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Acne and Stress: What's the Connection?

Medically reviewed by Martha Juco, MD · Aesthetics

Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 29, 2023

    Acne and Stress: What's the Connection?

    What Is Stress?

    Stress is a natural part of our lives. We inevitably experience it as we go about our fast-paced lifestyles, taking care of responsibilities, and figuring out solutions to problems. It may arise from new or unexpected experiences, or feelings that there is something threatening us2. Even positive occurrences such as getting a job promotion you wanted, or going on vacation can trigger feelings of stress. But does stress cause pimples and acne? And what does stress acne look like?

    Stress may occasionally be a good thing2. For instance, it might give us the extra energy we need to run away from a threat, or to surmount a difficult obstacle. Too much stress over long periods of time, however, has negative effects on our physical and mental health. Among the things that stress might be related to are pimple breakouts.These circumstances trigger our “fight or flight” response, which is when our body reacts by producing cortisol and adrenaline1, 2.

    You may notice that your acne worsens during periods of stress. But does stress cause pimples? Read on to learn about the connection between stress and acne.

    How Does Stress Affect Your Health?

    Constant stress affects our mental health, causing depression and anxiety2.

    It can also manifest in our bodies through headaches, indigestion, nausea, hyperventilation, and high blood pressure2.

    Long-term stress may also affect your sleep, memory, and eating habits. In the long run, constant stress may be related to developing related to various gastrointestinal and cardiovascular disorders.

    Stress can result in wrinkles and slower wound healing as well4.

    Does Stress Cause Pimples?

    While stress is not a direct cause of pimples, it helps promote acne breakouts. Higher levels of stress may also result in more severe acne. Does stress cause pimples? And what does stress acne look like?

    Some researchers believe that the connection between stress and acne breakouts is due to the hormones that are released during stress3. Hormones like glucocorticoids and adrenal androgens, which are produced during periods of emotional stress, are known to worsen acne. Stress also increases the production of sebum, or oil in the skin, which results acne3. Some research also suggests that the release of neuroactive substances in the skin during stressful situations causes inflammation of the skin3.

    One study measured whether exam stress would affect levels of acne in students3. Participants were ranked on their acne severity using the Leeds acne scale. They also assessed their stress levels with the Perceived Stress Scale test during both non-examination and examination periods3. The study found that individuals with pre-existing acne experienced worse acne during the examination period3.

    Talk to Your Dermatologist

    While an acne or pimple breakout can be treated with over-the-counter medication, it may be best to consult with your dermatologist to get the best treatment. You can ask your dermatologist “Does stress cause pimples?”, “What does stress acne look like?”, “Where is stress acne located?” or any other concern related to your skin. Dermatologists can also prescribe stronger acne medications directed to the specific type and severity of acne that cannot be treated with over-the-counter products5. It is important to manage acne as soon as possible, as worsening acne can impact one’s self-image and self-esteem. Severe acne can also lead to permanent acne scarring which is more challenging and difficult to treat.

    Does Stress Cause Pimples? Managing Stress Levels

    In addition to talking to your dermatologist, it also helps to practice stress management techniques to  learn how to get rid of stress pimples and lower your levels of stress6. Lowering levels of stress not only benefits the skin, but is good for your overall health.

    Try staying connected with people who make you happy and help you remain calm. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or professional. You can also try activities that can help you relax, such as breathing exercises, yoga, or meditation6.

    Taking care of your health is also important to help your body withstand stress. This includes eating healthy, balanced meals, as well as exercising right, and prioritizing quality sleep.

    If symptoms persist, consult your doctor.

    Suffering from acne? Try our acne severity screener and our acne scarring risk screener, and get connected to a dermatologist.

    Please click here to send your questions or concerns. Foods, Drugs, Devices and Cosmetics Act prohibits dispensing of ethical or prescription medicines without prescription. For suspected adverse drug reaction, report to the FDA at

    Learn more about Acne here.


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Martha Juco, MD


    Written by Hello Doctor Medical Panel · Updated Mar 29, 2023

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