How Does Stress Cause Acne & How to Combat It


How Does Stress Cause Acne & How to Combat It

Jennifer Hadley
By Jennifer Hadley
Feb 19, 2021 - Updated Apr 12, 2021
Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS
Medically Reviewed ByCarina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS
How Does Stress Cause Acne & How to Combat It

Acne affects most people at some point in their lives.

For some, it tends to flare up during periods of stress, due to the release of stress hormones. In addition to being painful, acne can affect self-esteem and self-confidence. But there are ways to treat it.

Read on to learn more about the indirect ways stress causes acne, and how to combat it.

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Why does stress cause acne?

Acne is caused by oil, dead skin, bacteria, and sometimes hair, blocking your pores. Although you may break out when you feel stressed, stress has not been confirmed to directly cause acne. But there is plenty of evidence that stress indirectly leads to breakouts and worsening acne.

When you’re stressed, your body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenal androgens. These “fight or flight” hormones send your skin into defense mode, triggering and inflaming the oil-producing sebaceous glands. When you produce excess oil, you’re liable to experience acne.

Stress also leads to inflammation, which can make existing acne worse. Of course, being stressed or overwhelmed can also lead you to let up on healthy skin care habits, making way for pimples and bumps to develop.

How to Determine if Acne is Stress-Related

If you notice you’re breaking out, and you’re in the middle of a move, a challenging project at work, or in any other intense situation, you may be suffering from stress-related acne. You may also notice that acne brought about by stress may have accompanying itchiness, redness, more blackheads, and more whiteheads.

COVID-19 and Acne

One of the most stressful events in a generation has been the recent coronavirus pandemic. Stress and mental health issues stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic have skyrocketed, which may contribute to breakouts.

In addition, the use of face masks has resulted in an uptick in a specific type of acne called acne mechanica. This acne is caused by friction, and has been dubbed “maskne.” This type of acne is leading to breakouts on the bridge of the nose, cheeks, and chin.

Prescription Medications for Acne Treatment

If you’re dealing with stress breakouts or any other type of acne you may try some spot treatments, or over-the-counter (OTC) products first. If your acne does not clear up, a dermatologist may recommend prescription medication for acne.

Medication Lowest Price for Common Dosages*
Erythromycin $10.25
Clindamycin phosphate / benzoyl peroxide $72.64
Isotretinoin $86.72
Benxoyl peroxide $57.15
tretinoin $32.03

Erythromycin (Generic Erygel)

Erythromycin is an antibiotic medication used to treat acne. It stops the growth of bacteria.

Clindamycin Phosphate/Benzoyl Peroxide (Generic Acanya, BenzaClin)

This topical medication contains both an antibiotic to stop the growth of bacteria, and benzoyl peroxide which can reduce oil production.

Isotretinoin (Generic Absorica, Zenatane, Claravis, Myorisan)

Isotretinoin is a type of acne medication known as a retinoid. It helps to reduce oil production.

Benzoyl Peroxide (Generic Benzepro, Riax, Enzoclear)

Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in several brand drugs prescribed to treat acne. It works by killing bacteria underneath the skin that can cause acne. Benzoyl peroxide also helps your pores to shed excess oil and dead skin cells.

Tretinoin (Generic Retin-A, Atralin, Avita)

Tretinoin is a retinoid medication. It affects the growth of skin cells, to promote faster healing of pimples.

Over-the-Counter Products for Acne Treatment

There are dozens of over-the-counter (OTC) products that can help treat acne. Check with your health care provider to determine which OTC acne product may be best for you. Your health care provider may recommend an OTC acne product such as:

  • Topical Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Salicylic Acids
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acid Solutions

Be sure to request a prescription from your health care provider for the OTC medicine, and use an RxSaver Discount Card to save on OTC acne products.

"Unbelievable savings. One script is $120 cheaper than my current insurance!"


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Maintain Healthy Habits to Keep Stress in Check Everyone goes through periods of stress from time to time. To keep your stress levels manageable, be sure to practice healthy habits. Healthy habits that can help you keep your stress in check include:

  • Getting enough sleep
  • Deep breathing
  • Minimizing caffeine intake
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Avoiding nicotine (cigarettes, vapes)
  • Getting exercise
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Practicing mindfulness/mindful meditation
  • Talking with a mental health professional

By maintaining healthy habits you can keep stress in check, which reduces inflammation, decreases excess oil production, and helps your skin to heal faster from breakouts. However, if you continue to struggle with stress or stress-related acne, be sure to schedule an appointment to see or speak with your dermatologist.

Erythromycin: 5 mg/gram / 1 tube

Clindamycin phosphate / benzoyl peroxide: 1 %-5 % / 1 jar

Isotretinoin: 10 mg / 30 capsules

Benxoyl peroxide: 9.8 % / 1 bottle

Tretinoin: 0.05 % / 1 tube

*Lowest online price at national pharmacy chains Costco, CVS, RiteAid, Walgreens and Walmart as of 4/12/2021. Prices vary by location and pharmacy, see for actual pricing in your area.

Jennifer Hadley

Jennifer Hadley

Jen Hadley is a freelance writer and journalist based in Los Angeles, who writes extensively about the medical, legal, health care, and consumer products industries. Jen is a regular contributor to RxSaver.

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS

Carina Fung, PharmD, BCPPS., is a pharmacist who earned her PharmD from St. John’s University in Queens, NY. She maintains an active practice, serving as a Board-Certified Pediatric Pharmacotherapy Specialist at a large metropolitan teaching hospital in New York City. Carina has also published in pharmacy journals and works as a consultant reviewing medical articles for publication.

The information on this site is generalized and is not medical advice. It is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your healthcare professional. Always seek the advice of your healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard seeking advice or delay in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our site. RxSaver makes no warranty as to the accuracy, reliability or completeness of this information.

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