woman popping acne

Your skin, the body’s largest organ, is often deemed a window to your overall well-being. Each spot, bump, rash, and pimple are thought to tell a story about your health, signaling a plethora of issues from hormonal imbalances to dietary-related problems to dehydration or stress (via The Healthy).

Acne is a common skin condition that usually begins at puberty and goes away during the early 20s. But some people continue to experience acne throughout adulthood. This occurs when hair follicles and oil glands under the skin become clogged, causing zits and other abnormalities on the face and body to emerge, explained The Healthy. "Under certain circumstances, cells that are close to the surface (of the skin) block the openings of the sebaceous glands, and cause a buildup of oil underneath," Melissa Aardema, a licensed medical aesthetician, told the publication. "This oil stimulates the growth of bacteria, which live on everyone’s skin and can very easily multiply and cause surrounding tissues to become inflamed."

There isn’t known to be one single cause of acne — it’s believed to develop from an interplay of various factors. But the type and location of your pimples may provide a clue as to what’s going on with your body and what may be contributing to your flare-ups (via Reader’s Digest). Read on to find out some common, yet surprising, things your acne is able to tell us about your health.

Your gut health is out of balance

woman stomach gut

There’s been a burgeoning body of research evidence exploring the intricate relationship between the gut microbiota and skin, often referred to as the gut-brain-skin axis. "Both are important organs for keeping the body in a stable state and protecting against the invasion of infectious organisms," Aisling Dwyer, gut microbiome expert at OptiBac, told NetDoctor. "Often people with gastrointestinal illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease have corresponding skin issues, which shows how closely linked gut health and skin health are."

Although a poor microbial environment in the gut is unlikely to be the only contributing factor, digestive issues are often present in people who develop acne, acknowledged Dr Dwyer. Specifically, it’s hypothesized that "leaky gut syndrome" — which scientists also call "increased intestinal permeability" — could be a hidden cause of acne, as noted by NetDoctor. This condition may allow acne-generating bacteria to seep into the bloodstream.

When it comes to figuring out whether your gut health might be having a negative impact on your skin, it’s down to trial and error, Dr. David Jack, skin care specialist, also told the publication. "If you have acne, it might be worth trying to increase your intake of prebiotic foods — the foods that the ‘good’ gut microbes like to eat — and also taking a probiotic supplement (i.e. the bacteria themselves)," he suggested.

Your stress levels are high

woman acne stress

Studies continue to confirm that stress-induced pimples are a real thing. The phenomenon of "stress acne" refers to the outbreak or worsening of preexisting acne due to a psychological stressor, Allison K. Truong, dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, told Health. Even women who’ve been successfully managing their hormonal acne with hormonal birth control can experience a sudden spurt in acne spots as a result of stress, Truong added.

While feeling stressed out may not be a direct cause of your acne, there are many different ways your emotional wellbeing can affect your health and wreak havoc on your skin. For instance, a 2018 literature review published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that both insomnia and depression, which have a negative effect on stress levels, can aggravate acne by modifying our gut bacteria.

Chronic elevations in cortisol, a stress hormone best known for kicking off the "fight or flight" response (via Cleveland Clinic), can also compromise the immune system and its ability to fight off infections. Other hormones produced when we feel stressed include androgens, which have a similar effect as cortisol, binding to and stimulating the oil glands and hair follicles in the skin, the Cleveland Clinic revealed.

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