You Ask, We Answer: Does Stress Really Cause Acne?

Final exams, wedding planning, a deadline looming – stress happens to everyone.

As if dealing with the uncomfortable feelings of stress isn’t enough, many of us also find that our acne gets worse during such times.

Is this just a myth or is there more to it?

What Does the Science Say?

While stress is not a direct cause of acne, research over the years has found a relationship between stress and acne flare-ups1. So yes, it’s not just in our heads.

Stress may not trigger breakouts for those who are not prone to it, but if you already have acne, stress may make it worse. You might have also noticed that the more stressed you are, the more pimples pop up.

A Stanford University study from 2003 found that its sample of students had more stress during exam time (understandably) as well as more severe acne2. Beyond that, they discovered increased acne severity was significantly associated with increased stress levels. This suggests that emotional stress from external sources may have a significant influence on acne.

Why is this the case? There are several reasons:

Increase in Oil Production

As you might already know (because we talk about it so often), at the root of all acne is a clogged pore. What causes pores to clog up is a build-up of dead skin cells, dirt, and excess oil.

When we’re stressed, our bodies release more of the hormone cortisol. This causes our sebaceous glands to ramp up production of oil, leading to more clogged pores and acne3.

A study of cultured (aka artificially grown) cells also found that cortisol, at a higher level, decreased the synthesis of hyaluronic acid (HA) by 50%4. Because HA is our skin’s natural moisturizer, this finding supports the link between increased cortisol levels and oil production. That is, having less HA can dehydrate skin, leading to more oil being produced as compensation.

If you find your skin is oily but dehydrated, you’ll love having the Matte Hydrator in your routine. Formulated with medical-grade ultra-low-molecular-weight hyaluronic acid, it will easily absorb into skin and leave a clean, matte finish.

Slower Healing

One study investigated the effects of psychological stress on wound healing. Researchers studied 13 women caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease (a likely source of stress) and 13 controls. All the women underwent a 3·5 mm punch biopsy wound. What the study found was that wound healing took significantly longer for the caregivers than the controls, suggesting stress could negatively affect wound repair5.

This means that when stressed, wounds, including acne, can take longer to heal. And when pimples stay longer on the skin, they can be more susceptible to increasing in severity.

Poorer Lifestyle Choices

Apart from what goes on inside our bodies when we’re stressed ,the negative emotions we experience can also lead us to poorer habits and choices. We could be eating more sugary foods, sleeping less, or deprioritizing our skincare routines. These can all lead acne to worsen.

How Can I Reduce Stress?

Whether you’re facing short-term stress from a big event you have right now, or more chronic stress from the many responsibilities in your life, it is crucial to find ways to manage it. If not for the sake of your skin, for your overall health.

What is relaxing to others may not be to you so give yourself time to find what works. Many people have benefited from yoga, meditation, exercise, extra sleep, and aromatherapy so consider making room for these in your schedule. You could also try knitting, painting, talking to a friend, or anything that makes you happy and helps you unwind.

While reducing stress can help give you clearer and healthier skin, it is important to note it should not be considered an acne treatment. You still need proper skin care to not only clear current acne, but prevent them from forming in the future.

A bonus is that your skincare routine can be a wonderful practice in mindfulness, which can help you slow down and relax!

Feeling stressed about skincare and all the options out there?

Clearly Basics is a skincare line made for acne-prone and sensitive skin. This means all our formulations are gentle enough to care for vulnerable skin yet effective enough to clear clogged pores and prevent future breakouts. Shop the line here.

If you have more questions, we’re here to help! Get in touch with us via Messenger chat or Instagram DM (@clearlybasics).


  1. American Academy of Dermatology: Adult acne
  1. Annie Chiu, BS et al., 2003: The Response of Skin Disease to Stress
  1. Herbert P. Goodheart, MD, 2006: Acne for Dummies
  1. H Larjava et al., 1980: Cortisol decreases the synthesis of hyaluronic acid by human aortic smooth muscle cells in culture
  1. Prof J.K. Kiecolt-Glaser, PhD et al., 1995: Slowing of wound healing by psychological stress

Disclaimer: This article should not be interpreted as personal medical advice. For medical-related matters, please consult your dermatologist.


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Based on 26 reviews
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Comments: Any ideas on how to get rid of brown skin damage
Skin defence

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Skin Type: Combination

I am so happy that I stumbled upon clearly basics on instagram. I was skeptical at first but decided to give it a try and bought clear out clarifying lotion. It's been 2 months and my skin has improved a lot. I can see significant reduction in pores and acne.

Skin Type: Combination

After years of medication and products, I decided to try clearly basics. In just 6 weeks my skin has calmed and I am now able to treat scarring.

So glad to have found these products!

Finding products that helped to control my acne without irritating my sensitive skin has always been a huge challenge. The clearly basics products have been my saviour, I can't recommend them enough ☺️

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️Excellent and actually works

I am so incredibly impressed with the TLC for pore minimising - it 💯 works and has transformed my skin.

I’m in my 50’s and always had hormonal flare ups with larger pores as I age - this is a game changer and have just reordered my 3rd bottle !


not bad but I thought the formula has changed since what it was previously (i had it maybe 2 years ago) and I found it less effective now

Skin Type: Combination
This is the stuff.

So, long time sufferer of acne. Started when I was 12 and I'm 28 now still battling it. I've tried all kinds of different things to try and get it under control and besides birth control, nothing has helped long term. I never want to take birth control ever again and I just happened upon this brand and decided well, why not try? To my amazement, it has helped more than anything else I've tried, I'd say it has improved my skin to the level it was at when I took BC. Of course I still get pimples every now and then, and tiny flare ups during PMS but my skin is nowhere near as bad as it used to be. I highly recommend this company. To those who are considering trying this out, be aware that during the first week or so your skin will go through a purge and your acne will appear to get worse at first. Stick with it! Once that phase is over is when your skin will begin improving. I do need to use it every night for it to be fully effective, but even when I do forget, the pimples don't get too out of control. I just can't say enough good things about this product. It has helped my confidence improve immensely and I definitely recommend trying it to those who have skin as finicky as mine.

Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry
The only moisturiser I trust

I am super sensitive and this is the only moisturiser that I trust honestly incredible.

Skin Type: Combination

I use this product and with the clear out and it has really helped my hormonal acne.

Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry
Here one day, gone the next!

After success with Clearly Basics for my acne scars, I stocked up with all of the active acne products to prepare myself for how angry my acne would get when going off hormonal birth control. I have tried and failed twice as my acne comes back so bad that I just start taking it again. This time I have been using clearly basics without fail every day (lighten up and clear out). I have had 3 pimples start to form and I use ‘Stop Spot’ and the next day instead of a much redder, much angrier pimple with a big white head - the pimple is gone! I have been very happy with this product. I’m one month down (typically when acne gets the worst) - let’s do this!

I love that these products are gentle on my daughter skin.

This skin care routine is the o lay one that has helped clear up my daughters skin.

My daughters skin is really starting to look better!

Skin Type: Oily
So far so good

Bought this for my daughter that has struggled with acne for years. She has seen improvement and less frequent breakouts.

Best moisturizer I have found!

Lighten Up Redness Rescue Cream
Veronica Ilenya Ranieri
Skin Type: Sensitive / Dry

Has changed my skin from acne pro to almost perfect 😍😍

Skin Type: Combination
Obsessed !!

Obsessed with this cleanser!! It left me feeling fresh and prevented break outs. It is incredible . Loved this product so much

My skin feels so soft after using this moisturiser!

My skin feels so soft after using this moisturiser!

Skin Type: Combination
Fresh and clean!

My face is filled with energy and feels so fresh and clean!

Skin Type: Normal
excellent item!

have been using this for years! so good for my skin :)

So Fresh pH Balancing Cleanser
Carmelinda Di Manno
Skin Type: Combination
Fresh Feeling

My skin feels so clean and still hydrated when I use this cleanser. It’s balancing and refreshing. My skin has responded really well to it and at times my skin can be sensitive. I highly recommend this product to anyone with relatively oily t-zone area

Skin Type: Combination
Very happy!

Love the texture, the minty scent and the lather.
I wish the bottles were a bit bigger HOWEVER they are just small enough to fly with.

Skin Type: Normal
Comments: The only thing I now need to use to keep my skin clear.
The holy grail for clearing hormonal acne.

This is the only product that I have needed to keep my skin clear since discovering it about 2 years ago, after suddenly developing cystic hormonal acne at the age of 25. I now only need to use it every second night, so it's incredibly affordable. It has also never irritated my sensitive skin and it has faded previous acne marks to truly clear my skin. After years of trying expensive supplements/products/harsh prescription creams, Clear Out was the only thing that gave me long-lasting results.

Skin Type: Oily
Clearly Basics is the only product that has helped my Adult Acne

I have always struggled with dehydrated acne prone skin. Every month like clockwork I would get a new breakout on my chin or cheek area. These included large cystic acne that by the time they came to a head would take me months to clear. With new breakouts each month this created more & more spots before the first could heal leaving more hyper pigmentation spots that never have time to clear. Clearly basics changed all that for me. It gave my skin a chance to heal and reduced the number of breakouts each month. When I do get a new breakout it resolves itself quickly with less scarring and redness. Now that the acne is under control the products are helping to eliminate the remaining hyper pigmentation spots left from years of acne. I have not been using the product for long but I will continuing relying on this product and look forward to the day I can happily look in the mirror at a smooth clear & even complexion some day soon.

Skin Type: Combination
Comments: Product consistency in terms of smoothness/coarseness/stickiness/ is sometimes a miss, don't believe it affects the result provided.
Great Combo

Have seen great improvements by using these 2 items concurrently, hard to fault and wil continue purchasing.

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