Not everyone deals with regular breakouts, but everyone deals with at least occasional breakouts. The skin responds to a lot of things – environmental factors, genetics, hormones, health conditions, and more. Eventually, something is going to cause your skin to break out in acne. But can stress cause a breakout? How are stress breakouts different from other types of acne? And how can you stop them, especially when stopping stress itself seems so difficult? Read on to find out what you need to know about stress acne.


There are a couple of ways to tell if you have stress acne. One way is the location. Stress acne tends to appear on the oiliest parts of your face – the T-zone. Of course, other types of pimples can occur there too, but the reason that stress pimples occur in the oily areas so often is that stress hormones interfere with sebum production. Your skin produces more oil. So naturally, your pores become clogged in those oily areas and you see stress acne as a result.

Another way to tell if you have stress acne is the existence of other symptoms. Grainy or uneven skin, skin shininess, whiteheads and blackheads, and dilated pores are all possible symptoms of stress acne. Other types of acne tend not to appear with these symptoms.


You tend to think of stress as something that’s only going on inside your mind. But the truth is that stress affects your entire body with real physical impacts.

This has a lot to do with the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol is released, it can affect the reproductive system, your growth processes, your digestive system, and even your body’s immune responses. So, it should come as no surprise that it also affects your skin.

Generally, you differentiate stress acne from hormonal acne (acne that occurs at a specific time in your cycle because of your hormone fluctuation.) But since acne worsens during times of stress because of the stress hormone cortisol interrupting your regular hormonal cycle, technically, stress acne is a form of hormonal acne too – it’s just a different hormone.


You don’t have to just live with stress acne, of course. If you’re experiencing a stress acne breakout, there are several things that you can do to help control it. For one thing, you should have a spot-treatment containing salicylic acid. Spot treatments are applied directly to the affected area to reduce the size, redness, and pain of the blemish.

If you have stress cysts, or red marks that occur under the skin, using a washcloth dipped in warm water to press against them can minimize them. Do this at least twice a day for a few minutes at a time.

You should also consider switching your cleanser to one that contains salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide while you’re going through a stressful period. Salicylic acid will remove oil and dead skin cells from your pores, and benzoyl peroxide reduces inflammation and gets rid of the bacteria that cause acne on your skin.

Now, you also have to consider moisturizer. This is where a lot of people make their mistakes. You know that your skin is oiler than usual. You know that excess oil clogs pores and leads to acne. Putting on moisturizer while you’re experiencing a stress breakout can seem counterintuitive – why would you want to add to the grease that’s already on your face?

However, this is a mistake. First of all, the spot treatments and cleansers that deal with acne can be drying, so you’ll need to counterbalance that. And secondly, if you don’t apply moisturizer, your skin will realize that it doesn’t have enough moisture and produce more oil to provide some. And this leads to even more clogged pores and skin challenges. So, you definitely need a moisturizer. Just look for a lightweight lotion instead of a heavy cream during this period. And try to avoid ingredients that sit heavily on your skin, like Vitamin E serums.


Knowing how to treat a stress breakout when you’re in the middle of one is important, but you also need to know how to manage this problem long-term. If you know that you’re prone to stress acne, you may want to invest in a skincare set that specifically treats that, like Zo Skin Health’s Complexion Clearing Program that you can break out and start using proactively when you know that you’re about to enter a stressful period. Not all stress is so predictable, of course, but if you know that you’re about to go through the busiest season at work, or relatives are coming to stay with you, or you’re about to move across the country, you know that you have major stress coming, so why not get ahead of it?

Also, it can help to manage your stress. And your skin is not the only reason why – again, cortisol can affect you in all kinds of ways. If you can keep your stress level lower, you’ll have fewer breakouts and other ill effects.

Some types of stress can be cut out of your life. Maybe that means going low contact or no contact with people who bring you too much stress. Maybe that means just saying “no” to optional things that cause you stress, like a high school reunion. Or maybe it means modifying an event – make Thanksgiving a potluck so that you don’t have to stress about cooking everything. Be creative, and put your own well-being first.

You might also want to look into doing some of the things that will help you deal with the stress you can’t control, like exercising more regularly and eating healthier. When your body is healthy, it’s just better equipped to handle tasks like regulating stress.

Take some time to learn about stress-management techniques like breathing exercises and meditation as well. If you can regulate your stress and keep calm, you’ll feel better and your skin will look healthier.


Iconic Skin Clinic can help you find the products you need to manage your skin while you work on managing stress in other ways.

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We are committed to empowering our clients to be their best selves by providing the best quality skin care services using state-of-the-art equipment.
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