Can Stress Really Cause Pimples?

When you already have acne and you get into a stressful situation, that seems to be when your acne really flares up.

In other words, emotional stress won’t trigger a new case of acne, but it may worsen matters in someone who already has the skin disorder.

Stress and Acne: Is There a Connection?

For a long time, doctors have suspected that stress worsens acne, but evidence was mostly anecdotal. In the past decade, though, research has suggested that the doctors may be on the right track.

In 2003, a Stanford University study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that college students had acne flare-ups during exams, a period in which they reported more stress, compared to periods without testing. Acne severity correlated highly with increasing stress, the researchers concluded.

Still, scientists don’t know exactly how stress worsens acne. They do know that cells that produce sebum have receptors for stress hormones, according to Garner. Sebum is the oily substance that mixes with dead skin cells and bacteria to clog the hair follicles, leading to a pimple or acne cyst.

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Signs Your Acne Could Be Affected by Stress

If you are feeling consistently stressed, there is only benefit in considering that it could be a factor in your acne— 

Then, compare these time points to see if there are any correlations.

  • If the breakouts tend to match up with the times that you are feeling stressed, there may be a link.
  • If the breakouts do not tend to match up with the times you are feeling stressed, the acne is more likely to be related to environmental factors. Check to see if you always get your pimples in the same spots, such as on the side of your face where you hold your phone.

Also consider that the worsening of your acne could be related to stress-driven habits, rather than the stress itself. For example, drinking more coffee.