Understanding Stress Acne: What Does Stress Acne Look Like?

Understanding Stress Acne: What Does Stress Acne Look Like?

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With everything that has been going on in the world and in our daily lives, who isn’t under stress right now? You definitely aren’t the only one, and many people are having plenty of difficulties managing their stress. Because of this, it’s especially important to keep in mind that you aren’t alone in this stressful world… and please don't let the fact that you are stressed cause you more stress. 

Let’s share a nice inhale right now :)

Let’s focus on taking care of ourselves and learning what we can do to make our lives just a little bit happier. Today, we’re going to look at stress acne, how it happens, and let you know what can be done about it. You see, stress can make itself known in many forms, both internally and externally. 

Internally, you may have a more rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, or difficulty focusing on tasks that may have been easy for you before. You may notice your muscles clench more, or you may get headaches more often. Externally, stress can show up in a number of forms that can be frustrating to us. Bags under your eyes from lack of sleep, hair loss from hormonal fluctuations, and yes – you guessed it – even acne. (1, 2 & 3)

You might be wondering, “Does stress cause pimples?” Unfortunately the answer is yes. Don’t worry, friends. We’ve got you covered, and we’re going to share everything you need to know about stress acne. That way, you’ll know how to tackle acne outbreaks with an effective skincare routine that’s designed for radiant, healthy skin.

Does Stress Cause Pimples? 

In a nutshell, stress can absolutely cause acne. If you think about it, it seems like everything these days can cause acne. The sad reality is that there are many leading causes of acne. Whether brought on by environmental factors, diet sensitivities, or even high cortisol levels, everyone can suffer from an acne breakout at any point of their lives.  Does ice cream give you acne? You betcha, especially if your body doesn’t like all that sugar or the IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1, a type of hormone) lurking in dairy products!

But the longer explanation is that being under a high level of stress causes physical changes in our bodies, just like we mentioned above. In order to help you understand this more, though, we need to learn about cortisol and how it impacts your body’s stress level. You’ve likely heard of this hormone before, as cortisol is an essential hormone that affects many major happenings within your body. 

Aside from being involved in stress reactions, cortisol also affects metabolism, blood sugar, and blood pressure, and even helps regulate your sleep. When you are stressed out, the levels of cortisol in your body start to spike. While this is a normal occurrence when it occurs every once in a while and doesn’t negatively affect our bodies, when we are under constant stress from any source, levels of cortisol can go up and remain up leading to chronic stress. 

This is when things start to go south for our skin. What it all boils down to is that high levels of cortisol levels physically lead to higher levels of sebum, or oil, to be produced in our skin’s sebaceous glands. And we all know what excess levels of sebum on our skin lead to. Yup, that’s right – more acne outbreaks breakouts. (4)

Stress Relief Tips

Some of the most powerful mental shifts you can incorporate into your daily life to reduce stress involve awareness, curiosity, and self-compassion. We are all humans going through a myriad of ongoing internal and external struggles. Whether body image, professional dissatisfaction, feelings of being stuck, or relationships that have elements of toxicity, the list goes on. We must first try to increase awareness of what is stressing us out, become curious as to the origin of the trigger, and be compassionate about what surfaces. Holding space for yourself to feel these normal feelings is key when gaining control over your mental health.

Activities you can incorporate into your routine include yoga (obviously!), walks in nature (especially in the morning), journaling (we love the Five Minute Journal), and spiritual practices like mediation or listening to calming frequencies.

Infusing your day with healthy happy influences is fairly simple and can leave your cup filled so that the rest of life feels less heavy.

What Does Stress Acne Look Like?

Can stress cause pimples? What do these pimples look like? In this section, we’ll be exploring what stress acne breakouts look like so you can better control your symptoms and find a reliable acne treatment for your skin concern. While there is no easy way to tell the difference between stress-induced acne and acne that is caused by other issues, there are a few tells to understand if stress may be contributing to your blemishes. Acne, of course, includes many different types of acne, from blackheads and whiteheads to pustules and pimples. (5)

So what does stress acne look like? Stress acne is often tied to inflammation, with inflammatory pimples and nodules. So stress acne areas can often look more angry and inflamed than acne being caused by other issues. Plus, inflammatory acne may hurt and be sore to touch. If you have more pimples and pustules than you normally do, all at the same time and with large amounts of redness, these may be stress breakouts.

How To Know If Your Acne Is Due To Stress

Of course, the first thing to notice about yourself is if you are having higher levels of stress than normal. Has something come up in your life that is causing you to worry or be nervous more often? Are you paying more attention to the issues in the outside world that are, in general, extremely stressful – especially if you allow yourself to read about them on the internet too much?

If this sounds like you, whether you realize it or not, your body is likely going through enough stress to keep high cortisol levels coursing through your system. If you’re having other physical symptoms, it may be time to talk to your doctor. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, and understand that this: like everything else, it will not last forever.

How Long Does Stress Acne Last?

The length of your stress pimples is going to largely rely on your ability to keep yourself calm and not dwell on stressful situations. While that may seem an impossible task in the world today, especially if you are inundated by personal stressors beyond your control, there are many things you can do to help yourself aside from talking to your doctor. These include:

  • Deep breathing exercises and meditation
  • Following an anti-acne diet and exercising regularly
  • Talking it out with a friend or family member
  • Making time for yourself (spa day, anyone?)

That way, both your body and your mind can stay healthy. If the stressful situations you are dealing with are more acute and one-time, such as the loss of a family member or a single incident that doesn’t reoccur, it may be possible that your swath of acne breakout is a one-time thing. However, if your stress is caused more by everyday happenings that may last for a while, it can be difficult to get stress acne under control. (6)

How To Get Rid of Stress Acne

The key to fighting any acne is getting to the root of the problem. In this case, what you need to focus on is lowering your stress levels the best way you can. However, there are a number of treatment options that may help your stress acne, as well, just as they help any other types of acne. Salicylic or Mandelic  acid, as long as it does not dry out your  skin, is a great boost for stress-induced breakouts. (7)

When it comes to over-the-counter products, they can’t tell the difference between stress-induced acne and other kinds. Look for over-the-counter products that have calming ingredients while nourishing your skin. You can even do a double whammy and look for products that have de-stressing aromas, such as lavender or chamomile. CLEARSTEM’s collagen stem cell serum can help as well! (8)

How To Prevent Stress-Related Acne

The tips here come down to making sure you are taking care of yourself or you will have no problem answering the question, "What does stress acne look like?" First off, introduce stress management techniques into your daily routine! If you are exposing yourself to stressful situations, headlines, arguments, or anything that grinds your gears, try to take yourself out of those situations. Deciding what you are available for (energetically and emotionally) is a huge step in building healthy boundaries for yourself.

It’s also beneficial to take care of your body and mind overall. Limit sugar, get your exercise, and focus on getting enough sleep at night. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum and stay hydrated, too, since the link between liver health and acne is definitely something to be aware of.

Tips For Managing Acne

Managing acne comes down to patience, which is difficult enough to have when you’re not in stressful situations, much less when they’re constantly surrounding you. Work with trial and error or a dermatologist if you’re able to learn what works best for your skin when you are having breakouts. Explore products (as long as they are free from acne-causing ingredients and don’t be afraid to talk to a professional about your problems. 

But above all, remember that treatments aren’t going to work right away. They’re going to take time to clear up your skin, and you need to be patient while you wait for them to start being effective. Good health on the inside, as well as good products on the outside, are the fastest way to the clear skin life.

CLEARSTEM Skincare Products For Stress-Related Acne

CLEARSTEM Skincare has a number of excellent products that have proven to customers over and over again that their acne can have a solution. A hormonal acne supplement may help get your cortisol under control and help calm inflammation within your body. Our HYDRAGLOW Stem Cell Moisturizer is made of soothing botanicals and stem cells can help on the outside.

And don’t forget to add in the right serum for your skincare needs, such as our CELLRENEW Collagen Stem Cell Serum, which is amazing for all skin types. If you’re acne prone, then you’ll love our CLEARITY "The Blackhead Dissolver,” which is a powerful mandelic acid treatment that can unclog pores and brighten up your complexion.

Whatever your needs, we definitely recommend that you check out our comprehensive CLEARSTEM Skincare products for all of your stress-induced acne issues today. And remember, don’t let stress derail you or keep you away from achieving your skincare goals. No matter what, you’re beautiful – and no amount of acne breakouts on your face will ever change that.


Source 1: The impact of stress on body function: A review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/

Source 2: Physiology, Stress Reaction https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK541120/

Source 3: Stress and the Hair Growth Cycle: Cortisol-Induced Hair Growth Disruption https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27538002/

Source 4: The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5722010/

Source 5: Microbiome and Probiotics in Acne Vulgaris-A Narrative Review https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35330173/

Source 6: Stress Management https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30020672/

Source 7: Topical azelaic acid, salicylic acid, nicotinamide, sulphur, zinc and fruit acid (alpha‐hydroxy acid) for acne https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7193765/

Source 8: Effects of Olfactory Stimulation with Aroma Oils on Psychophysiological Responses of Female Adults https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35564590/