The Link Between Stress and Acne in Teens

The teen years are exciting, but they can also be stressful. With school assignments and tests, after-school activities and jobs, plus the pressures of dealing with relationships and family life, lots of teenagers feel overloaded, over-scheduled, and stressed out.

Maybe you've noticed your acne getting worse, and wondered if there is any connection between the stress you feel and the pimples you see. Can stress really make acne worse, or is that just another acne myth?

Stressed teen boy studying

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Can Stress Make Teenage Acne Worse?

Some dermatologists and skincare professionals believe that stress can indeed make teen acne worse.

Dermatologist and clinical psychologist Richard Fried has spent years studying the correlation between our thoughts and our skin. "If you are acne-prone," he explains, "you will break out more, you will break out more severely, and your acne will take longer to improve when you are under stress."

He's quick to point out that stress in and of itself doesn't actually cause acne, but rather it can make the acne you already have worse.

Those sentiments are echoed by dermatologist Tony Nakhla in his book The Skin Commandments. "Stress acne occurs when stress hormones are released during periods of stress, causing oil glands to enlarge, increase oil production, and clog pores," he writes.

At least a few studies seem to back up the connection. They suggest that stress may revs up oil production, and may increase inflammation of existing pimples. Previous studies have shown stress causes inflammation within the body.

Not Everyone Buys the Stress-Acne Connection

Even so, there are still plenty of pros who don't think stress has much, if anything, to do with acne at all. They say, and rightfully so, that acne tends to wax and wane on its own. What may be attributed to stress could be just the natural progression of the acne itself.

Besides, we already know that it's the changing hormone levels in the body during puberty that triggers acne to develop in the first place. No amount of stress, or lack thereof, is going to change that. 

Still, stress isn't good for you, even if it has no effect on your skin. It's no fun to be stressed out all the time. You can do things to help lower your stress levels. Try listening to music, exercising, talking to friends and family about things that are bugging you. And don't underestimate the power of getting enough sleep and eating right.

If you're feeling chronically stressed or overwhelmed, don't be afraid to ask for some help. Talk with your parents, an adult friend, or a trusted teacher or counselor at school.

Will Reducing Stress Clear Acne?

Even if stress is making your breakouts worse, just reducing it won't clear up acne completely. To do that, you'll need good over-the-counter acne treatment, if your acne is mild. For moderate to severe acne, prescription acne medication will work best.

But you can consider stress management a piece in your acne treatment toolbox. Even if it doesn't affect your acne directly, stress reduction is good for your entire body, and it's a healthy habit you can take with you into adulthood.

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Article Sources
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  • Nakhla, Tony. The Skin Commandments: 10 Rules to Healthy, Beautiful Skin. St. Louis: Reedy Press, 2011. Print.
  • Yosipovitch, G. "Study of Psychological Stress, Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris in Adolescents." Acta Dermato-Venereologica (2007); 87(2): 135-139.