Stress and Acne

Info on How Stress May Worsen Acne and Tips on How to Chill Out

The Essential Info

Stress may make acne worse through increased:

  • Hormone levels 
  • Inflammation in the body

This is particularly true in females, but is also true in males.

Stress is defined as any undue emotional or physical strain. Examples include:


  • Relationship problems
  • Anxiety regarding an upcoming event
  • Bullying
  • Overwhelming workload


  • Lack of sleep
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking/drugs
  • Hectic lifestyle
  • Overly demanding exercise/sports routine

What To Do About It

Worrying about stress is of course only going to make it worse. Exercise, deep breathing and/or meditation, and adequate rest can help.

The Science

Stress can wreak havoc on our bodies, including our skin, and can lead to more acne symptoms.

What Exactly Is Stress?

Examples of Emotional Stress

Stress is any undue emotional or physical strain.

It might be surprising that this definition includes physical strain. Many people view stress as just an emotional issue, but when we’re speaking about acne, it is best to include undue physical strain in our definition since both can come into play.

How Does Stress Affect Acne?

Examples of Physical Stress

Research shows that stress is linked with an increase in acne. Stress can worsen acne in two ways:1-3

  1. Hormones: Androgens are male hormones that are present in both males and females. Higher androgen levels lead to more acne.

    When we experience stress, glands that produce androgens, called adrenal glands, go into overdrive.

    This is especially true in women, who produce a much larger percentage of their androgens in the adrenal glands. This may explain why stress seems to affect women more than men when it comes to acne.
  2. Inflammation: Stress causes an inflammatory response in the body. Acne is at its core an inflammatory disease, so anything that causes inflammation can make acne worse.2-3

However, the relationship between acne and stress is not clear-cut. Scientists speculate whether some people might be more prone to stress-related acne flare-ups than others. In addition, having acne can itself induce stress, so this can become a vicious cycle.4,5 Therefore, it is a good idea to learn some techniques for managing stress.

What Are Some Effective Tools to Handle Stress?

  • Exercise: As long as you’re not overdoing it, exercise is far and away the best way to reduce emotional stress. We are first and foremost physical animals. Get your heart going and more oxygen will flow to your brain, resulting in a reduced stress response. Try to get your body moving at least three times a week for a good half hour or more. 
  • Take time each day to meditate or do deep breathing exercises: Even 8-15 minutes of quiet “connected” or “prayer” time per morning makes a huge difference for many people.
  • Get a good night’s sleep: Helpful link: Sleep Foundation
  1. Zari, S. & Alrahmani, D. The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Clin. Cosmet. Investig. Dermatol. 10, 503 – 506 (2017).
  2. Zouboulis, C. C. & Bohm, M. Neuroendocrine regulation of sebocytes – a pathogenetic link between stress and acne. Exp. Dermatol. 13, 31-35 (2004).
  3. Lee WJ, et al. Influence of substance-P on cultured sebocytes. Arch. Dermatol. Res. 300, 311-317 (2008).
  4. Maleki, A. & Khalid, N. Exploring the relationship between stress and acne: a medical student’s perspective. Clin. Cosmet. Investig. Dermatol. 11,173 – 174 (2018).
  5. Misery, L., Wolkenstein, P., Amici, J. M. et al. Consequences of acne on stress, fatigue, sleep disorders and sexual activity: a population-based study. Acta Derm. Venereol. 95, 485 – 488 (2015).

Further reading

  1. Purvis, D., Robinson, E., Merry, S. & Watson, P. Acne, anxiety, depression and suicide in teenagers: A cross-sectional survey of New Zealand secondary school students. J. Paediatr. Child Health. 42, 793-796 (2006).