Stress and Acne SMACKDOWN [What’s The Connection?]

Do you have more breakouts and acne flares when you’re stressed out? You’re not imagining things, the connection between stress and acne is real and is driven by a few mechanisms. Here are 5 ways stress can make acne worse.

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5 Ways Stress and Acne are Correlated

1. Sebum is a waxy substance produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin. This oily component of skin is implicated in acne, because together with bacteria and dead skin cells, it clogs the hair follicles, which can cause breakouts. When someone is under stress, particularly emotional stress, the cells that produce sebum are upregulated, causing them to produce more oil, accentuating the problem.

2. Sebaceous glands are part of the immune system and can become inflamed. Acne is an inflammatory condition. Stress stimulates an immune response, worsening inflammation, which can lead to acne flares in someone who already suffers from acne. It won’t, however cause acne in someone who doesn’t already have it.

3. It’s not just acute stress that can exacerbate acne, chronic stress is also an issue due to its effect on the immune system. People under constant stress for prolonged periods of time, may find that their breakouts last much longer than normal. The deleterious effect stress has on immune function impedes healing.

4. Stress also negatively affects nerve signaling, which can cause itching. Itching leads to scratching, which can irritate skin that is already inflamed. Most of us are also a lot more fidgety when we’re stressed. This can cause people to pick and pop their blemishes, exacerbating the problem.

5. Acne can be worsened indirectly by stress, as well, because people are less likely to stick to a consistent skincare routine when they’re stressed. They also don’t sleep as well, or long enough, along with paying less attention to what they’re eating.

What Is Stress?

Stress is the result of any demand that is placed on the body. It comes in many forms. Even happy events like weddings and the birth of a baby can be stressful due to its impact on the body. Working too much, strained relationships, financial problems, poor nutrition, environmental stress, lack of self-care, and ill health all cause stress.

Chronic stress causes a fight or flight reaction in the body, causing stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to be released. This stress response can lead to blood sugar imbalances, a racing heart, an inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, anxiety, tight muscles, hormone disruption, and can negatively impact neurotransmitters. Stress also fuels inflammation.

Many people, especially mothers who are also managing careers, can find themselves stuck in this stress response for years. This can have profound effects on all bodily systems, including the skin. Finding ways to manage stress is key.

Stress Management

Life will always be stressful to some extent. Finding ways to manage stress is vital for optimal mental, physical, and emotional health. Engage in stress-reduction techniques that resonate with you. Here are a few ideas:

  • Hobbies that bring you pleasure
  • Walking your dog
  • Nutrient-dense meals
  • Gentle stretching
  • Epsom salt baths
  • Reading a good book
  • Saunas
  • Red light therapy
  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Hiking in nature
  • Talking with a good friend who listens
  • Saying no to things you don’t want to do

Expressing your feelings in a non-confrontational way is one of the best stress-reducers out there. Cultivate relationships with safe people that will listen and validate your feelings without judgement.

Stress and Acne - Girl With Backpack on Road

Short Term Relief

If you’re in a stressful period in your life and it’s showing on your skin, you can use remedies for acne, such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids. Benzoyl peroxide is good for eliminating dead skin cells, reducing redness, unclogging pores and releasing the buildup of sebum. It can be used as a cleanser or as an acne treatment face cream.

Retinoins, such as Retin-A and retinol are used for acne and breakouts. Retin-A is a commonly prescribed medication that has been used for decades to treat acne, including whiteheads and blackheads. Tretinoin is the brand name of Retin-A, and you must have a prescription to order it. You can use Retin-A or retinol in conjunction with benzoyl peroxide to eliminate the bacteria that causes acne.

Retinol, on the other hand, is an over-the-counter retinoid that stimulates cell turnover, improves skin tone, and reduces the appearance of fine lines and pigmentation. Retinol isn’t as strong as Retin-A, but it’s also not as irritating, and won’t cause as much redness and peeling. It can be used as a serum or moisturizer.

Differin gel contains the retinoid, adapalene, and works to clear acne by unclogging pores, reducing redness and decreasing inflammation. 0.1% prescription strength gel can be purchased-over the-counter.

Products that contain salicylic acid can be helpful for acne because they remove oil and unclog pores. Salicylic acid prevents skin cells from sticking together, increases moisture, while reducing pore size. You can use it as a daily face wash or as exfoliating pads to quell a breakout.

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Key Points

Stress can make skin conditions worse by increasing oil production and inflammation. It also decreases the likelihood that people will adhere to a healthy lifestyle, including getting proper nutrition, sleeping soundly, and sticking to their normal skincare routine.

Stress management is key to lessening the effects that both acute and chronic stress can have on the skin. Find techniques unique to you that calm your nervous system and promote feelings of peace. You’ll be happy you did when you begin to notice the amazing effects it has on your skin.

Have you noticed the connection between acne flares and stress? Let me know in the comments:)

14 thoughts on “Stress and Acne SMACKDOWN [What’s The Connection?]”

  1. Hi Holly, thank you for such informative content regarding skin-care. I have always been told to look after my skin; especially facial skin because of age and acne and of course, hormones. I am young and just started that age where lack of skin-care begins to show; early thirties. Yes! I know 🙂 Your content is helping me tons! I believe I will beat this now. Thank you. 

    • Hi Linda,

      I appreciate you reading my post and commenting. A quality skincare routine is so important at any age. It’s the law of the harvest in action, what you do when you’re young is reflected in your skin as you age. Stress reduction techniques can greatly help fluctuating hormones, and the subsequent impact they have on skin. I’m glad you learned something from my content!

  2. I had no idea stress and acne or other skin problems were related. Come to think of it though, my skin does get oilier when I have my busy or stressful months each year.  I find it worse when the weather is hot. 

    My hair also gets oily at the same time so I wonder if this is also related. 

    • Hi Michel,

      Yes, it’s interesting that stress and acne are related, isn’t it? Oil production ramps up when we’re under stress so it’s not surprising that your hair gets oily as well. Hot weather will amplify things, especially hot, humid weather. Just too much moisture all the way around! I appreciate your comment!

  3. Hi Holly

    Acne has been the bane of my life, I am 44 and still suffer from outbreaks. I believe stress does play a part in it but the major cause is genetics as it does seem to run in families. It is always beneficial to reduce your stress as it will improve your physical and mental well being. Your skin may not necessarily improve with your stress under control but other aspects will most certainly improve. I look forward to your other articles on acne.



    • Hi Antonio,

      Thanks for reading my article. I’m sorry to hear about your struggle with acne. Stress reduction is key to good health, no matter the condition because of its effect on the body. Finding ways to calm your nervous system is paramount. Thanks for taking the time to comment! 

  4. Thanks for this informative post, I myself have also noticed acne can also be worsened by overlooking your personal hygiene needs, not paying attention to your diet, or neglecting your skincare routine.

    All of these things can easily happen when you’re feeling stressed. This post has been very informative as it has made me understand some things I didn’t know about.

    • You’re welcome. It’s more difficult to eat right and take care of your skin when you’re stressed. This is why finding ways to reduce stress is key. Thanks so much for reading!

  5. Hi! It has been really interesting to learn about these 5 different ways in which stress causes acne. I also appreciate the short term relief you have suggested and will start to implement some of them right away. I particularly incline myself towards products that contain salicylic acid because I have always heard good comments about them.

    • Hi Henry,

      Thanks for reading my post. I’m glad you found my suggestions for short-term relief helpful. I like salicylic acid too. I’ve used it in the past for breakouts, and it works great!

  6. So I always like learning something that I didn’t know before, and before today, I had never heard the term “Whitehead”. While it only makes sense that that is a thing because of the term blackhead. I have always suspected that stress would definitely have an effect on acne.

    My son had a slight acne problem but we fixed it when we changed his diet. You gave great sound advise and now I’m gonna go release some stress and walk my Dog. Thanks again.

    • Oh good, I’m glad you learned something new. Stress puts the body in a stress response, which can lead to a host of negative effects, including acne. I’m happy to hear your son’s acne cleared by changing his diet. Dairy is the main culprit. Sometimes eliminating just that one food can make a world of difference. Thanks for reading!

  7. Thank you for this article. I was wondering if stress causes acne. You have outlined some very clear and tangible scientific ways in which stress does indeed cause acne.

    Number 4 and number 5 on your list seem more Within our control to an extent. But the other three seem linked to internal processes that can lead to acne.

    Thanks for your tips on reducing stress. Those are a lot of the things I have tried when trying to reduce stress. And they work very well. I hope that more people find your article because you have explained things in a way that I have never seen before.

    • Thanks for reading. Yes, stress is certainly correlated to acne. Fortunately, some things are within our control. Reducing stress is so important on so many levels, including good skin health. While we can’t eliminate stress, we can mitigate its effects. I appreciate your comment!


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