How to get rid of Stress Acne

Megan Dominion

While stress may not be the root cause of medical acne, it can definitely trigger breakouts, inflammation, rashes and facial acne.1Is there a link between stress and acne?, Louisa Richards, We all go through difficult or stressful times and sometimes pressure is unavoidable. Let’s take a look at how stress affects your body and your skin. 

Why does stress cause acne?

Stress may not directly cause acne, but when your body is under stress then wounds tend to heal slower. The result is that pimples or breakouts may linger for longer and that the breakout may increase in severity. When our bodies are stressed or under pressure, stress hormones are released. These are most commonly cortisol and androgens. Cortisol is a kind of ‘steroid’ hormone and is known as your body’s natural ‘alarm’ system. When cortisol is released, it gives you energy kind of like adrenaline which may feel like anxiety. Cortisol will affect your sleep pattern, too – making it more difficult to fall asleep. Cortisol also causes increased oil production in your skin glands which can lead to skin breakouts due to clogged pores. 2The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Shadi Zari & Dana Alrahmani,


Anxiety, fear or stress can worsen or cause breakouts by triggering the production of Cytokines. These are small proteins that control the activity of blood cells.3The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Shadi Zari & Dana Alrahmani, If they are overproduced (by stress) then your skin could suffer inflammation in the area around your oil (sebaceous) glands. This inflammation will also worsen the appearance of breakouts, pimples and acne.

Stress and acne

Don’t be an emotional eater. How stress affects your eating habits

When we’re stressed, we tend to eat for comfort and you might find yourself reaching for a sugary or cheesy treat instead of a healthy meal. Sugar also ‘feeds’ inflammation,4Does sugar cause inflammation in the body?, Jessica Caporuscio, so it’s a good idea to avoid sugar, processed foods and unhealthy carbs when you’re feeling anxious or under pressure. Also remember to drink lots (and lots) of water when you’re feeling stressed as your body needs extra hydration5Water and Stress Reduction: Sipping Stress Away, Gina Shaw, and nutrients to combat your body’s natural “fight or flight’ response and to get your body’s hormone and protein levels back to normal.

How to combat or manage stress

When trying to manage your stress levels, it’s important to address the root cause of your anxiety. Some stressful situations are beyond our control (such as a loss in the family or loss of income) but most anxiety can still be managed. These are the most proven ways to help alleviate your stress and anxiety6Managing Stress, National Alliance on Mental Illness,

Acne management and stress

  1. Address the problem. If you’re stressed for financial reasons, then actively seek ways to improve your situation such as studying further (lots of free, online courses), improving your CV or portfolio, creating an additional income stream or speaking to a professional on how to manage your debt.
  2. Exercise is proven to alleviate stress and anxiety. If you can’t afford a gym membership or don’t have the time or resources to join a community sport / club then you can 100% exercise at home. There are loads of free YouTube videos (such as POPSUGAR) that you can follow OR you can just put on your favourite music and dance your heart out.
  3. Get more sleep. It sounds easy and we know that a lot of people struggle with their sleep cycles. Find something that helps you to fall asleep, such as reading a good book or listening to a podcast. If you still struggle with sleep, then speak to a medical professional to possibly get medication to help you to fall or stay asleep. Also remember that your pillowcase could also be adding to or causing your skin breakouts.
  4. Nourish your body. We really ‘are’ what we eat. You will feel much better and have more energy with increased concentration levels if your body is well nourished. Eat lots of greens, salads, healthy wraps, hearty soups and smoothies. Snack on fruit and nuts and try to avoid any foods that upset your digestive system. We recommend trying the 80 / 20 rule – make sure at least 80% of your diet is good nutritional food, and allow yourself some treats. This is more sustainable than trying to make 100% of your diet healthy.
  5. Gut health is important. Stress can wreak havoc on your gut’s natural ecosystem, high levels of cortisole can affect your ability to digest. Try taking a probiotic, active yoghurt or sauerkraut to help restore your gut’s balance.
  6. Some vitamins may help! Many health professionals recommend taking a zinc supplement during trying times as it helps to maintain a healthy nervous system. Zinc looks after the nerves that connect the brain and the body. It will help send messages of ‘calm’ which will also calm down that acne / breakout!
  7. Avoid excess alcohol. While it may be tempting to unwind into a bottle of wine, try limit your alcohol consumption as it can aid in depression and anxiety.
  8. Try natural herbs and remedies, but consult a medical practitioner first. Some herbalists and medical professionals recommend Ashwagandha as it contains chemicals that could calm the brain and lower blood pressure. Ashwagandha takes over a month for your body to feel its effects, so stick with it for a while unless you are getting negative symptoms. And remember different herbs will work on different people

Also read: Is Stress Making your Rosacea Worse

Spot treatments and products developed for acne can assist in minimising breakouts and the aftereffects, however not dealing with the root cause of your breakouts will mean that your acne may come straight back. Speaking from personal experience, I have tried a combination of antibiotics and topical treatment. My acne cleared up in a matter of months, however as soon as the antibiotics had left my system my acne came straight back.

If you are still struggling with stress and anxiety it is always a good idea to speak to a medical professional or a counsellor about establishing the cause of your anxiety and possibly using medication to assist you where needed. Your doctor or nurse may also recommend that you have a health check-up done to check that there are no underlying issues that could be aggravating or causing unnecessary stress.

Wishing you clear skin and clear minds!

Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.