What is the connection between acne and stress?

Coping with Breakouts: How Acne and Stress Are Related

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.

Find out more acne causes and treatment options from the experts at UPMC.

Does Stress Cause Breakouts?

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 tends to run in families.

Does stress cause breakouts? Medical experts have long suspected a relationship between acne and stress, and a recent study of college students published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigative Dermatology indicated that young adults have more 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 breakout was.

Researchers aren’t sure how exactly 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 anxiety and 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 can even cause scarring.

Mild acne will often 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.

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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.