Stress and Blemishes


Blemishes are never welcome, but they can be particularly upsetting when they appear during times of stress. According to MedlinePlus, stress alone does not cause breakouts, but it can worsen existing acne. Understanding potential causes of blemishes can help your skin to look its best.

How Blemishes Form

Your skin contains pores, which enable the passage of sweat and the release of toxins from your body. The pores also contain sebaceous glands, which create sebum, an oil which moistens both your hair and skin. Changes in hormones can affect sebum production. For instance, during puberty or the onset of birth control medications or hormonal therapy, the glands can become overactive, leading to clogged pores. The bacteria trapped within the pores multiply and gain in size, creating blemishes.

Stress and Skin

While stress can increase sebum production, it can also release other chemicals in the body that irritate the skin. An often-cited study in the Swedish journal “Acta Dermato-Venereologica” (2007) discovered that the skin condition of students with mild to moderate acne worsened during exams. Since their sebum levels did not noticeably change, researchers concluded that the stress response alone was responsible for the skin inflammation.

Stress and Immunity

Stress hormones can also alter the activity of white blood cells, which support immunity. An impaired immune response can lead to slower skin healing. In addition to supporting your health with diet and exercise, MedlinePlus recommends incorporating relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Adopting simple and effective practices to reduce your stress level can ensure you focus on your overall health and not just the appearance of your skin.

Stress and Skin Care

During times of stress, our judgment may be impaired, leading us to treat the skin more forcefully than usual. Be sure to wash, dry and treat the skin gently. Do not overuse acne soaps, creams or medications, and resist the temptation to squeeze blemishes, as that can lead to further inflammation and scarring.

Acne Red Flags

In cases where blemishes appear with facial swelling, facial discoloration or abundant discharge, consult a dermatologist. Unusual acne that appears with hair thinning may be related to polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, and should be referred to your primary health care provider.