woman's face

It’s easy to get stressed out by glancing at your phone’s unread email list and quick news check-up. You will be stressed by the commute to work and the work itself. And… wait, pimples too? Is this what the universe is doing?

It’s not likely to be the universe. It’s stress.

For advice on how to manage breakouts, we consulted dermatologists. These tips will not eliminate stress from your face, but they might help to reduce the appearance of stress.

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How to get rid of stress acne

“The first place to go is the local drugstore. There you can pick up topical spot treatments,” says Robert Evans, MD, a Connecticut dermatologist.

“Topical benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are options,” he says. Both are available over-the-counter (OTC). They can be used directly to treat individual lesions as well as the entire affected area. As long as they don’t cause excessive dryness or irritation, both can be used.

Evans recommends that you apply a cold or warm compress to the affected area to reduce redness and pain. You can also use plain old ice to treat stress acne.

An alpha hydroxy acid solution such as Paula’s Choice is another option for damage control. You could also apply a hydrocolloid patch to particularly difficult spots.

Michele Green MD is a New York City dermatologist. She recommends that you see your dermatologist if you have stress acne.

Green states that it is important to make an appointment as soon as possible with your dermatologist. This will help prevent scarring and minimize future problems. Your dermatologist may be able to prescribe medication to regulate and control hormones.

You can also be booked for a variety of treatments, such as:

  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Microneedling can reduce scarring from acne

However, these treatments are more effective for the pigmentation or scarring caused by acne than for reducing it. A dermatologist will be more likely to recommend treatment for stress acne.

  • Topical antibiotics and topical retinoids
  • Oral antibiotics and retinoids
  • Hormonal medications

Knowing that you have many options should be enough to help you relax.

What is the reason stress acne can occur?

woman's face

You can thank hormones if you have ever had a breakout following a performance review, or the night before a Bumble dating date.

Your skin goes into “defense mode” when you experience stress to further reduce it. Your body releases hormones, including cortisol and adrenal androgens, to protect you, as well as .neuropeptides.

These hormones are reminiscent of the days when stress was a way to escape from mammoths or forage more for food than to worry about choosing the font for a PowerPoint presentation.

This flurry protective chemicals can also trigger and inflame the sebaceous cells – those oily glands that can cause skin conditions like acne flare-ups.

“While stress does not directly cause acne, it .can .exacerbate it, and if you are already acne-prone, stress can make your acne worse,” says Green. “Acne can be exacerbated when hormones are released during stress. This increases inflammation.”

Green states that you can often identify stress breakouts by looking at redness, itching and increased blackheads or whiteheads. Stress acne can be seen in people who experience high levels of anxiety, even those with normal acne.

She says that she sees a lot of stress-related breakouts. “Adult patients can get acne if they have a hard time at work or at home. This can lead to their acne flare-ups.” Final exams are a common cause of breakouts in students.

Even if your underlying cause is stress at work, there are treatments that can be used to treat acne breakouts.

Routine skin care to prevent repeat stress acne

It’s possible to avoid stress acne by being consistent with your skin care routine.

Make sure you’re using a pH-balanced cleanser, like EltaMD Foaming Facial Cleanser, and a moisturizer that doesn’t clog your pores, like CeraVe Ultra Light SPF 30 in the morning and CeraVe PM .at night.

After cleansing, but before applying your moisturizer, use one of the gentler vitamins C serums like Mad Hippie. This will help with your skin problems, including acne.

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Reduce stress to stop the stress effects

You can’t stop being in stressful situations, unless you get off the grid and rent a cabin in a woods somewhere. Thinking about getting rid of stress will bring on more stress than you need.

Evans suggests that you make time for self-care, even if you aren’t able to afford a full spa day. You can now go and take that damn good bubble bath.

Choose the one that is most effective for you. Try these options:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • A walk
  • Talk to a friend
  • Talk with a therapist
  • Recognizing and dealing with stressors at work

If you have a busy schedule, take a deep breath and it will go a long ways.


It’s a painful condition that affects the skin and can last for years. Stress hormones in your body cause physical reactions, so it’s not a natural phenomenon.

There are many OTC and prescribed medications that can help you feel better and appear clearer.

You can reduce the effects of stress by managing your stress levels.