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Home / Acne / From stress to sleep, how daily habits can impact your skin

From stress to sleep, how daily habits can impact your skin

Learn about the relationship between lifestyle habits and your skin

Acne is a common skin condition. Despite its prevalence, few people truly understand what causes it.

Most people dismiss it as just puberty hormones. However, there are a lot of elements that can influence symptoms. From sleep schedules to smoking, many lifestyle factors can trigger or worsen acne symptoms.

Close-up of a young woman’s face with acne.

You can't entirely prevent acne. However, lifestyle changes can improve symptoms. Keep reading as we discuss the relationship between your lifestyle and acne.

What causes acne?

Acne vulgaris is a complicated condition with several causes. 4 factors directly contribute to acne development.

  • overproduction of sebum (skin oil)
  • hair follicles (pores) becoming clogged with dead skin cells or sebum
  • overgrowth of bacteria
  • inflammation

These processes are mainly caused by hormonal changes. Hormonal acne is, for that reason, most prevalent during puberty or through some stages of the menstrual cycle.

However, some external factors can also influence these processes. This includes certain lifestyle factors. We’re going to discuss some common factors that can cause acne symptoms.

Acne and food

There has been a lot of debate about which foods can cause acne. However, research has found that overconsumption of some foods leads to breakouts.

An array of sugary foods on a wooden background.

Studies show that sugary foods Trusted source ScienceDirect Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Research Go to source and milk Trusted source ScienceDirect Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Research Go to source cause higher levels of acne. This is because high blood sugar levels can promote the production of a certain protein called insulin-like growth factors (IGF-1). This protein is linked to higher testosterone levels, sebum production and clogged pores.

Other studies Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source have found that greasy food can be linked to symptoms. These foods are high in fatty acids which can increase inflammation.

Acne and sleep

A lack of sleep can affect your body in many ways. One of the more surprising things is your skin. Studies Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source suggest that lower sleep quality correlates to higher acne severity.

Experts Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source believe it is linked to your skin barrier. The more sleep you get, the more your skin barrier can repair and maintain itself. When your skin is more fragile, it puts you at more risk of skin problems, including acne.

Acne and obesity

Obesity can put you more at risk of skin problems. One study Trusted source PubMed Government Source Database of Biomedical Research Go to source found that overweight adults were more likely to have more severe types of acne, such as papulopustular or cystic acne.

This is because people who are overweight are usually insulin resistant due to diet. This is where your body does not respond properly to the insulin your body makes.

This promotes the growth of IGF-1 which, as we have discussed, is linked to acne development.

Insulin resistance due to poor weight management is also the cause of type 2 diabetes. So, research has found acne is more common in people with diabetes.

Acne and stress

Studies have shown that stress and mental illness can make acne worse.

One of the main risk factors is corticotropin-leasing hormone (CRH). CRH is a hormone and one of the main components of the body’s stress response.

CRH results in the release of the stress hormone cortisol. It also increases anxiety, suppresses anxiety, and improves memory. This is a part of the body’s flight or fight response.

Experts Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source believe that CRH affects sebum production and increases inflammation.

Skincare, cosmetics and chemicals

A good skincare regime is an important part of treatment. However, some products may worsen your symptoms.

Certain skincare products and practices can disrupt the skin microbiome such as chemical exfoliators, mechanical exfoliators, essential oils or any harsh products These products can weaken the skin barrier and trigger inflammation.

Even irritants in laundry detergents or fabric softeners can clog pores.

Array of skincare products on a pink background.

Wearing makeup can cause or worsen acne breakouts. It is a specific acne type sometimes called acne cosmetica.

Some makeup products can clog pores and cause a breakout. These products are known as comedogenic. Non-comedogenic products contain ingredients that won’t clog your pores.

As well as the products you choose, it’s also about how you use them. You might notice more breakouts if you:

  • share makeup, makeup brushes or any other applicators with others
  • sleep with makeup on
  • regularly change acne treatments
  • overly cleanse your skin

A consistent but simple skincare routine will help keep breakouts at bay.

Acne and smoking

It is well known that smoking causes numerous health problems. It can also be linked to skin conditions. One study Trusted source Oxford Academic Peer-reviewed Journals Multidisciplinary Research Go to source found that 40% of active smokers had acne, compared to 25% of non-smokers.

40% of active smokers have acne.

The cause of acne in smokers is less clear than other risk factors. It is believed that it is due to smokers’ higher levels of inflammatory markers called cytokines.

Another study found that it could be due to fatty acids in sebum being attacked by chemicals from smoking. This thickens the sebum and more easily clogs pores.

Acne and sun exposure

It’s a common myth that sun exposure can improve your skin. Many people believe this because it temporarily improves acne symptoms. However, too much time out in the sun can make your skin worse.

Sunburnt woman with a sad face on her shoulder made out of sun cream.

One 2018 study Trusted source National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) Government Source Biomedical Research and Literature Go to source found that 26.4% of people with long-term acne had worse symptoms following sun exposure. They also found that 44.5% of people had worse symptoms during the summer months.

This is because over-exposure to the sun dries out your skin. This causes your oil glands to produce too much sebum to counteract this. More sebum productions put you at a higher risk of flare-ups.

How do I manage my acne?

A healthy lifestyle is just as important as a regular treatment. Here are some simple lifestyle changes for acne:

  • eat a balanced diet
  • try and get 6-7 hours of sleep every night
  • lose weight
  • quit smoking
  • manage your stress
  • wear non-comedogenic makeup
  • avoid skincare products that contain essential oils or harsh ingredients
  • don’t excessively cleanse your skin
  • wear an SPF of at least 30 when UV levels are high

These tips when used in conjunction with acne treatments, may help tackle breakouts.

Learn more about acne

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Finding the right acne treatment can be difficult. There are many ingredients and types. For mild acne, you can use over-the-counter treatments like benzoyl peroxide.

You can head to our information pages to learn more.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 12-06-2024
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