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Stress and Acne: Is There a Connection?

Is stress the real cause of your acne? Take the acne stress quiz and find out if taking care of stress would help take care of your face.

Stress and Acne
Stress makes acne worse.


  • As you probably already know, stress makes your skin break out.
  • The earlier in life your acne started, the more important it is to control stress to clear up your skin.
  • Caffeine, work stress, school stress, and even television and gaming can make irritate the skin.
  • If you can’t change your entire lifestyle, the easiest way to reduce the effects of stress on your skin is to keep it hydrated.
  • Facial waters further reduce stress on the skin. They can be used whether or not you use makeup.

The Acne Stress Quiz

These questions, some of which may seem a little improbable but which really do relate to acne and stress, are all answered yes or no. If you are not 100% sure whether a description applies to you, consider whether it mostly applies to you or mostly does not.

1. My face breaks out when I drink energy drinks.
2. My face breaks out when I don’t get enough sleep.
3. Watching Sponge-Bob Square Pants on the Cartoon Channel gives me pimples. (There actually are people who will answer “yes.”)
4. When I go off caffeine, my blemishes clear up.
5. I first got acne before I went through puberty.
6. I sunburn easily, and I tan easily.
7. My face breaks out when I get a cold.
8. Anything that makes my face feel tingly also makes it red.
9. When my teacher yells at me, my face breaks out.
10. My blemishes seem OK over the weekend, but they are always worse on Monday morning.
11. Dark chocolate makes my face break out, but milk chocolate does not.
12. When I go on allergy medication, my face clears up.
13. I have blond or red hair.
14. I have blue or green eyes.
15. I have been told I have eczema.
16. I have been told I have skin allergies.
17. I get hives when I eat certain foods.
18. My blemishes seem to clear up when I am on vacation.
19. Working overtime always shows in my face.
20. Anything that makes me sad aggravates my acne.

If you answer 8 or more of these questions “yes,” the controlling stress will make a big difference in controlling your acne. The question about Sponge Bob Square Pants was included for two reasons. One is that stress is a major cause of acne that occurs in children before puberty. The other is that medical studies have shown that the fast pace of this cartoon causes extreme and addictive stress in many pre-teens (we hope there are relatively few teens and adults) who view it on a regular basis.

And the question about teachers was included for the same reason—children who get acne before puberty are more influenced by stress hormones than by sex hormones. They continue to get blemishes and pimples when they are “stressed out” throughout life.

Everyone can experience stress. But if you had mild to moderate acne that started early in life, and especially if you have fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes, stress is a major factor in blemishes and breakouts. People whose acne is primarily stimulated by sex hormones tend to develop acne later in life if at all, in their late teens or early 20’s. And this kind of acne is usually not mild or moderate. It usually forms scar tissue known as keloids, nodules, and cysts. Mild to moderate acne, however, is more likely to be caused by stress.

Why Stress Makes Your Skin Break Out

When we experience stress, our brains release a compound called corticotrophin stimulating hormone. This is a signal to the adrenal glands to release cortisol, which relieves causes stress symptoms by relieving inflammation all over the body.

When the skin experiences stress, it also releases corticotrophin stimulating hormone. In the skin, however, this hormonal signal increases inflammation rather than reducing it. It causes mast cells to release histamine. This allergy-provoking chemical causes the skin to swell up, keeping toxins and germs out. The skin also becomes more sensitive to the action of the immune system. Skin cells are more likely to be destroyed the inflammatory chemicals released by the skin, so germs can be flushed to the surface. What lowers inflammation inside the body increases inflammation in the skin.

That’s why it you get an attack of “nerves,” your skin may break out. If you play certain video games or watch certain television programs, your skin may break out. Energy drinks, coffee, and Monday mornings are all stressful in ways that are reflected in your skin. But you don’t have to change your entire life to reduce stress on your skin.

Easy Ways to Prevent Stress-Induced Skin Problems

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress on your skin costs nothing at all. It’s water. A simple splash of water on your face after you cleanse your skin, or, if you do not wear makeup, throughout the day, keeps your skin hydrated. It keeps your skin moist. Moist skin is more flexible, and the mast cells that release histamine are kept just a few thousandths of an inch or a small fraction of a millimeter away from your pores. Simply keeping your skin moist and flexible protects it from the inflammatory effects of chemicals released when it is stressed.

Even better, try a facial water. These natural spring waters contain calming magnesium, selenium, or sulfur. You spritz a little of the facial water on your face after cleansing but before putting on moisturizer to lock it onto your skin. If you use makeup, you can’t use facial waters throughout the day, but the moisturizer will keep your skin hydrated so it does not show the effects of stress. If you don’t use moisturizer, the minerals in the facial water will help your skin feel even better. Just don’t blot them off your skin when you apply them. Let them evaporate on their own.

Or you can quit your job, give up coffee, make a habit of skipping work on Mondays, and turn off Sponge Bob. Most people prefer moisturizer.

Dealing with stress, of course, is just a small part of dealing with acne. For a complete acne care system at an affordable price, consider Exposed Skin Care.

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