The Link Between Stress and Adult Acne

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If it seems as though you experience more breakouts when you're under a lot of stress, you may want to explore that idea. While stress doesn't cause acne outright, research shows it may worsen it in people already prone to pimples. Pay attention to whether there is a correlation between your breakouts and your stress. If you find that this is the case, reducing your levels of stress may not only help clear your skin but may also prevent other, often more serious, health problems.

The Link Between Adult Acne and Stress

Acne-prone skin is the result of a combination of factors that have led to blocked pores, some of which are influenced by hormones, such as cortisol and androgens, secreted by the endocrine system in response to stress. These hormones escalate the production of sebum, a protective, oily substance naturally produced by glands near skin hair follicles inside of the pilosebaceous unit as part of the skin's immune system. High population levels of Propionibacterium acnes, a bacterium living in human skin that feeds of sebum, puts stress on the pilosebaceous duct and catalyzes an immune system response. White blood cells attracted to this bacteria secrete an enzyme which may damage the wall of the hair follicle, releasing its contents into the hair shaft, leading to an inflammatory reaction. Each of these factors individually and together contributes to the ecosystem which gives rise to acne. This study suggests that individual differences in the microbiome, which is impacted by stress, may also affect acne.

How to Tell If Your Acne Is Stress-Related

First, take note of when you get stressed and when you break out over the next few weeks. Second, compare these time-points to see if there is a correlation between your stress and acne.

  • If the breakouts tend to match up with the times that you are feeling stressed, there may be a link.
  • If the breakouts do not tend to match up with the times you are feeling stressed, the acne is more likely to be related to environmental factors. Check to see if you always get your pimples in the same spots, such as on the side of your face where you hold your phone.

It may be worthwhile to explore whether the worsening of your acne is related to the stress itself or to habits that tend to accompany stress such as drinking more coffee and use of other stimulants, which also lead to an increase in the production of cortisol and have impacts on your microbiome.

Adult acne can also be worsened by overlooking your personal hygiene needs, changing your diet, or rushing your skincare routine in response to stress.

How You Can Reduce Stress-Related Breakouts

Thinking about what you can do to minimize stress in your life will help to reduce stress-related breakouts. Try to recognize and remain mindful of when you are most likely to get stressed so that you can come up with preventative strategies.

Follow the following tips to improve stress-related acne:

Stress management is the obvious choice for better health as well as clearer skin. Everyone's stress responses are different and it's important for your wellbeing to find the stress reliever that fits best with your personality and lifestyle.

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Article Sources
  • Dreno B, Gollnick HP, Kang S, et al. Understanding innate immunity and inflammation in acne: implications for management. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2015;29 Suppl 4:3-11.

  • O'neill AM, Gallo RL. Host-microbiome interactions and recent progress into understanding the biology of acne vulgaris. Microbiome. 2018;6(1):177.