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The Impact of Stress on Acne and How to Manage It

Impact of Stress on Acne and How to Manage It

Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages. While the exact causes are complex, stress is a known factor to trigger breakouts. The mind-skin connection is real – when stressed, it can appear on your skin.


What is Stress Acne?

Stress acne refers to breakouts that are caused or exacerbated by stressors in one’s life. Work pressure, financial issues, relationship problems, school, and other anxieties can trigger the body’s stress response. This leads to inflammation, hormonal fluctuations, and increased oil production – all of which clog pores and cause pimples.

Stress acne tends to show up as red, inflamed bumps on the lower part of the face along the jawline, neck, and cheeks. It can also lead to cystic acne, large, painful blemishes deep under the skin. Flare-ups often happen during stressful times, like before an exam, an important meeting, or a social event.


How Does Stress Cause Acne?

Stress leads to acne breakouts through several biological mechanisms:

  • When we experience stress, our bodies release cortisol and other hormones that increase skin oil (sebum) production. Excess oil gets trapped in pores, causing them to get clogged and inflamed.
  • Stress triggers the release of inflammatory chemicals called neuropeptides. These lead to inflammation in the skin which worsens acne.
  • High-stress levels disrupt hormonal balance in the body. Androgen hormones like testosterone increase, leading to more oil production and breakouts. Estrogen levels can fall, also disturbing the hormonal balance.
  • Our immune system is impaired by stress, making it more difficult for the body to fight off bacteria contributing to acne.
  • High cortisol reduces collagen production and skin cell regeneration. This slows wound healing, causing acne to last longer.
  • Stress causes an increase in insulin and blood sugar levels, which can make acne worse. 


Tips to Manage Stress Acne

  • Practice relaxation techniques like meditation, deep breathing, yoga, or spirituality to activate the body’s relaxation response. Even 10-15 minutes per day can make a difference.
  • Exercise regularly through cardio, strength training, dance classes, sports teams, etc. Physical activity reduces cortisol and anxiety. Aim for 30-60 minutes most days.
  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Lack of sleep increases stress hormones and inflammation. Keep a consistent sleep schedule and limit blue light exposure at night.
  • Avoid unhealthy stress-coping habits like smoking, excessive alcohol, emotional eating, or drugs. These can worsen acne.
  • Talk to a mental health professional to learn healthy stress management strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based counseling can help.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about prescription medications that can address hormonal fluctuations, including oral contraceptives and spironolactone.
  • Try supplements like omega-3s, zinc, vitamin D, and anti-inflammatory herbs. Check with your doctor first regarding the appropriate dosage.


Make Lifestyle Changes

  • Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and flush out toxins. Aim for 8-10 glasses of water daily. Avoid dehydrating beverages like coffee, soda, and alcohol.
  • Follow an anti-inflammatory diet high in produce, healthy fats, lean protein, and whole grains. Avoid refined carbs, dairy, and sugar which may worsen acne.
  • Take targeted supplements for skin health, like probiotics, vitamin C, zinc, and omega-3s. Always check with your doctor before starting supplements.
  • Manage stress levels with regular exercise, meditation, yoga, adequate sleep, and time set aside for daily relaxation.
  • Be gentle with your skin and avoid scrubbing, picking, and popping pimples to prevent further irritation. Use non-comedogenic skincare products like our Fig Skincare line
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure, which causes inflammation and skin damage. Always wear SPF 30 sunscreen when going outside.
  • Improve gut health by taking probiotics and eating fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, etc. Gut inflammation can trigger acne.


See a Dermatologist at Valley Skin Institute

For recurring stress acne, make an appointment with a Valley Skin Institute. Our caring providers can assess your situation and create a tailored treatment plan. Procedures like cortisone injections, laser therapy, and medications like isotretinoin can help severe cases.

While stress acne can be frustrating, having the right coping strategies and acne-fighting regimen can help manage and prevent flare-ups. Remember when breakouts occur to identify and avoid your unique stress triggers. You can achieve clear and calm skin with a good skin routine, and some targeted TLC for your skin and mind!


Keeping learning about tips about managing your acne.


Dr. Leslie Storey | Valley Skin Institute

Dr. Leslie Storey is a board-certified physician specializing in medical and surgical dermatology. Her mission is to find and remove skin cancer, which she does more than 2,000 times a year. An expert in Mohs Surgery, Dr. Storey’s patients often comment that they are amazed at how minimal their scar is after they have healed from surgery. If you notice anything suspicious on your skin, request an appointment with Dr. Storey to have it checked out.

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