How Stress Affects Acne: Can Worrying Make Things Worse?

Stress has struck again. A big pimple right on your nose. “Rudolph” has nothing on you. Ugh!!
The occasion? How about a fancy date? A primo job interview? A fun outing with your besties? A big presentation?

But why, oh why does your acne get WORSE when you have something really special happening?

First know, you’re not imagining things. Stress and acne stick together like peanut butter and jelly.

Know, too, there are a number of factors contributing to your acne. Apart from stress, your diet, gut health, skincare routine, genetics and more all play a role.

However, mounting research demonstrates a pretty clear link between stress and acne breakouts, especially with regard to stress-related hormones.

stressed woman holding head

I know for me, this is certainly my primary acne cause. While being “Type A” is effective for serving clients, running a company and getting things done, it’s not good for my skin! When I’m stressed, even small things can start trigger a breakout. Ugh!

Simply put, stress activates the adrenal glands to produce extra androgen hormones, which eventually result in inflamed acne breakouts in acne-prone skin. These additional hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands beneath the skin and trigger a breakout. The stress-hormone connection is more of a problem for women than it is for men because they produce most of their male hormones (androgens) in their adrenal glands.

Men, on the other hand, produce most of their male hormones in the testes and only a very small amount in the adrenal glands. Men’s primary hormone is testosterone (an androgen). When they get stressed, and the body produces extra testosterone, it does not have as big of an impact as it does for women. Women produce about one-tenth of the amount of testosterone as men do, so a sudden surge of additional testosterone can be significant.

While that’s a scientific explanation for what’s happening to your skin, there are myriad ways you experience acne-triggering stress.

If you’re a woman, especially be aware. In this 2014 study, it was found that modern life presents many stresses which can aggravate acne.

Researchers found that women are especially affected by stress during their daily routine―in their jobs, taking care of the kids, their role as spouse. Women also have a higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. Making things worse, lack of sleep (hey, women juggle so many things, right?) adds to stress, which in turn can negatively impact health, hormonal secretion and immunity. And let’s not forget how your menstrual cycle can throw everything out of whack as well.

It’s no wonder that an ever-streaming flow of heightened stress is constantly exacerbating your breakouts.

How can you relieve stress so you can calm your skin?

Here are seven of my favorite ways to reduce stress and help alleviate acne. Try one, try them all! You’ll do your skin―and your mind, heart and body―a world of good 🙂


Controlled breathing, deep breathing, mindful breathing all help to lower pimple-producing stress hormones like cortisol. Spend time each day, and as soon as you feel stress start to escalate, by focusing on your breath. It can be as simple as taking a deep breath in for 5 seconds, holding it for 5 seconds, breathing out for 5 seconds. Repeat until you feel calm. This 5-5-5 technique works wonders whenever and wherever you need it.


It’s truly the best medicine! According to this Mayo Clinic study, a good laugh can stimulate your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulate your heart, lungs and muscles, and increase endorphins released in your brain. Plus, it can soothe tension. And “a rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.”

Laughter has long-term benefits too! It can improve your immune system, relieve pain, increase personal satisfaction and improve your mood. Sounds like a fabulous way to help ward off stress and acne!


In case you need any incentive, let this good news help you get a move on. Exercise also pumps up your feel-good neurotransmitters (your endorphins) which raises your optimism, energy and mood. Exercise—in almost any form so take your pick!―can also improve your sleep, lower the symptoms of anxiety and mild depression, and give you a sense of control over life.

Remember what the research shows (as we discussed above): women are especially vulnerable to the stresses of modern life. Exercise is a straightforward, IMMEDIATE way to diminish those impacts, and feel and look better every day.


One of the most neglected and disrupted areas of our lives is sleep. Precious sleep! Imperative for good health, improving your ability to focus and think clearly, reducing inflammation, for learning and memory. Moreover, when you lack the 7-9 hours of quality sleep you need every night, your sleepiness can heavily influence your outlook on life, energy level, motivation and emotions.

And as Arianna Huffington notes in her book The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time, “Sleep is profoundly intertwined with virtually every aspect of brain health. Lack of sleep over time can lead to an irreversible loss of brain cells—yet another debunking of the myth that sleep debt can be made up.”

If nothing else will, I hope that nugget of information will induce you to get more sleep!

Guided Imagery

Guided imagery is a powerful psychological strategy that enhances your coping skills by tapping into your imagination and eliciting peaceful imagery to help you create quiet calm between your mind and body.

According to Cleveland Clinic (a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education), “Clinical studies show that anxiety can affect pain, prolong (surgical) recovery time and lower the immune system. Guided imagery can bring about the state of mind and body most conducive to healing–deep relaxation and positive focus.”

It’s easy to get started. Simply search online for “guided imagery meditation” for a bounty of free meditations or check Amazon for more options.

Aroma Therapy

Ahh, the soothing scent of lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang, clary sage and lemon…

Essential oils made from plants like these can directly impact your body, through your olfactory nerve. When you use aromatherapy, your olfactory nerve sends a signal almost instantaneously to many parts of your brain, including the limbic system and amygdala, which are in charge of emotions, mood and memory.

As explained by Psychology Today, essential oils can “soothe us through turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, which relaxes our bodies. This theory helps explain why scents can so quickly trigger physical reactions in our bodies and have lasting effects after the scent is gone.” In fact, they note that “essential oils like lavender have even been shown to interact the same way biochemically that many anti-anxiety medications do on neuroreceptors.”

Wow, right? I’m so excited I can’t wait to stock up! Remember, do a little research first or consult an essential oil expert for best results.

Adrenal Supplement

Whenever you experience stress, nervous tension, anxiety and hyperactivity, your adrenal glands get drained. But you can counter that affect with the right supplements for acne-prone skin.

Adrenal Formula

In fact, Natural Acne Clinic’s Clove Hill Adrenal Stress Formula provides the missing nutrients you need to strengthen, support and rebuild your adrenal glands. That way, when you’re experiencing high anxiety or conflict, facing deadlines or emergencies or trauma, you can repair your overworked and burnt-out adrenal glands.

You can even use this formula for melasma, migraines or frequent headaches, PCOS, late periods or breaks out when stressed.

Stress and Acne―yes, you can do something about it

I get it, it’s awful when stress makes your acne worse. But please know, by taking good care of yourself BEFORE stress hits, you can help reduce the negative impact of stress on your life AND your skin.

Now, treat yourself to your personalized feel good combo, and adopt any or all of the above stress and acne reducers. You deserve this!

Discover How You Can Get Clear Of Your Acne. Schedule A Free 15 Minute Clear Skin Discovery Session

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About the Founder: Jessica Gremley

Jessica has been a Medical Esthetician, Certified Acne Specialist and Healing Diets Coach since 2003. After struggling with acne for more than a decade, she became determined to find a way to clear acne without pharmaceuticals for herself and eventually, future clients. Today, she offers a complete acne regimen that combines proven non-comedogenic skincare products, natural supplements, lifestyle coaching, and support from trained acne specialists to achieve lifelong clear skin. She and her staff serve locally at Natural Acne Clinic in Wheat Ridge, Colorado and nationally via NAC’s Online Acne Program.

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