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Stress Or Hormones - What’s Causing My Breakout?

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Let’s picture the scene. You’ve got an exciting night out planned. (Which, after the past year and a half, is a big deal and in fact, any event planned now is kinda a big deal, right?) You’ve got your outfit sorted, a brand new bright red lippy and your dream team are all excited. 

Or, you’re getting ready for the big Return to the Office event. You haven’t seen your colleagues face to face in months, possibly longer, and you want to look the part. 

In this article

Sudden Acne - What Could Be the Cause?
Acne Breakouts Caused By Stress
Acne Breakouts Caused By Hormones
Caring for Acne Prone Skin

Perhaps instead you have a hot first date planned, or a family get together or chill day with the girls at a fancy spa. And you’ve got the perfect outfit sorted. You’ve even had the lockdown locks sorted by your much missed hairdresser. 

Looking and feeling good is all part of life. Whatever that means to us, looking and feeling good is good for our confidence and mental wellbeing. 

You might be a full on MUA makeup sort, and you can’t wait to don the heels and those amazing faux leather, literally spray on (or with a little help from the talc) slinky black trousers thatreally hold the butt up that you’ve been desperate to wear since you bought them last year. (Hello post lockdown, allowed inside the pub, getting dressed up vibes.)

Or you might prefer to beau naturel with minimal or no makeup and keep it casual with pumps and a maxi dress. 

Ever the Contrary Mary, I flit between the two, never quite deciding if I’m more comfortable in stilettos or Converse (always with red lipp, though). But either way, whoever you are (you’re fabulous). The point I'm making is that after the 18 months we’ve had, whatever we’re doing, we’re doing it with maximum effort. 

So we don’t want something as annoying as a lone spot or a full on acne breakout to spoil the party.

But how do we plan for skin that’s free from spots and blemishes? 

Understanding what might be causing our skin to misbehave can help us manage things. Or at least it might help us plan things as much as we can around our periods and times of stress if we know them to be the cause of our breakouts. 

Sudden Acne - What Could Be the Cause?

The causes of acne are widespread, ranging from our genetics (thanks mum and dad) to certain medications and even life events such as puberty, pregnancy and the menopause. Two of the main reasons we get a sudden outbreak of spots or acne are our stress levels and our hormones. Neither of which are easy to control or manage.

So let’s take a look at the effects of both stress and hormones on our skin, and how we can recognise the difference between stress related acne and hormone related acne.

Acne Breakouts Caused By Stress

Stress causes lots of physical symptoms - headaches, heartburn, indigestion, plus emotional ones, such as anxiety and insomnia. It’s a complex biological response to when we’re feeling under physical or mental strain, and this can also have an effect on our skin. 

When we experience stress, we release the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is a type of androgen, or male sex hormone, that’s present in both biologically male and female bodies. 

Excessive cortisol triggers the release of sebum. Sebum is the wax like, oily substance that’s naturally produced by the skin. It helps to keep the skin moisturised and acts as a barrier helping to protect the skin from the elements. 

In people with oily skin, generally, the skin is overproducing sebum. With acne prone skin, it’s often due to an overproduction of sebum too. When sebum is overproduced, it can block the pores, trapping dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells and pollution. This can then lead to spots and acne breakouts. 

What Does Stress Acne Look Like? 

Acne caused by stress tends to form on the oiliest parts of the face, where sebum production is highest. Therefore, if you’re experiencing adult acne that affects the forehead and nose, you can pretty much bet that it’s being caused by stress. 

At the same time, you might notice that your skin feels greasier and that your pores are more open and visible. Your skin might also feel itchy and inflamed.

Acne Breakouts Caused By Hormones

So, what have our skin and breakouts got to do with our non stress related hormones? Well, quite a lot, actually. It isn’t just stress that causes a fluctuation in hormones. 

Life events that are largely controlled by hormones, such as puberty, are often linked with outbreaks of acne. This is because during puberty, testosterone levels rise. Testosterone is a male sex hormone, or adrogen, present in the bodies of those that are biologically male. But testosterone is also present in biologically female bodies, too. 

This increase in testosterone signals to the skin to start increasing the amount of sebum it produces. Hence, the greasy skin that’s common in our teenage years.

But what about other times in our lives? 

Having a period, being pregnant, breastfeeding and going through the perimenopause and the menopause all cause changes in the level of hormones in our bodies, which can trigger an increase in sebum levels. 

So if you’ve noticed an increase in oil and spots around the time of your period for example, then at least you now know why… 

What Does Hormonal Acne Look Like? 

Hormone related acne as an adult usually causes spots around the bottom half of your face, including your lower cheeks, chin and jawline. They’re generally going to take on the form of blackheads,whiteheads or small spots with a lovely yellow head. If they tend to form in the same place on a regular basis, cysts can begin to form that are painful, angry and red. 

During puberty, hormonal acne usually affects the T zone - the forehead, down the nose and onto the chin. They can often appear red and angry.

Remember, I am describing ‘typical’ teenage and adult hormonal acne here, there’s always an exception to the rule. Your period spots might affect your whole face and even your chest and back. 

Caring for Acne Prone Skin

At Sönd, we developed our ever growing range of alkalising skincare products with acne prone skin in mind. 

Why? Because we have acne prone skin ourselves, and we simply couldn’t find the skincare products we were looking for - products that worked for our skin, made from natural yet effective ingredients that didn’t strip our skin of it’s natural, protective oils. 

Our complete skincare range has been developed with experts to nourish the needs of all skin types, be that oily, dry, sensitive or acne prone. 

We made them using our signature alkalising silica salt complex to hydrate and promote healthy skin cell renewal deep within the lower layers of skin. (Which is often where the causes of spots and acne breakouts manifest themselves.) 

Whilst we can’t take away the stresses and strains of your life or help to manage your hormones, we can help with your everyday skincare. 

Use our range of skincare products to give your skin the best chance of behaving and not letting you down when you least need it to. Leaving you ready to go shine at the bar, spa, office or wherever. Whatever shoes you’re wearing. Enjoy! 


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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