How Stress Affects Acne

In a cruel twist of fate, the times in your life when it matters most to have clear skin can be the very reason you get zits. Although the primary culprits behind acne outbreaks are still things like bacteria, hormones, diet, and poor hygiene, research shows that there’s a direct correlation between stress and acne.

Whatever is causing your acne, you’ve likely tried everything to get rid of it. When you’ve reached the end of the at-home treatments and remedies, it’s time to call in the professionals. Our team of experts at Holladay Dermatology & Aesthetics can get to the root cause of your acne outbreaks and match you with the right treatment that will work better and faster than the products available on the drugstore shelves. 

Dr. Robert Topham helps people of all ages throughout the Salt Lake City area overcome the pain and embarrassment of persistent zits and pimples. From conservative, noninvasive treatments to powerful laser therapies, he can help you achieve the clear skin of your dreams.

The link between stress and acne

To be clear, stress doesn’t cause acne. But if you’re prone to acne, stress can make it worse and make it last longer. 

Several things go on when you’re under stress that exacerbate acne, including the following.

Stress-related hormones

When you’re stressed, your body produces a corticotropin-releasing hormone, which has a special affinity for the receptors in your sebaceous oil glands. When it binds with those receptors, your oil production increases. Since oil clogs your pores and causes pimples, this stress-induced oil is an enemy of acne.


As we mentioned, your sebaceous glands secrete oil, but they also serve as immune organs, which means they generate inflammation as a defense mechanism. The last thing you need during an acne breakout is more redness and swelling.

Stress also makes you more apt to pick, pop, and itch, which angers your pimples. Rather than getting rid of them, your interference actually makes them redder, more swollen, and more prominent.

Unhealthy habits

Stress also has a tendency to wreak havoc in your life and make you fall into bad habits that tend to trigger acne breakouts. For instance, if you’re dealing with difficult situations at work or school, juggling a crammed schedule, or dealing with a challenging relationship, you may be prone to sleepless nights, fast food binges, and neglecting proper skin care, all of which can make your outbreaks worse.

Treating stress-related acne

Whether your acne is brought on by stress or something else, treatment for your skin is the same. Mild cases can be handled with topical solutions of benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to reduce oil and kill bacteria. 

More severe cases of acne may require antibiotics to fight bacteria from the inside out. Other treatments include birth control pills to regulate hormone-induced acne, drainage and extraction, or laser and light therapies.

In addition to these skin treatments, you can take the obvious step to calm your stress-related acne — reduce your stress.

Whether you try yoga, prayer, meditation, exercise, paring down your schedule, decluttering your home and workspace, or any other trick to clear the stress from your life, your mental status and your acne will improve.

While you’re working on that, let us help your skin. Give us a call to schedule a consultation with Dr. Topham and find out the best way to get rid of your acne for good.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Debunking Common Myths About Acne and Food

Acne is the most common skin condition, and anyone can get it regardless of age, sex — or eating habits. If you’ve been blaming your zits on your diet, keep reading to see what research says about acne and food.

Will My Melasma Fade Now that Summer Is Over?

Summer was a blast, but it aggravated your melasma and left you with darker-than-ever blotches on your face. Now you want to know if fall and winter will reverse the effects. Keep reading to discover how melasma responds to the seasons.

First Time Getting Botox®? Here's What to Expect

Have you decided to finally discover what the Botox® buzz is all about? Congratulations! First-timers usually have a few questions and concerns, so we’ve got the 411 on Botox injections here to ease your mind.

Trade Acne Scars for a Gorgeous Complexion with Secret™ PRO

You didn’t ask for acne, and you certainly had no say about the scars it left — but you can reclaim control over your complexion with a combo of two innovative technologies. Here’s how to swap your acne scars for smoother, clearer, brighter skin.

Does Melanoma Always Start as an Atypical Mole?

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to educate yourself about how your atypical moles may indicate cancer. Here’s a helpful overview that puts you in the know.