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Does Stress Cause Acne? How Anxiety and Acne Are Related

Acne breakouts may occur the most when you are least prepared to combat them: in times of stress. But why is this?

Stress is commonly cited as a trigger for acne and many individuals report increases in breakouts when they are stressed. The direct reason behind this is still under research, but many hypothesize that stress hormones can increase sebum production as well as inflammation, two main causes of acne vulgaris.

The best way to treat breakouts is always through a gentle yet effective skincare routine which, if maintained through periods of high stress, can help to reduce even stress-induced acne.

A woman looks in a mirror.
Combatting stress-induced acne begins with fighting inflammation and overactive sebum production.

How Stress Impacts Acne

It has been shown that many people experience an increase in the appearance of acne during ongoing stressful situations. Though it is possible that stress can be caused by acne, it is also shown that acne arises after stressors. This strong correlation leads researchers to believe that stress has a strong impact on acne.

But what exactly about stress causes acne to occur?

Causes of Acne

Acne has three primary causes:

  • Clogged pores from excess sebum and dead skin cells

  • Bacterial overgrowth

  • Inflammation

Stress is thought to cause an increase in the production of sebum while it also plays a role in inflammation of the skin, two of the three causes of acne. Sometimes the acne also causes stress, and the stress causes more acne to develop, creating a vicious cycle.

Connections Between Stress, Sebum, and Inflammation

When you are in a stressful situation, your body releases many chemicals that attempt to help your body fight off the cause of the stressor and then return back to a state of homeostasis, or balance.

Many of these chemicals can lead to an increase in sebum production as well as processes that lead to inflammation. An increase in sebum production without proper care to reduce it can lead to a build-up in your pore, causing acne. Inflammation is the process that causes these clogged pores to turn into the bumps we call acne, therefore any exacerbation of the inflammation response will have an impact on your breakouts.

In addition, it is proven that our wounds heal slower when we are stressed. While acne may not be thought of as a "wound," it is an opening in the skin that has become inflamed due to an abundance of sebum, skin cells, and bacteria, which heals in a similar fashion to other types of wounds.

Because stress can lead to an increase in acne and then keep the body from healing itself, it is necessary to implement a treatment that specifically targets the way stress harms the skin.

How to Treat Stress-Related Acne Breakouts

It is not always possible to remove stressors from your life, but it is possible to treat stress-related acne at its roots: sebum production and inflammation. If you notice a correlation between stress and your breakouts, focus on a topical acne treatment plan that contains ingredients that specifically target these root causes.


To target the build-up of sebum, try out ingredients like salicylic acid and sulfur. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that works by dissolving the lipids that form sebum, the substance that may be blocking your pores. Sulfur soaks up this oil, gently bringing it out of your skin.

At Exposed Skincare, we utilize these ingredients in several of our products. Try our daily Facial Cleanser featuring salicylic acid or our Clarifying Mask with sulfur.

The Exposed Facial Cleanser.
The Exposed Skincare Facial Cleanser.


To target inflammation, it can be useful to employ natural derivatives such as passion flower extract and sage extract. Both of these extracts are antioxidants, meaning they target free radicals and reduce the body's inflammation response.

Try Exposed Skincare's Clearing Tonic which employs both.

Image#100. Alt-text: The Passion Flower. Caption: The passion flower extract and sage extract in the Exposed Clearing Tonic calm redness and irritation.

Holistic Treatment

In general, it is a good idea to employ a balanced treatment plan that contains various ingredients targeting all of the possible causes of stress-related acne. This is why every Exposed product contains multiple effective ingredients that fight acne as well as calm irritation. Try the full set with our Ultimate Kit today.

Before and after photos of an Exposed user.
Trung Le cleared up his acne in just 24 days.