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Can Sexual Frustration Cause Acne?

I would like to bust an old myth which concerns sexual frustration leading to acne. Let me put it out there once and for all, lack of sex specifically does not cause acne. There I said it!

However, frustration in general whether it is emotional, mental or physical leads to changes in the body and release of hormones which can aggravate acne. Stress encourages inflammation and release of stress hormones such as cortisol which play a role in the development of acne.

When any form of stress is removed, the acne flare up will reduce. In the case of intercourse, what happens is, the sexual activity causes the release of serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin and prolactin which reduce levels of cortisol and hence reduce stress which leads to improved skin texture and help in improving acne. Not only that, having regular intercourse is a form of exercise which also increase blood flow to skin and provides more oxygen that helps the skin to improve which people commonly refer to as the ‘after sex glow’.

So it is not specifically sexual frustration that causes acne. Having sexual intercourse cannot be a part of skin care regimen or it cannot be a means of getting rid of acne but that being said it is not bad for the skin as it indirectly helps keep skin healthy by reducing stress.

A common belief is that the sperm has anti inflammatory or antioxidant properties and that my dear reader is far from the truth! Another common belief is that acne reduces after marriage which again refers to involvement of sexual intercourse. Let us elaborate on how acne develops:

Table of Content

Multiple factors are involved when it comes to the development of acne:

  1. increased production of sebum
  2. clogged pores by excess oil secretion
  3. acne causing bacteria
  4. inflammation

The four factors mentioned above are direct cause of acne and are involved in the pathophysiology of  the development of acne. Any other reason which influences these factors is secondary.

Now let us come to the part on how stress and acne are related.

In 2003, at Archives of Dermatology by University of Stanford, researchers correlated acne flare-ups during stress for example during exams. According to Dr. Friedmen, an associate professor of University of Washington has pointed out that Corticotropin releasing hormone during stress is one of main culprits of acne breakouts. Read:  Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging.

They bind to sebaceous glands of skin increasing production of sebum. According to Dr. Friedmen chronic stress can cause the acne to stick around longer and has been associated strongly with acne breakout. A 2014 study named archives of dermatological research titled ‘Could adult female acne be associated with modern life’ stated that the rising socio economic pressure in modern and urban living led to more breakouts and aggravated acne.

According to Dr.Donna Hart, who is an American board certified dermatologist and is a member of American Academy of dermatology, has suggested that in times of stress, the sebaceous glands produce more oil which causes the flare up of acne.


Since stress releases cortisol and the excess cortisol cause a rise in sebum production, it can be considered to be hormonal acne but the difference between the two are the different periods of time that they appear on skin. Hormonal acne usually shows up during monthly cycles or at a time nearby to the cycles but stress related acne can appear anytime, as long as the body and mind experiences stress. They can appear during board exams, work pressure, personal loss, chronic disease etc.

Acne Excoriee

A term, one must be familiar with when it comes to stress. It has been discussed to how stress can cause acne but a phenomenon called acne excoriee can make matters worse. It is the term used to define the condition in which one picks on acne and blemish compulsively as a result of stress and anxiety. They would pick on any small bump and make it worse and find it difficult to stop and develop scabs which may lead to scarring.

Hormonal acne

Hormonal acne is exactly what the name suggests, acne related to fluctuating hormones. It is often seen at puberty among women but can be seen at any age irrespective to gender and age. Among fifty percent of women experience hormonal acne between the ages of twenty to twenty nine years while twenty percent of women experience it between the ages of forty to forty nine years of age.

Hormonal acne usually appears as cystic acne and responds less to topical medication. They usually appear around t-zone during puberty which includes the forehead, chin and nose but in adult hormonal acne, it may appear around the lower part of face especially lower cheeks and jaw line.

How does it happen?

Often hormonal imbalance may be secondary to a systemic disease or condition such as PCOS where it can result in acne. At times, the hormonal imbalance does not appear after test results which become difficult to diagnose. Several causes may be present such as:

  1. Menstruation
  2. Menopause
  3. Secondary to systemic conditions such as PCOS
  4. Increased level of androgens.

Let us take menopause as an example where women in their 40’s or 50’s stop having their monthly cycles which then results in a change in the hormone levels. During menopause, the estrogen levels decline while androgens such as testosterone rise resulting in acne break out.

Women who are in hormone replacement therapy after menopause also experience fluctuation in hormone levels as progestin hormone is introduced to the body to make up for the declining estrogen and progesterone which can cause a break out.

What are the skin changes from hormonal acne?

  1. Inflammation
  2. Increased sebum production
  3. Clogged pores
  4. Production of acne causing bacteria (Proprionibacterium)

Can Love Cause Acne?

According to Psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos, love involves 5 stages, where the skin may become prone to acne. She conducted a study which these stages were evaluated.

Stage one- Butterflies

Marked by intense infatuation and attraction where couples were noted to lose weight by thirty percent as they often forgot to eat and their productivity reduced by 39%.

Biologically in this stage a lot of testosterone and estrogen is produced and there is a marked rise in the libido. Increased testosterone cause increase production of sebum which blocks pores which can be a reason for acne break out and it can aggravate acne in acne prone skin.

Stage two– Building

In this stage the early relationship bonds flourish and people were noted to have ‘happy anxiety’ as well as lack of sleep which is detrimental to skin. The sleep cycle is altered and lack of sleep is known to affect ones health not only physically but mentally.

Stage 3 – Assimilation

This stage involve couples evaluating relationships whether it is right, forming boundaries and thinking of the future of the relationship which can be stressful and how stress can lead to acne break out has been discussed above.

Stage 4 – Honesty

This is where the couple has eased into the relationship and is comfortable being themselves which may create compatibility issues in many, increasing their stress levels. According to Dr. Linda stage 3 and 4 of a relationship can be the most stressful.

Stage 5- Stability

After the emotional roller coaster that the four stages offer, this stage comes with contentment and stability and is associated with least amount of stress.

This is how love and relationships indirectly cause anxiety, stress and can lead to acne. There really is no concrete yes or a no. It is more of an association than a definite answer.

Acne Treatment

Yes, stress management is important for overall health and immunity and that would eventually lead to healthy skin but it cannot be a part of acne treatment.

There are many different modalities of treatment such as:

Topical treatments

Benzoyl peroxide, topical antibiotics, retinoids

Oral medications:

  • antibiotics such as doxicycline or azithromycin
  • Oral contraceptive pills in case of hormonal acne.
  • Anti androgen drugs
  • Topical retinoid is used for mild acne but in case if retoinds are prescribed it is important to use sunscreen as it increases the risk of sunburn.
  • Natural remedies such as tea tree oil, green tea, alpha hydroxyl acid which is a plant based acid may help.

It is important to note that the treatment for any kind of acne involves more than one factor. It cannot be cured by medications only. Management of stress by regular exercise and yoga or meditation, maintaining hygiene, having the right skin care routine such as use of proper cleansing agents formulated for acne is suggested. Diet and adequate hydration is a major part of dealing with acne. It is advised to avoid dairy, sugar and spicy food to avoid acne break out much of which have been discussed on my articles earlier.

Common Misconceptions About Sex and Acne

Can being virgin cause acne?

The answer to that is a no.  Lack of sex or being a virgin do not cause acne and are not related.

Can acne disappear after marriage?

Again they are not merely related and cannot be the cause of acne. If the marriage is stressful and there is extreme stress involved acne can aggravate but however it is not a cause.

Can masturbation cause acne?

No, often believed by past generations this is a common belief which is absolutely not true. Having an orgasm either through intercourse or masturbation causes release of hormones which lower the level of cortisol and reduce stress which can be good for the skin although it is not a solution for acne.


Sexual frustration is not an individual reason for the development of acne. Any sort of emotional, mental and physical frustration can cause a series of changes in the body that can affect the skin in a general way and aggravate acne or lead to acne development.

However it would not be fair if we blame lack of sex as a cause for acne. The improved blood flow, lowered stress hormones and release of dopamine, prolactin, serotonin and oxytocin involved during sexual intercourse improves the condition of skin which in turn can indirectly help acne.

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