How Stress Causes Acne (And How to Get Rid of it)

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Have you ever wondered why you’ve suddenly broken out in a bad case of acne? Most of us are aware of the common causes – oily skin, blocked pores, even certain foods – but some of us have breakouts even with proper skin care and diets. As it turns out, stress can alter our body chemistry and cause acne to worsen out of what seems to be nowhere.

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How Does Acne Form?

If you have acne you certainly aren’t alone. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 40 to 50 million Americans suffer from acne at any given time.

Our body constantly creates new skin cells to replace old, dead cells, and these dead cells are moved to the surface of our skin for removal. Occasionally, natural oils produced by our skin causes dead skin cells to be trapped in a pore.

This is not an issue by itself, but if acne bacteria that lives on our skin also becomes stuck in a clogged pore, that pore may become swollen and inflamed, eventually leading to the formation of acne.

Can My Acne be Made Worse?

Unfortunately, dirt alone may not be the cause of all cases of acne. The Mayo Clinic lists several factors that may worsen an acne outbreak:

  • Hormones
  • Medications
  • Diet
  • Stress

If you’ve started a new medication or recently changed your eating habits, diagnosing the cause of worsening acne may be as simple as looking at your daily routine and consulting a physician.

The last item on the list, stress, can be a little harder to pinpoint.

Stress Isn’t Always Cut & Dry

Balancing work, family life, hobbies and interests, social situations, and other small details of your average week can take a toll on you in both obvious and subtle ways. Nearly everyone has felt nervous or tired due to a packed schedule, but stress can manifest in ways we don’t necessarily consider.

For example, how often have you felt so stressed that your stomach hurt, or you broke out in a rash?

There are dozens of possible symptoms of stress, both mental and physical. If you suddenly find yourself with bouts of insomnia and anxiety to go with an acne problem, stress very well may be the issue.

Even a Lack of Sleep Can Cause Stress

​It’s no small surprise that most people don’t get enough sleep during the week.

Even staying up late on the weekend can cause your body some amount of stress, which can lead directly to facial blemishes getting worse.

How Do I Know What’s Stressing Me?

As with any problem, the first step to solving it is to identify the cause. The mental health charity Mind helpfully identifies many major causes of stress in your life, including but not limited to:

  • Illness
  • Long-term unemployment
  • Marriage
  • Having or adopting a child
  • Coordinating a complex event, like a family gathering

Even some events that we consider to be happy, such as getting married, can be both enjoyable and stressful at the same time. This is known as eustress.

How Do I Manage My Stress?

The American Psychological Association offers five strong ways to help you cope with stressful situations in your life.

  • Exercise: Not only is it good for your body, exercise can help take your mind off of difficult situations.
  • Smile and laugh: We hold a lot of tension in our face that can actually stress us more – laughing can help relieve it quickly.
  • Get social support. Find someone you respect who understands you and share you concerns with them.
  • Meditate. Practicing mindfulness can offer new perspectives on existing problems and may help you sort out what’s bothering you.
  • Get away from the stressor. If you can take a break from what’s stressing you, leave it behind you for a while!

What If I Can’t Get Rid of the Stress by Myself?

If you find your stress to be too much to tackle on your own, speaking to a mental health professional with experience in reducing stress may be your next best move.

By offering a guided path through your stress and options tailored to your life, you might find counseling to be more effective than simply speaking with friends about what’s bothering you. If the source of your stress is your relationships couple or family therapy are potential options, too.

Proper Skin Care Can Stop Stress Acne Outbreaks Too

Do you take care of your skin?

Sometimes it’s nearly impossible to avoid a stress acne outbreak, even if you clean your face twice a day and watch what you eat.

Thankfully, there are readily-available products to help develop a routine and treat outbreaks as they arrive, and some are as simple as facial cleansing wipes or facial compresses.

Finding a skin treatment option that is right for you can require trial and error. But we’ve outlined some of the top skin care products below, specifically tailored towards getting rid of stress acne.

How Do I Find a Skin Care Routine?

If speaking to a skin care expert isn’t an option, consider following someone else’s routine. Especially if they have complained of acne issues in the past and no longer suffer from outbreaks.

For example, YouTube blogger Michelle Phan offers up her own personal skin care routine on her channel, and she isn’t the only YouTube personality to offer help with skin care and beautification.

As with all home treatments, you should be wary of untested or sensational methods. And always ensure you do proper research into what you might be putting on your face – you don’t want to accidentally make the problem worse.

Establishing a Routine Will Help Keep You Consistent

Any change in your day-to-day activity is going to be hard to adapt to. Finding a routine that you’re willing to stick with can be even harder.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a way around setting realistic goals and making sure you meet them as often as you can. Write out a routine, plan when you’re going to try different stress relief or skin care methods, and make sure you stick with your plan long enough to see what methods are helping and what doesn’t seem to make a difference.

If you have trouble keeping track of helpful techniques, keeping a journal or blog solely for the purpose of tracking your progress can give you motivation to stick with your plans.

Keeping a Routine Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

In fact, The Art of Simple suggests that we follow routines more than we follow the exact time of day. Our bodies become used to a routine and offers important signals that our bodies pick up on subconsciously.

The routine doesn’t even have to be perfect – trying our best and reaching a level of “good enough” can help relieve potential stress that comes with a routine.

You don’t want your stress-relieving routine to cause you any more stress, right?

There May Not be Just One Answer for You

Remember, everyone’s life situations are different and yours may be wholly unique. You may find counseling most helpful, or maybe bike riding and facial cleansing offer you the best results.

Whatever the case may be, it’s important to keep an open mind and try as many treatments as it takes to solve your stress acne problem. The Mayo Clinic reminds us that treating acne may take months or even years.

Remember the following:

  • Acne affects many people.
  • Stress can cause acne, not just anxiety.
  • Outbreaks are manageable and no outbreak will last forever.
  • When in doubt, speak with an expert about your acne problem.

Try These Stress Acne Skincare Products​

There are a lot of skincare products for stress acne that people use in their everyday life, that aren’t strong and harmful for your skin. If you aren’t sure what to use, you should consult a dermatologist or someone that used some kind of products. These products aren’t hard to find and buy, and some of the most high-rated products on Amazon are:

Neutrogena Acne Stress Control Night Cleansing Pads

Neutrogena Acne Stress Control Night Cleansing Pads
  • Microclear Technology.
  • Great for night cleansing of pore-clogging oil and makeup.
  • Treats acne even before it emerges.
  • Salicylic acid acne treatment.


Neutrogena Acne Stress Control Power-Clear Scrub

Neutrogena Acne Stress Control Power-Clear Scrub
  • Non-irritating.
  • Microbeads exfoliate.
  • Works hard everyday, regardless of whatever stress you have.
  • Microclear technology.


Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control Power-Cream Wash

Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Stress Control Power-Cream Wash
  • Microclear Technology.
  • Great for night cleansing of pore-clogging oil and makeup.
  • Treats acne before it emerges.
  • Salicylic acid acne treatment.


Stress May Cause Acne, But You Can Control Stress

I hope you’ve found the information above to be helpful and informative when it comes to dealing with your stress-related acne outbreaks.

If you’ve had a hard time clearing up an acne outbreak with generic over-the-counter medication or general tips and tricks, you may find deeper causes of physical symptoms that require addressing before you can get rid of whatever troubles may ail you.

Even in a worst-case scenario where meditation doesn’t clear up your skin, you might find it helps clear up other aspects of your life that have been troubling you and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with bettering your life just for betterment’s sake.

Of course, if you can fix your skin at the same time, that’s even better! Just remember to stick to your routine, speak to professionals, research proper skin care techniques, find a process that works for you, and keep trying until you’re happy with the skin you were born in.

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Additional Resources

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About the author

I'm an avid reader and love anything to do with mindfulness and mental health!

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