Understanding Stress Acne: Causes and Solutions

Understand stress acne

Are you finding it hard to keep acne breakouts away? You’re not alone. Many people of all ages suffer from stress-related skin problems that can devastate their self-esteem and confidence.

If you often feel overwhelmed, anxious, or tense and find yourself dealing with persistent breakouts, chances are your skin is crying out for help for some underlying issues.

In this blog post, we’ll look at what might be causing these breakouts and how to take control by addressing their physical and emotional causes. Let’s dive in.

Does stress cause acne?

The answer is yes, stress can cause acne! This is because of the stress hormones released when our body goes into fight-or-flight mode, such as cortisol and adrenaline. When these hormones are present in our bodies, they can trigger an inflammatory response in the skin leading to acne breakouts.

In addition, increased stress levels will reduce the body’s immunity and make it more vulnerable to bacterial infections, which can also lead to acne.

Suppose you are under chronic stress. In that case, your body may not be able to recover from the inflammation caused by the hormones, leading to an accumulation of acne related to stress. Not getting enough sleep or the inability to maintain a balanced diet can also exacerbate acne, as these are essential for your skin to function properly.

What does stress acne look like?

It can look like any other acne, but it often manifests as small bumps on the face and chest. The bumps usually appear red or white and can be tender to the touch due to inflammation. Blackheads or whiteheads may also accompany them.

On occasion, stress acne may look like cystic acne, which are large, painful bumps that tend to contain pus. Cystic acne is usually more persistent than other types of acne and can take longer to heal. In severe cases, it may even cause scarring.

Who gets stress acne?

It can affect people of all ages, genders, and races. It is more likely to occur in individuals under chronic stress or intense emotional upheaval. People with pre-existing skin conditions such as eczema are also at an increased risk of stress acne, as the inflammation caused by stress can aggravate their condition.

In addition, individuals on certain medications or with weakened immune systems are also at risk of developing stress acne as they may not be able to heal from the inflammation caused by the hormones released during stressful situations. Lastly, people who don’t get enough rest and/or follow a poor diet can also experience breakouts due to weakened skin immunity.

So, while it is clear that those who are experiencing chronic stress or anxiety are at risk for developing acne or other skin conditions, what you may not know is that our body’s stress response is regulated by our nervous system. Someone who is chronically stressed, anxious or overwhelmed likely has a dysregulated nervous system.

Why does stress show up on our skin?

Stress can affect the body’s hormone balance, and this disruption in hormones can increase oil production. This overproduction of oil, combined with dead skin cells that have not been shed due to a decrease in cell turnover rate, can block pores and cause acne.

Additionally, stress increases cortisol levels in the body, a hormone that can lead to increased inflammation and therefore worsen acne breakouts.

Finally, when we experience stress, our bodies produce adrenaline. This hormone increases blood flow to the skin and causes an increase in bacteria on the surface, contributing to further acne formation.

Where does stress acne show up?

Stress acne typically appears on the face and chest but can also appear in other areas, such as the back, shoulders, and arms.

The forehead is one of the most common places for stress acne to appear, usually around the hairline or ears. The cheeks are also popular for breakouts, appearing in red bumps, whiteheads, or blackheads. The chin and jawline may also be affected, as well as the sides of the neck.

These breakouts can often occur in other areas, such as the chest and back, where sweat accumulates more easily than in other parts of your body.

How long does stress acne last?

Typically this condition lasts from a few days to a week but can sometimes linger for longer. If left untreated, it can cause long-term scarring and discoloration on the skin.

It is important to note that if psychological stress or emotional stress is the cause of your acne, breakouts may persist until you alleviate your stress from the root. If you experience chronic stress and an increased amount of stress-related acne, this can be done by healing your nervous system.

Treating stress acne

While a skincare routine, over-the-counter products, or medication prescribed by your dermatologist may help treat an acne flare-up or reduce general breakouts, these treatment options are unlikely to address the root cause of stress-related acne.

To keep stress breakouts at bay, addressing your stress from the root by healing your nervous system response is key to preventing future breakouts.

Preventing stress acne

We have great news! Rather than simply managing stress acne and hoping it doesn’t come back, it is important to know that your breakouts are totally preventable.

While most articles will tell you to simply “manage stress levels” and focus on “stress reduction techniques” like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing, it is imperative to dig deeper and address your stress from the root.

This is where nervous system regulation comes in.

When you are constantly stuck in a fight-or-flight response, and experiencing chronic stress, anxiety, overwhelm, or even burnout as a result, this is a sign that your nervous system is dysregulated.

Because our nervous system is in charge of regulating the stress hormones that are released into our body, a dysregulated nervous system and an over-active stress response can result in a wide variety of mental, emotional and physical symptoms.

By regulating your nervous system, and healing your body’s response to stress, you can prevent future breakouts of stress acne, and even other skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, stress hives, and anxiety rashes.


Stress acne is a reality for many and understanding the causes and solutions is the key to managing it. Though it’s hard to quantify the exact relationship between stress and breakouts, the connection cannot be denied.

We now know that understanding, learning about, and practicing nervous system regulation is one of the best preventative measures against this type of acne.

If you feel like you need help getting your body back in balance and treating your skin problems for good, then our program The Nervous System Solution was created specifically with this in mind. Join our waitlist now to harness control over your stress levels and keep your stress-related acne firmly in check!

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Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler

Dr. Linnea Passaler has dedicated 20+ years to serving patients, first to a small number of individuals as a successful surgeon and then to thousands of people worldwide as the CEO of a digital health startup. After overcoming her own struggles with a dysregulated nervous system, she created Heal Your Nervous System (HYNS) to empower others in their healing journey. Her combination of neuroscience and somatic work helps those struggling with overwhelm, trauma, burnout, and anxiety to heal their dysregulated nervous systems and thrive.