Is My Acne Caused by Anxiety?


Acne is a common skin condition that affects people of all ages. It can range from mild to severe and lead to scarring. While the exact causes of acne are complicated, research has shown a connection between acne and anxiety.

In this article, we’ll explore the link between acne and anxiety, how stress impacts acne, and what you can do to manage both conditions.

Is My Acne Caused by Anxiety

How Are Acne and Anxiety Connected?

Acne and anxiety seem to have a bidirectional relationship. Not only can anxiety worsen acne, but dealing with acne can also lead to increased stress and anxiety.

Acne Can Cause Anxiety

Living with acne can take an emotional toll. Acne symptoms like red, inflamed breakouts or dark marks from past breakouts may cause:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Negative body image
  • Social isolation or avoidance
  • Anxiety about appearance

Teens and adolescents are especially prone to anxiety from acne due to social pressures and bullying from peers. But acne can impact mental health at any age.

Anxiety Can Worsen Acne

On the flip side, higher levels of stress and anxiety may trigger acne breakouts or make existing acne worse.

Studies show people with anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) are more likely to deal with acne. Anxiety involves both mental and physical symptoms like chronic worrying, muscle tension, sleep issues, and feeling wound up. These anxiety symptoms seem to contribute to acne.

How Does Stress Impact Acne?

Your skin has a complex relationship with stress. Stress causes changes in brain chemistry that get transmitted to your skin cells. This alters normal skin processes like oil production and inflammation.

Here’s an overview of how stress and anxiety can spur acne:

  • Hormonal changes - Stress increases cortisol and other hormones that ramp up oil production and inflammation. This provides prime conditions for acne-causing bacteria to multiply and clog pores.
  • Poor sleep - Stress and anxiety often disrupt sleep. Lack of sleep leads to higher stress hormones and inhibited skin cell repair. This increases inflammation.
  • Skin picking - Stress or anxiety may cause unconscious skin picking. This can spread acne-causing bacteria across the skin and worsen breakouts.
  • Delayed healing - Stress delays wound healing by impairing immune response and cell regeneration. Acne lesions may take longer to heal.
  • Medication side effects - Some anxiety medications like corticosteroids can worsen acne as a side effect.

While more research is needed, the evidence clearly demonstrates a significant link between acne and anxiety levels. Next we’ll explore ways to manage both conditions.

How to Reduce Acne Caused by Anxiety

If anxiety or chronic stress is making your acne worse, a few key strategies may help:

1. Consider anxiety treatment

Treating underlying anxiety itself can alleviate acne. Consider psychotherapy or counseling to learn stress management techniques. Medications like SSRIs or SNRIs may be used for moderate to severe anxiety. Discuss options with your doctor. Reducing overall anxiety levels can lower cortisol and inflammation.

2. Practice relaxation techniques

Daily relaxation practices help counterbalance a stressful lifestyle. Try breathwork, meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation. Use phone apps with reminders to stay consistent. Even 5-10 minutes per day can make a difference over time.

3. Focus on sleep hygiene

Make getting 7-9 hours of quality sleep a priority. Keep a consistent sleep schedule, limit blue light exposure at night, cut back on stimulants like coffee, and create a relaxing pre-bed routine. Proper rest reduces stress hormones that aggravate acne.

4. Adopt a regular skincare routine

Consistency is key when managing acne-prone skin. Cleanse daily to remove oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Use non-comedogenic moisturizers and sunscreen to hydrate without clogging pores. Spot treat pimples to control inflammation. Avoid picking and popping pimples.

5. Consider stress-fighting supplements

Some supplements may help lower stress levels, especially when combined with lifestyle measures. Try omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, zinc, and anti-inflammatory herbs like green tea or turmeric. Check with your dermatologist first.

Lifestyle Changes That Help Acne and Anxiety

Complement anxiety relief strategies with healthy daily habits to keep acne in check:

  • Exercise - Get regular cardio and strength training exercise to reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and lower inflammation.
  • Balanced nutrition - Eat a nutritious anti-inflammatory diet high in antioxidants. Limit dairy and sugar which may worsen acne. Stay hydrated.
  • Good hygiene - Wash your face twice a day and after workouts. Shower after sweating. Change sheets and towels frequently to keep skin clean.
  • Stress management - Make time for relaxing activities like reading, walking, or socializing with friends. Take mini breaks during work. Say no to nonessential tasks.
  • Avoid triggers - Limit alcohol, smoking, and picking/popping which can increase acne. Wear oil-absorbing face products for workouts and hot weather.

When to Seek Professional Help

In some cases, acne and anxiety form a vicious cycle that is difficult to manage alone. See your primary care doctor or a dermatologist if you experience:

  • Worsening acne that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter treatments
  • Increased stress, lack of motivation, or feelings of depression
  • Severe anxiety that disrupts daily life
  • Isolation or suicidal thoughts related to your acne

For moderate to severe acne or anxiety, prescription medications or a customized treatment plan may be needed. It’s important to address both conditions.


Anxiety and acne often go hand-in-hand. Stress hormones and inflammation appear to trigger and worsen acne, while dealing with acne can lead to increased anxiety. Breaking this cycle requires a multifaceted approach - treating the root cause of anxiety, actively managing stress levels, and following a proper skincare routine.

While coping with acne and anxiety takes time and consistency, taking control of your mental and skin health provides lasting benefits beyond just clearing your complexion. With the right strategies, you can minimize both acne and anxiety for good.

Frequently Asked Questions About Acne and Anxiety

Acne and anxiety often coincide. Stress can worsen acne, while dealing with acne breakouts may heighten anxiety. Below are answers to common questions about the relationship between acne and anxiety.

What is the connection between acne and anxiety?

Research shows a bidirectional relationship between acne and anxiety. On one hand, higher stress levels lead to hormone changes and inflammation that provide an environment where acne thrives. On the other hand, struggling with acne can damage self-esteem and lead to increased anxiety.

Can anxiety cause acne breakouts?

Yes, anxiety may directly worsen acne. In stressful situations, the body produces more cortisol and other hormones that ramp up oil production and inflammation in the skin. This gives acne-causing bacteria an environment to multiply, clogging pores. High stress also impairs immune function and delays healing of acne lesions.

Can acne cause anxiety?

Absolutely. Living with acne can impact self-esteem and quality of life. Severe acne is associated with higher rates of anxiety, depression, psychological stress, and suicidal ideation, especially among adolescents. The social stigma and appearance effects of acne can contribute to social isolation and anxiety.

Anxiety from acne may cause both emotional and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Chronic worrying or rumination about acne
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Low self-esteem and negative body image
  • Hypervigilance about appearance
  • Muscle tension
  • Disruption of sleep
  • Fatigue

How can I reduce anxiety about my acne?

Coping strategies that help lower acne-related anxiety include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to change thoughts about acne
  • Relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or deep breathing
  • Support groups to decrease isolation
  • Online counseling or therapy apps
  • Anxiety medication if recommended by a doctor
  • Building self-esteem and self-compassion

What lifestyle changes help manage acne and anxiety?

Healthy daily habits to reduce acne breakouts and anxiety include:

  • Consistent exercise
  • Adequate sleep
  • Stress management and self-care
  • Balanced, anti-inflammatory diet
  • Proper skin hygiene
  • Avoiding picking/popping pimples
  • Limiting caffeine, alcohol, and smoking

Should I see a therapist for anxiety about my acne?

Seek professional help if anxiety about acne is interfering with your daily functioning or causing severe distress. A therapist can provide tools to manage acne worry, improve coping skills, and treat underlying anxiety or depression. Some combine therapy with medications. Seeing a dermatologist is also recommended to treat acne.

What should I do if my anxiety or acne gets severe?

Severe acne or anxiety requires professional treatment. See your doctor about prescription acne treatments, oral antibiotics, isotretinoin, or referral to a dermatologist. For anxiety, your doctor may prescribe medications or recommend a psychiatrist. Always speak to a professional if you have thoughts of self-harm related to acne. Treatment can help break the cycle between acne and anxiety.

Remember - you are not alone in dealing with anxiety about acne. The mind-skin connection is real. With the right coping strategies, medical treatment, and support, you can manage both conditions.

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