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Does Stress Cause Acne?
Does stress cause acne? Or is it a coincidence? Find out what causes stress acne and what you can do about it.
Losing your job.
A death in the family.
An unexpected global pandemic.
Needless to say, there are a lot of things in life that can stress a person out.
While many symptoms of stress are completely internal (i.e., rapid heartbeat, feeling restless), they can also end up manifesting in extremely visible ways—like pimples on your face.
But is there really a link between stress and acne?
Or is it entirely a coincidence that you break out whenever you’re feeling anxious?
Before we dive in, here are three things you should know about stress acne:
- Although stress doesn’t directly cause acne, it can impair your skin’s normal functions and create the perfect storm for pimples
- Stress can mess with your sleep and diet, which can also trigger acne breakouts
- Stress acne can be reduced through meditation, diet, acne treatments and a consistent skin care routine
Actual Tiege Hanley customer testimonial:
“Over a 3 year period, I probably spent over two grand in skin care and still had acne. I decided to reach out and request to be a part of the Tiege Hanley Acne trial and I have been blown away. After two weeks, my skin was clear. It’s not the acne cream alone that cleared it up, but how all of the products work together as a whole.” Kyle B., NJ.
The Link Between Stress and Acne
There is indeed a well-established link between stress and acne, but this hasn’t always been the case.
Back in the early aughts, scientists strongly suspected that stress could trigger acne breakouts.
They just didn’t have strong scientific proof. Now, we do.
In a groundbreaking 2003 study published in JAMA Dermatology, researchers studied the impact of examination stress on 22 university students.
Their results showed a strong correlation between acne severity and the perceived amount of stress from the students (see claim: “…increased acne severity was significantly associated with increased stress levels (r = 0.61, P<.01)…”)
Since then, other studies have shown similar findings.
A 2007 study from Wake Forest University found that stressed-out teenagers were 23 percent more likely to suffer from increased acne severity.
Interestingly, researchers from Wake Forest University concluded that excess sebum (oil) production didn’t appear to be the culprit (see claim: "Our research suggests that acne severity associated with stress may result from factors others than sebum quantity.")
The bottom line: There is definitely a link between acne and stress.
The skin’s normal functions seem to be impaired during periods of high stress, but scientists aren’t certain of the why or the how yet.
Additional Factors at Play
Stress and acne have an undeniable correlation, but there are other potential ways stress could be indirectly causing your breakouts.
Case in point: diet and sleep.
When you’re stressed out, you may not get a full night’s sleep.
A lack of sleep can make your body crave unhealthy foods—like pizza, burgers and sweets—which can potentially mess with your skin.
Although the link between diet and acne is still hotly debated within the scientific community, there is a small but growing body of evidence to show that high-glycemic diets may play a role in acne (see claim: “They concluded that a high glycemic index/glycemic load diet and frequent dairy consumption are the leading factors in establishing the link between diet and acne.”)
As you can see, stress can result in a snowball effect: stress can mess with sleep; poor sleep can mess with your diet; diet can potentially mess with your skin.TAKE THE SKIN CARE QUIZ
How to Treat Stress Acne
The most obvious treatment for stress acne is to reduce your stress, but we all know that’s much easier said than done.
While meditation, exercise and eating a clear skin diet can help lower stress and help clear up your skin, there are a few additional ways to treat stubborn stress acne.
OTC Acne Products
Over-the-counter acne products are the first line of treatment for mild to moderate stress acne.
Specifically, look for an acne cream with Salicylic Acid, which will gently exfoliate the skin to help prevent new pimples from forming.
If you need a quick home remedy for acne blemishes, you may have something in your bathroom cabinet or cupboard.
Witch hazel, tea tree oil, green tea and Jojoba Oil can help reduce skin inflammation and may improve stress acne.
A Simple Skin Care Routine
Sometimes, the easiest way to clear up your skin is by following a consistent skin care routine.
Washing your face twice a day and following each session with a lightweight moisturizer can go a long way at restoring balance to your skin.
Don’t forget to scrub your face twice weekly with a gentle exfoliating scrub to remove excess oil and dead skin cells.
Prescription Acne Treatments
If your pimples refuse to budge with OTC products and home remedies, you may need to see a dermatologist.
A dermatologist can prescribe you retinoids or oral antibiotics to help you get your acne under control.
The Bottom Line
Does stress cause acne? Yes and no.
Although stress may not cause acne directly, it’s clear that pimples and stress are related.
If your skin care routine alone isn’t clearing up your acne, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your doctor.
Whether you need a stronger treatment option or you need help managing your stress, a professional can help give you the tools and treatment options you need to clear up your skin.
Chiu A, Chon SY, Kimball AB. The Response of Skin Disease to Stress: Changes in the Severity of Acne Vulgaris as Affected by Examination Stress. Arch Dermatol. 2003;139(7):897–900.
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. "Link Found Between Teens' Stress Levels And Acne Severity." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 March 2007.
Burris, Jennifer, et al. “Acne: The Role of Medical Nutrition Therapy.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, vol. 113, no. 3, Elsevier, Mar. 2013, pp. 416–30.