Can Stress Cause Acne?

Stress as a contributor to acne has been one of the most highly debatable causes.

Some researchers argue that while it does not directly result in breakouts, it may make already existing flare-ups more severe.

However, it has also been known to increase occurrences of breakouts.

What is Stress?

Stress is a term first coined by Hans Seyle in 1936.

It very simply refers to the change that the body goes through when stimulated physically, emotionally or psychologically.

It tends to affect the ‘bodily balance’ adversely often resulting in various health issues.

Our body responses to such imbalances and these responses are largely known as stress response or flight reaction.

Though this stress response is largely beneficial for your body as it helps in protecting the body from immediate shock, it can start harming your body after a certain time.

The stress hormones released in such situations of stress are either adrenaline or cortisol.

These, in turn, are known to induce acne in various ways.

There is no way to differentiate between stress-induced acne and other acne but by paying attention to the pattern of breakouts and periods of stress in a given time period.

How does Stress Cause Acne?

There are more than one ways in which stress contributes towards increasing the severity and frequency of acne breakouts.

Acne is caused due to the clogging of skin pores which are filled with acne-causing microbes.

Stress often causes the lining of these pores to break resulting in inflammation and its resultant redness and swelling.

The broken pores may also result in the development of zits often filled with pus.

The primary and root cause of acne flare-ups are increased levels of androgen in our body which induces increased sebum production.

Adrenaline, which is one of the hormones released at the time of stress, tends to increase the level of androgen in our bodies, mostly so in women in whom the androgens are majorly produced in adrenal glands.

It has also been studied and established that the neural receptors tend to modulate the androgen metabolism of the sebocytes, which are the sebum-producing cells.

The stress hormones are also known to act as a catalyst for cells involved in the production of sebum.

It tends to increase the production of sebum which further facilitates the clogging of skin pores and contribute towards increasing the frequency and severity of breakouts.

However, this stand is still debatable as other perspectives have also been provided by researchers.

It was, in fact, noticed, in a study, that the sebum level during the low-stress phase and high-stress phase remains the same.

It was therefore established that though there is a link between stress and severity of acne breakouts, it is not necessarily associated with increased sebum production.

Another stress hormone that is released at times of instability and trouble is cortisol which tends to affect the lining of the hair follicle on the skin surface.

Cortisol thickens the lining of the hair follicle which is thereby able to facilitate the further entrapment of bacteria in the clogged skin pores. T

his is another way in which stress contributes towards acne.

Stress, majorly, tends to affect the immune system in such a way that the body tends to decrease its response and readiness in dealing with some problems and concentrates on others.

When there is a situation of stress arising, your mind directs blood flow and oxygen supply to areas that require it urgently thus reducing the supply to other areas of the body.

This response tends to reduce blood and oxygen supply to the skin making it dull and dehydrated as well as lacking in blood and oxygen. It adversely affects the skin in general.

A renowned dermatologist, Dr. Anne Chapas, founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology says that explained that the stress hormone cortisol tends to ‘work on the pathway to testosterone’ and contributes towards the breakout.

Lastly, an indirect link can also be established between stress and acne.

It has been suggested that mostly when someone is under stress, it tends to disturb a lot of their normal, routine activities that can hamper the health indirectly.

They often tend to avoid eating and there are also chances of lack of sleep.

These two factors in itself work towards the weakening of the immune system which thus cannot fight acne-causing bacteria properly and also tends to make the skin dull and dehydrated because of the lack of nutrition and proper rest to the body.

Ways of reducing stress and associated acne

Accumulated and continuous stress often leads to various physical and psychological issues.

It can cause something as severe as heart attack or nervous breakdown to acne and headaches.

However, with time there have been devised various ways in which stress can be reduced.

Reducing stress can directly work towards the betterment of the concerned condition, acne flare-ups here.

Some of the ways of doing away with unhealthy stress are mentioned below:

  • Meditation is one of the time-tested method known to reduce stress.
  • Deep breathing curbs stress.
  • Do not focus on a lot of things all at once.
  • Decompression is another way of doing away with stress.
  • Work out your day’s routine and prepare yourself for all that you plan to do.
  • Time management is intrinsically linked to stress management.
  • Try to be optimistic about things.
  • Writing down your problems is often considered an effective way of dealing with them.
  • Spending some time each day in recreational and relaxing activities is also very healthy.
  • A healthy diet is also considered quite helpful in dealing with stress.
  • Good sleep is extremely necessary.
  • Aromatherapy is a time-tested method of relieving stress.
  • Another effective “devise” of curbing physical stress is laughter.

These are some of the most effective ways of curbing stress without depending on any form of medications that may harm your body in other ways.

They are easy and time effective and will go a long way in not only easing out stress but also causing a betterment of life in general.


Stress, if not directly then indirectly contributes to acne breakouts in one way or the other.

The pattern of stress-induced breakouts can be easily detected by paying attention to when the breakouts occur.

However, it can easily be cured by simple ways and in some time without indulging in the taking of medications.

These methods will surely not take up much time in your everyday routine and on the contrary, make your life much easier and increase your efficiency, along with ensuring a healthy, shining and lively skin.

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