Stress and acne: the chicken or the egg?

We all know that acne can stress us out, but can stress cause acne? The answer is complicated. Acne is generally the result of a combination of factors including genetics, hormones, activity, and the use of certain products or medications. And while stress doesn’t directly cause acne, it can make acne worse in individuals who are prone to breakouts.  


When under chronic stress, there is an increased production of certain hormones such as cortisol and androgens.  These hormones can cause increased sebum production, which in turn clogs pores and leads to a more robust breeding ground for acne-causing bacteria.  The increased cortisol also decreases the body’s natural production of hyaluronic acid, thus decreasing healthy moisture for the skin, triggering increased sebum and worsening acne. 


Stress results in other issues that can aggravate acne. When we are stressed, our skin doesn’t heal as easily. Stressed individuals are also more likely to pick at acne.  Stressed out individuals may also find it more difficult to stick with a skincare regimen which does not help reduce breakouts. These same individuals can also be easily frustrated by treatment regimens that do not result in a “quick fix” and are more likely to quit routines that do not produce fast results, even though all skincare routines require patience to see results. All of these issues can result in worsening of acne with potentially increased scarring.


We can’t always reduce the cause of stress in our lives, but here are some recommendations to help manage stress that can be incorporated into your daily routine.  


  1. Deep breathing exercises or meditation (even 5 minutes a day will help)
  2. Yoga or Tai Chi (slow methodical movements following breath)
  3. Consistent sleep (try for at least 8 hours per night)
  4. Healthy diet (maintain a healthy weight with nutritious foods)
  5. Exercise (even a quick walk on your lunch break)
  6. Talking with a friend, family, or counselor (decompress the stress)


We hope these tips help ease some of that stress in your life!

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