Skin Care

Stress and Your Skin: How to Keep Breakouts at Bay



Stress is an unavoidable part of life that can take a toll on both your mental and physical health. One area where stress manifests quite visibly is on your skin. When you’re under pressure, your body produces excess cortisol and other hormones that can trigger inflammation, increase oil production, and worsen common skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. Stress also impacts your daily habits and self-care routines in ways that can be detrimental to your complexion.

The good news is that by managing stress effectively, you can help maintain clearer, healthier looking skin. There are many lifestyle changes, self-care practices, and coping strategies that can counteract the effects of stress on your skin. With some focused effort on stress relief, you may start to see improvements in chronic skin issues. This article explores the connection between stress and skin health, and provides actionable tips to care for your skin by caring for your mind. With a holistic approach, you can reduce stress and cultivate the clear, glowing skin you deserve.

The Link Between Stress and Skin

The mind and body are closely connected when it comes to skin health. When we experience stress, our body activates the fight-or-flight response, releasing hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. This leads to a cascade of physiological changes, including increased inflammation and altered oil production, that can negatively impact the skin.

Acute stress causes a temporary spike in cortisol, while chronic stress leads to persistently high levels. Cortisol increases sebum production, which can clog pores and cause acne breakouts. The inflammation triggered by stress makes skin more sensitive and reactive, worsening conditions like eczema and rosacea. Stress also impairs the skin barrier function, reducing moisture and protection from irritants.

The hormonal effects of stress lead to changes in skin cell behavior as well. Cortisol overexposure prematurely ages skin cells, weakening collagen and elastin fibers. This speeds up wrinkle formation and sagging. Melanocytes, the pigment producing cells, become more active under stress, leading to melasma and other hyperpigmentation issues.

In essence, stress signals a cascade of skin damaging effects. Learning to manage stress and maintain hormonal balance is crucial for clear, healthy skin. Supporting the body’s stress response system can help counteract the negative impacts of stress on the skin.

How Stress Can Worsen Common Skin Conditions

Stress can exacerbate many common skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis by influencing underlying biological processes.


Acne is characterized by clogged pores, inflammation, and bacterial overgrowth. Stress can make acne worse by increasing oil production, interfering with healing, and triggering inflammatory pathways. Cortisol released during stress can overstimulate sebaceous glands, leading to excess oil and blocked pores. Stress also impairs wound healing processes that help resolve acne lesions. Immune system changes from stress can further promote inflammation. This multi-faceted impact makes acne more likely to develop and harder to treat during stressful times.

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Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is an inflammatory skin condition marked by red, itchy rashes. The immune system and inflammation are already dysfunctional in eczema, and stress exacerbates this by altering inflammatory cytokine levels. Stress signals can disrupt the skin barrier, making it easier for irritants to penetrate and trigger flares. Scratching behaviors also increase under stress, further damaging the skin. Managing stress is therefore critical for controlling eczema.

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Psoriasis speeds up skin cell growth, causing a buildup of scales and inflammation. It is driven by immune dysfunction and inflammation. Since stress modulates the immune response and inflammation pathways, it can worsen psoriasis. Stress triggers lead to overactivation of inflammatory signals, causing more rapid skin cell growth. Stress can also cause plaque psoriasis to morph into more severe generalized pustular psoriasis, which requires urgent treatment. Controlling stress is key to prevent flares and severity changes.

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Underlying Causes of Stress-Induced Skin Changes

Stress can negatively impact the skin through several mechanisms:

  • Hormonal changes – Stress causes the body to produce more cortisol and other hormones that can increase oil production and inflammation. This can worsen acne and other inflammatory skin conditions.

  • Inflammation – Stress leads to overall increased inflammation in the body, including the skin. This can exacerbate inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema. The stress hormone cortisol dampens the immune system’s inflammatory response, so skin is more vulnerable to inflammation when cortisol is high.

  • Compromised skin barrier – Chronic stress disrupts the skin barrier function, reducing hydration and protective oils in the skin. This leads to irritation, sensitivity, and increased trans-epidermal water loss. A weakened barrier means skin is more vulnerable to environmental damage and moisture loss.

By understanding how stress biologically impacts the skin, it becomes clear why managing stress effectively is critical for skin health. Reducing inflammation, balancing hormones, and supporting the skin barrier are key to offsetting the negative effects of stress. Lifestyle measures like proper sleep, nutrition, and mindfulness can help counteract these changes at their root.

Lifestyle Tips to Reduce Stress

Managing stress through healthy lifestyle habits can have a big impact on overall wellbeing and skin health. Here are some effective ways to reduce stress through your daily habits and routines:

Eat a Healthy Diet

What we eat directly affects our mood and stress levels. A diet full of processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can make us feel sluggish and agitated. Focus on eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, high-quality protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs. Stay hydrated by drinking water throughout the day. Avoid skipping meals, which can lead to unstable blood sugar levels.

Get Regular Exercise

Exercise is one of the most effective stress relievers. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day of moderate activity like walking, swimming, cycling, or light strength training. This helps release feel-good endorphins, improve sleep, and boost overall mood. Outdoor exercise like hiking or running can be especially beneficial.

Prioritize High-Quality Sleep

Lack of sleep disrupts hormone regulation, immune function, and emotional balance. Adults should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Having a nightly bedtime routine, limiting blue light exposure before bed, and creating an optimal sleep environment can all help improve sleep quality. This allows the body to repair itself overnight and equips you to handle daily stressors.

Practice Relaxation Techniques

Activities like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation activate the body’s relaxation response. This counters the effects of stress hormones. Even 5-10 minutes per day of conscious relaxation can help clear your mind, slow your heart rate, and promote calm. Yoga, tai chi, and savoring pleasurable experiences are other ways to induce relaxation throughout the day.

Skin-Supporting Nutrients

What you eat can have a big impact on your skin health. Getting adequate nutrients is key for keeping skin clear and resilient against stress. Here are some of the top nutrients for skin health:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3s are healthy fats that help reduce inflammation. Chronic inflammation is implicated in many skin disorders. The omega-3s EPA and DHA found in fatty fish are particularly beneficial. Aim to eat fatty fish like salmon, mackerel or sardines at least twice a week. You can also take fish oil supplements.


Antioxidants protect against damage from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can harm skin cells. Stress increases free radical production. Foods rich in antioxidants include colorful fruits and veggies, dark chocolate, green tea, and spices like turmeric. Taking an antioxidant supplement can also help strengthen skin.


The gut microbiome impacts many aspects of health, including skin. Stress can disrupt the natural balance of gut bacteria. Probiotics help restore beneficial strains like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha are probiotic-rich foods. A daily probiotic supplement is another option for replenishing your microbiome.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation can be powerful tools for reducing stress and promoting clearer, healthier skin. By cultivating present moment awareness and relaxation, these practices help calm the mind and body.

Regular meditation has been shown to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can worsen inflammatory skin conditions. Meditation also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, inducing the relaxation response. This helps counteract the flight-or-fight stress response that can trigger flare-ups.

Some easy ways to incorporate mindfulness and meditation include:

  • Taking 5-10 minutes in the morning and evening to sit quietly and focus on your breath. Start with short sessions and gradually increase over time.

  • Practicing mindful breathing throughout the day. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly out through your mouth.

  • Going for mindful walks, keeping your awareness on the sensations of walking.

  • Doing body scans, noticing any tension and consciously relaxing each part of your body.

  • Downloading mindfulness apps like Calm or Headspace for guided meditations.

  • Taking mindful pauses periodically, such as before reacting to stress.

  • Eating mindfully, chewing slowly and savoring each bite.

Cultivating mindfulness trains your mind to stay calm and centered. With regular practice, you can carry this sense of inner peace with you throughout the day, rather than constantly reacting to stressors that can aggravate skin issues. Meditation and mindfulness offer simple yet profound tools to manage stress for clearer, healthier skin from within.

Time Management Strategies

Taking control of your schedule can significantly reduce feelings of stress and overwhelm. When you feel like there’s too much on your plate, it’s easy to become anxious and let your mind race. Time management techniques allow you to regain a sense of order and make your tasks feel more manageable.

Prioritize the Most Important Tasks

  • Make a daily to-do list each morning and rank the items by importance. Focus first on the high-priority tasks for the day.

  • Use the 80/20 rule – 80% of your results often come from 20% of your effort. Identify and focus on the vital 20% tasks.

  • Schedule your most demanding work during times when you have the most energy and focus.

Minimize Distractions

  • Turn off notifications and avoid checking emails or social media when you need to concentrate.

  • Let calls go to voicemail and find a quiet space to work without interruptions.

  • Use apps to block distracting websites for set periods of time.

  • Take breaks away from your desk to recharge when needed.

Make Use of Lists

  • Break large projects down into smaller, specific action steps. Checking off items gives a sense of progress.

  • Keep a running task list, ordered by priority, that you can refer back to.

  • Maintain a calendar to visualize deadlines and schedule time accordingly.

  • Listing tasks clears your mind, and you’ll worry less about forgetting things.

Developing Resilience

Building mental resilience can help protect your skin against the impacts of stress. Resilience refers to the ability to adapt and bounce back when faced with adversity. Here are some tips for cultivating resilience:

  • Practice self-care – Make time for activities you enjoy, get adequate sleep, eat a healthy diet, and care for your overall wellbeing. Taking care of yourself strengthens your ability to handle stressors.

  • Build your support network – Having people you can turn to for encouragement and advice fosters resilience. Spend time nurturing close relationships.

  • Learn from setbacks – Reflect on challenges you’ve overcome. Recognizing your ability to get through tough times can empower you to deal with current stressors.

  • Adopt positive thinking – Look for the silver linings and growth opportunities in difficult situations. Maintaining an optimistic mindset builds resilience over time.

  • Develop emotional awareness – Notice and accept your feelings. Processing emotions helps prevent bottling up tension that could worsen stress.

  • Practice relaxation techniques – Try yoga, deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness. Relaxation techniques calm your mind and body, enhancing your ability to cope.

  • Set manageable goals – Break big goals into small, achievable steps. Accomplishing goals reinforces self-efficacy and resilience.

  • Foster gratitude – Focus on blessings, progress, and things within your control. A grateful mindset reduces anxiety and cultivates resilience.

Building resilience takes time, but it provides a buffer against stress to help maintain clear, healthy skin. Be patient and caring with yourself in the process.

When to Seek Professional Help

If stress is significantly impacting your daily life and ability to function, it may be time to seek professional help. Signs that stress has become severe include:

  • Skin conditions like acne or eczema have become extremely inflamed, painful, or aren’t improving with self-care
  • Skin picking, hair pulling, or other body-focused repetitive behaviors that cause skin damage
  • Difficulty sleeping most nights
  • Appetite changes like overeating or lack of appetite
  • Feeling overwhelmed, irritable, anxious, or depressed most of the time
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Inability to focus or concentrate at work/school
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, and enjoyable activities
  • Turning to alcohol, drugs, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional. A psychologist or therapist can help identify the root causes of stress and equip you with healthy coping strategies. They may recommend medications to help manage anxiety or depression alongside therapy.

Getting professional support can help you better manage stress levels, reduce skin flare-ups, and improve your overall wellbeing. Don’t hesitate to seek help if stress is significantly impacting your daily functioning and quality of life. With professional guidance and commitment to self-care, you can get to a healthier place both emotionally and physically.