Does stress cause breakouts

Stress commonly causes side effects, like lack of sleep and elevated blood pressure, and can even affect your mental health. Acne and stress also go hand in hand. So, if you’re wondering why that breakout appeared basically overnight, your stress level could be the culprit.

Acne – including pimples, whiteheads, and blackheads – is a common skin problem that usually starts after puberty, when hormonal changes make the skin oilier. Many people continue to suffer from acne throughout adulthood. It also tends to run in families.

There are four distinct types of acne. They are:

  • Fungal acne
  • Cystic acne
  • Hormonal acne
  • Nodular acne

Acne is typically caused by a pore or hair follicle becoming clogged with oils, bacteria, or dead skins cells. The clogged pore gets inflamed and swells, creating a pimple. Age, genetics, and personal hygiene often are the main culprits for breakouts.

You can expect acne to appear in places like the face, forehead, upper back, chest, and shoulders. Depending on the variant of acne you may have, your doctor will recommend different treatment options.

Does Stress Cause Breakouts?

So, does stress cause breakouts? Medical experts have long suspected a relationship between acne and stress, and a recent study of college students indicated that young adults have more stress acne flare-ups during exam periods compared with low-stress times like summer break. The amount of stress the students felt even corresponded with how bad the acne breakout was.

Researchers aren’t sure exactly how stress causes acne, but inflammation is one likely suspect. People who are stressed also tend to indulge in bad habits (eating junk food, sleeping irregular hours, not exercising) that can make a skin problem worse.

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How You Can Prevent Stress-Induced Acne

Knowing that stress causes acne (or is at least a contributing factor) is just one piece of the puzzle. How can you lessen stress and stave off breakouts? First:

  • Take conscious steps to manage your stress. You may not be able to remove the stressor (bills, divorce, job change) from your life, but you can change how you react to it.
  • Look for healthy ways to relieve your anxietyand stay positive. Eat wholesome foods, meditate, make sleep a priority, and exercise whenever you can, even if it’s just a walk around the block. Avoid binging on sugar, caffeine, alcohol, or other substances to relieve stress.
  • To minimize breakouts, gently wash your face twice a day with a mild cleanser, then gently pat it dry (don’t scrub).
  • Use moisturizer and makeup that doesn’t contain oil, which will block your pores.
  • Keep your hair off your face.
  • And don’t pick at pimples– it almost always makes them worse and may cause scarring.
  • Mild acne often will respond to over-the-counter topical creams that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
  • Finally, drink lots of water to flush out your system and keep your skin hydrated.

Be sure to contact your doctor if your acne symptoms worsen, you see signs of a skin infection, or you experience painful acne that leaves scars.  Reducing stress can help prevent breakouts but the effects of breakouts can be better managed with the help of medicated scrubs and ointments.

If you haven’t gotten results in a few months with stress management techniques and over-the-counter medications, it might be time to see a skin specialist. Find the right dermatologist for you by contacting the UPMC Department of Dermatology.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About Dermatology

The UPMC Department of Dermatology diagnoses, treats, and manages numerous hair, skin, and nail conditions and diseases. We care for common and uncommon conditions, and our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We operate several specialty centers for various conditions. The UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center is a comprehensive dermatologic laser facility, offering a full range of cosmetic services and procedures. With UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we offer a Skin Cancer Program that provides complete care from screenings, diagnosis, treatment, and beyond. Find a dermatology provider near you.