How does stress affect acne?

Stress turns on inflammatory pathways that result in breakouts. Genetics, menstruation, a new medication, the occasional irritating cosmetic can also contribute to acne, but stress is by far the most influential factor. Stressed or not, pimples appear when pores get clogged with skin cells that haven’t sloughed off the way they should. What happens is the dead cells on your skin’s surface get sticky, lining the follicle and clogging it up. Underneath is your sebum, where bacteria show up for an oily meal, creating more inflammation. At the same time, immune system cells swarm in to deal with the mess.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

Stress may be related to acne, but as with everything related to acne, it depends on the individual person. The body responds to stress by producing certain hormones. Some of these hormones, especially androgens, not only respond to stress but also stimulate the sebaceous glands to produce more oil. Excess oil may make it more likely for pores to become clogged, resulting in an acne outbreak. Stress may also cause the body to heal more slowly, which makes pimples last longer.

Patricia Farris, MD
Many patients complain that stress triggers their acne. Recent studies have confirmed that work-related stress and personal stress do exacerbate acne. In stressful situations, the adrenal gland produces the hormone cortisol. Cortisol triggers sebaceous glands to produce more oils causing acne flare ups. Stress also promotes inflammation making acne worse. Accordingly, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for acne stress relieving techniques like yoga and meditation can be helpful. 

Continue Learning about Acne



Acne is an inflammatory condition of the skin. Learn from our experts on the difference between whiteheads, blackheads and bumps and how to cope with the stress of acne.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.