Prescription antibiotic pads kept in gym bag or locker to wipe off sweat and oil and apply antibiotic after sports or workouts help.

Sleep and Acne

Sleep is wonderful. During sleep the bodies repair processes are increased and teenagers develop the “risk/benefit assessment” area of the brain, which is a very helpful process. Lack of sleep disrupts those processes and increases cortisol, which can aggravate acne. So get some sleep, and on a regular basis.

Tanning and Acne

Sun exposure and tanning can initially dry up acne blemishes, but the effect is temporary. Ultraviolet light increases inflammation in the skin, which can aggravate acne later. And as pimples dry up, tanning will increase the melanin pigment, which can leave you with brown spots. Smoking worsens acne, especially blackheads and cysts. Enough said.

Sex and Acne

And no, sex and masturbation do not cause acne. Just in case you wanted to know.

Lifestyle and Acne

None of these lifestyle factors outweighs the effects of hormones and heredity is causing acne, but they may make your acne worse. So try to reduce stress, eat a healthy diet, get some sleep, stop tanning and smoking and shower after exercise. Good advice even if you don’t have acne.

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