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Why stress leads to weaker immunity and acne breakouts - and what you can do about it

With the pace life in 2020 speeding up, workloads increasing, and in recent months the fear and anxiety caused by the new coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, pressing closer to home, a painful acne breakout is the last thing you need during times of stress. But you might have noticed that is exactly when your skin troubles erupt. You’re not imagining it, and it’s not just a coincidence. Our skin is our largest organ, and its external appearance can tell us a lot about what’s happening below the surface. So it’s no surprise that countless studies have found a positive correlation between stress, weaker immunity and breakouts/pimples. The stress of your day to day activities, school assignments/homework, and the big one - exams might be causing your acne. Maybe you have a particularly stressful job, you’re anxious about an upcoming special occasion like a wedding, or living through the sleepless nights and busy days of being a new parent. Adding to all the ordinary pressures of life, you are now also stressing about COVID-19! Perhaps you’re just in a season of life where you can’t find time to rest and relax. Whatever the cause, acne doesn’t discriminate. It is estimated that at least 85% of people will experience acne at some point in their lives. Both teenagers and adult women are at high risk of experiencing acne and can be equally impacted by the discomfort and self-esteem issues associated with breakouts. The 2019 SkinB5 Skin Care and Wellness Survey found more than half of people with acne attributed their skin problems to stress, and 68% of respondents said the appearance of their skin had impacted their self confidence. Thankfully, science is finding effective yet gentle solutions for managing stress, immunity and acne, including some well proven vitamins and nutrients that address these closely interrelated concerns from within. That’s exactly what inspired me to create the skinB5™ range, and why I am so passionate about a holistic approach to acne and skincare – our body is an ecosystem with many interacting biochemistries, so a holistic approach just makes sense to me and I personally benefited tremendously from this inside and out approach. Unlike conventional acne treatments, the efficacy of skinB5™ methodology comes from supporting general wellbeing, restoring internal harmony, strengthening defense / immunity against all sorts of external aggressors, while addressing underlying causes to clear up the skin for good.

Why does stress cause acne?

Stress has a multi-faceted effect on the normal function of the human body. The disruption of these normal pathways can result in a range of health complications, including skin eruptions. Stress can contribute to acne because it: Tramps immunity: Psychologists in the field of "psychoneuroimmunology" have long shown that state of mind affects one's state of health. Nowadays, plenty of scientific studies show that those experiencing psychological stress had fewer natural killer cells, which fight bacteria and viral infections. For stress of any significant duration - from a few days to a few months or years, as happens in real life - can ravage the immune system. Increases cortisol: The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is activated in response to systemic stress, triggering increased levels of cortisol - known as the ‘stress hormone’. High levels of cortisol can suppress the immune system and increase the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Disrupts hormones: In adult women, chronic stress increases the secretion of adrenal androgens, resulting in overactive sebaceous glands. Sebum can then overwhelm the hair follicle, trapping debris and bacteria, which results in acne. Depletes nutrients: Stress has been found to deplete zinc and B vitamins, which are all key nutrients for skin health. Interrupts sleep: People experiencing stress report difficulties with falling asleep and staying asleep. Inadequate sleep impairs skin barrier function and increases blemishes and signs of ageing. Delays cell turnover: As well as impeding healthy cell turnover, stress can delay wound healing by up to 40 per cent. Increases blood glucose: Extensive studies have concluded stress induces higher blood glucose and insulin levels leading to insulin resistance issues. While studies shown links between insulin resistance and occurrence of acne, eating lots of foods high on the glycemic index can raise blood glucose causing inflammation and elevate hormones that increase sebum production, leading to acne.

When am I most at risk of stress-related acne?

While it is difficult to measure the exact amount of stress required to cause acne, any level of chronic stress has been associated with an increase in breakouts. Examples of common stresses that could add up, leading to acne breakouts and other skin flareups: ● Fear of getting sick/catching the new coronavirus COVID-19 ● Workplace and job-related stress ● School, university, exams and study loads ● Parenting and family commitments ● Financial worries ● Sleeping difficulties ● Disruptive life events such as moving house, relationship breakdown or the loss of a loved one.

How can I improve my stress levels, immunity and skin health?

Rest and Relaxation: Ensuring you have adequate sleep and a healthy work-life balance can help to reduce stress levels, even in stressful situations. The Sleep Health Foundation recommends 8 to 10 hours every day for teenagers, and 7 to 9 hours for adults. Mindfulness and Meditation: We can rest our minds even when we’re awake. Studies have found mindfulness activities such as meditating and yoga reduce physiological markers of stress including cortisol, heart rate and blood pressure. Put Things into Perspective: When it comes to anxiety for the new coronavirus, try to put your worries into perspective. Throughout history, viruses have long lived and evolved amongst animals and humans. Many of these viruses such as seasonal flu (influenza) have been accepted as part of daily life without much mention even there are as many as 5 million severe flu cases worldwide and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Rather than obsessively worrying about COVID-19, focus on what you can control like practice good hygiene and strengthen your body immunity to fight off infections, and of course follow public health advice. Nutrition and Topical Treatments: Eating a healthy, nutrient-rich wholefood diet and using the right topical skincare products for your skin type can provide an effective solution for managing acne. Some of the key nutrients and ingredients to include are: Vitamin B5: Also known as pantothenic acid, Vitamin B5 is an essential nutrient required for the synthesis of Coenzyme A. As a result, Vitamin B5 is involved in the metabolism of fatty acids (helps regulate skin oil), carbohydrates and proteins and is thought to strengthen the barrier function of skin. Due to these functions, B5 is proposed to be an effective nutrient in the treatment of acne. Zinc: Zinc is the second most abundant mineral in the human body, after iron, and it plays a crucial role in skin health. Zinc is responsible for everything from regulating oil production to promoting cell turnover and tissue repair, but levels can be impaired by stress. Studies have confirmed zinc deficiency can increase the risk of acne, while oral supplementation can be effective in avoiding and managing breakouts. Vitamin A: Vitamin A is the name given to a group of retinoids commonly used in acne treatment both internally and topically. Studies have found even low doses of supplemental Vitamin A can be effective in the treatment of moderate acne. Nicotinamide: The amide form of Vitamin B3 this vitamin, like Vitamin B5, has many skin health benefits particularly its potent anti-inflammatory properties which has been shown in scientific studies to help treat a variety of dermatological conditions, including acne, rosacea, and atopic dermatitis. Recent studies have demonstrated the role of nicotinamide, in both topical and oral forms, as a chemopreventive agent against skin cancer thought to be due to its ability to enhance DNA repair. Biotin: Biotin is another of the essential B vitamins involved in the health of hair, skin and nails. Some recent studies have found biotin can be effective for comedone acne (blackheads and whiteheads) caused by overproduction of sebum. Nettle: Nettle, or Urtica dioica leaf can provide anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties making it an effective acne treatment. Studies shown that nettle can support liver detox pathways and help clearing the skin from the inside out. Vitex: Vitex agnus-castus, or chasteberry, is a traditional use herb commonly used to promote hormonal balance. Although exactly how vitex works is not completely clear, it has been shown an effective solution for acne by helping calm elevated androgens which is a main driver of acne breakouts.


Effective skincare ingredients

Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) which can be used topically in the prevention and treatment of acne by decreasing skin lipids and providing anti-inflammatory properties. In our professional experience, a lower concentration like 0.5% can be more helpful than a higher one like 2% which could irritate or burn sensitive skin. Aloe Vera: It’s perhaps best known for its soothing properties on sunburnt skin, but aloe vera can also be beneficial in cases of acne. The internal gel of the plant contains antibacterial and antifungal properties which may reduce inflammation, provide natural exfoliation, and speed up the healing process. Green Tea: Green tea contains antioxidants and immune-boosting properties which may assist with a healthy complexion. The plant compound and potent antioxidant EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate) which is particularly prominent in green tea has been shown to help reduce inflammation, bacterial growth and excess sebum (oil) in the skin. Australian Botanicals: Less commonly known but Australian scientists are now uncovering some of the world’s most powerful phytonutrients and compounds in a wide range of Australian native plants and flowers. The ones that are most beneficial for acne prone, sensitive, inflamed, damaged skin are Kangaroo Flower, Tasmanian Blue Gum, Snowflower, Silky Oil Grass, Mountain Pepper Berry, Kakadu Plum, Davidson Plum, Quandong.


Herbs for Immunity

Along with adequate sleep and a whole-food diet and specific nutritional supplements, there are several herbs which can make a big difference to your immune system and help to reduce acne flareups. Astragalus This gentle herb is great for recovering from and preventing illness, as it stimulates the immune system. It also helps to increase macrophage activity - those white blood cells that eat up bacteria and other infective agents. It’s been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine, often added to herbal soups, and is known for restoring vital energy to the body. Echinacea Possibly the best known of all immune herbs, echinacea’s reputation as a treatment for infections is extensive. Echinacea seems to work by both stimulating and modulating the immune system, meaning it can push those white blood cells to fight harder, or calm them down if they’re overreacting to acne bacteria. It’s also an anti-inflammatory herb, which is quite useful for an inflammatory condition such as acne. Elderberry More than a key ingredient for Sambuca, Elderberry is great for reducing catarrh, fever, and fighting against viruses and inflammation. It’s been hailed as a healing food since ancient times, used by the Ancient Egyptians for clear skin, Native Americans for infections and skin conditions, and the Ancient Romans for its cooling properties. Elderberry is also a powerful antioxidant, rich in vitamin C and infection-fighting compounds, making it very useful for fighting the infective side of acne. Ginger This warming herb is traditionally used for improving digestion, circulation, relieving congestion and reducing inflammation. It’s also thought to be antimicrobial and can even help to reduce anxiety. Used in combination with other immune-supporting herbs, ginger is a useful addition to your acne-fighting toolkit. Lemon Myrtle This native Australian remedy comes with a crisp, fresh fragrance, which has quite an uplifting effect on one’s mood! Lemon Myrtle is rich in zinc, vitamin A and vitamin E, all of which are essential for healthy skin. It’s also a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-viral herb, making it perfect for reducing acne.

Where can I find these acne treatments?

The skinB5™ range combines all of these key ingredients in our easy to follow 123+ step system – to get acne breakouts under control, start with the Acne Control Vitamins, Acne Control Cleansing Mousse and Acne Control Moisturiser. If you really want to strengthen your immunity against bacterial and viral infections, we highly recommend taking both the skinB5™ Acne Control Vitamins (containing high potency zinc, vitamin Bs, A) and Clear Skin Superfood Booster (each teaspoon delivers 416% natural Vitamin C plus plenty of immunity herbs like Astragalus, echinacea, elderberry, ginger, lemon myrtle and more like ginsengs) to get maximum protection.

About the Author: Judy Cheung-Wood

SkinB5™ was founded in 2006 by Australian entrepreneur, Judy Cheung-Wood. Growing up, Judy spent endless time with her grandfather who was a chemist and skincare manufacturer. Even as a young girl, she shared his passion for natural ingredients – and always dreamed of developing a natural skincare range in his honour. First launched as an online only business, skinB5™ is now widely available in retail and dermatology channels in Australia and globally. Judy is very passionate about skincare and love sharing her expert knowledge with others.

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