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Stressing over Acne - Excerpts taken from the Bucks County Courier Times
Acne is one of the most common skin disorders,
affecting nearly 85 percent of Americans. Most people consider it kids' stuff
- something that people outgrow.
Statistics say otherwise.
Over 10 years, the prevalence of adult
acne has increased, according to a report in the Journal of the American Academy
of Dermatology. The mean age for someone to begin treatment for adult acne
has jumped from 20 to 26, according to the journal.
There have always been some adults who suffered from chronic acne beyond
the teen years, but today treatment-resistant acne is more common,
said Dr. Richard Fried, a Lower Makefield dermatologist who estimates
that half his patients are adults with acne troubles.
There are many theories about what is behind
the increase - pollution, hormone-fed meats, bad diets and out-of-balance lifestyle.
Among the biggest common denominators is
stress, according to dermatologists, including Fried, who is considered a leading
expert on the connection between skin and emotion, an emerging specialty area
The mental impact can trigger a never-ending cycle, Fried explained.
The stress of living with skin problems leads to more stress and feelings
of depression, emotions that have an effect on the body that can initiate
or worsen skin problems.
LESS STRESS, FEWER ZITS
Extensive research also shows
incorporating stress management techniques into daily routines can reduce outbreaks
of acne and other skin conditions and reduce the need for medical intervention,
according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
The better stress is controlled, the less likely the person will experience
inflammation, which contributes to breakouts, Fried said.
For many people, the organ that
is most sensitive and reactive to stress is the skin, the body's largest
Acne doesn't discriminate, but
women get the worst of it. About 54 percent of adult women are afflicted
with acne, compared to 40 percent of adult men, experts say.
Blame biology. By nature, women experience
greater hormone fluctuations due to oral contraceptives, pregnancy, menstruation
or menopause. Women's hair follicles are also more sensitive.
Add stress to this mix and it's a
formula for flare-ups.
Today women experience more daily stress
than they did 20 years ago, but the body's response to anxiety is the same whether
a person is being chased or nearing a deadline.
When a person is stressed out, the heart
beats faster. That causes the blood to flow faster and at higher pressure,
which makes the organs work harder. The body works similar to a car engine
- if the fuel is pumping too fast over a long time, it stresses out the
engine parts and something breaks down.
To add insult to injury, adult womens' skin
is drier, more sensitive and less elastic than teenage skin, so it can more easily
Traditional dermatology, though, has focused
on the physical problem - the sore, spot or bump - getting rid of it and controlling
future outbreaks. What doctors have neglected is the emotional trauma of living
with skin problem. Simply put, your skin can make you depressed, said Fried,
who also holds a degree in clinical psychology.
"If I'm miserable because I look
at my face in the mirror, it sucks my energy,' he said. "It sucks my
positive outlook on life."
There is scientific proof and medical evidence
backing him up, he added.
Studies show the profound emotional and functional
impact of acne increased levels of depression, anxiety that can affect social
interaction and school or job performance.
The combination of traditional acne treatment and
stress-relieving exercises has helped a 60-year-old Lower Makefield woman, one
of Frieds's patients. She admitted that at first she was skeptical that stress
was the source of her skin problems.
The occasional pimple resurfaced
in her 20s and 30s, but once she reached her mid-40s it was as if she
traveled back into her teen years.
"What was I thinking? I don't know," she
said. "Why is it happening? Why am I still dealing with this?"
Her breakouts today are about the same as
they were when she was a teen, usually a few zits on her cheeks and chin. "It's
not there al the time," she said.
The desire to hide those pesky pimples hasn't
diminished. The woman recalled one time how she strategically held her hand over
her chin during a presentation at work.
"I think once they're there, they're there,"
she said. "It's not pleasant. But I probably worry more about the aging than
the pimples, and I probably worried more about the pimples when I was 14."