Does Stress Cause Acne?

Stress & The Skin

Stress & the skin

Stress isn’t defined as just an event that overrides your mental capacity, but also comes in physiological forms you might be less aware of – such as artificial light, UV exposure, air pollution, chemicals in your food & water, etc.

Stress is a lot more impactful that most think. Thanks to the HPA axis, stress can affect more than just your mental state, but in fact your entire body – namely your skin, your body’s largest organ.  

The evolution of the stress response

When your body senses stress, consciously (getting fired from your job) or subconsciously (harmful chemicals in your drinking water), it sends a signal to your brain to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.

From an evolutionary perspective, these hormones were designed to increase chances of survival in times of famine, attack or threat (what you might know as fight-or-flight). This complex system is adaptive and highly necessary to stay healthy.  

However, our bodies have not evolved to endure chronic or prolonged stress. When our bodies don’t get a break from activating this stress response (constant artificial light exposure, constant air pollutants in our city), HPA axis activation is reduced and sensitizes the body’s reactivity to new stimuli. Then, all of the sudden that spicy Thai food you’ve had many times is causing a rosacea flare up or a terrible stomach ache!

Skin is the target

A body in constant state of inflammation will manifest externally as gut issues, mental health issues, and in skin issues – flare ups like acne, eczema, psoriasis, or accelerated aging.

Recent research has confirmed that the skin is a major target of stress responses. Studies have found that cortisol induces pro-inflammatory cytokines in the skin cells, increasing inflammation directly in the skin.

They have also found cortisol inside of sebocytes (sebum producing skin cells), showing a direct correlation between stress and the occurrence of clogged pores, acne breakouts and inflamed, red skin.  

It is this basis of study that led us to produce Medical Grade Probiotic Skincare, because RESEARCH proves that balancing the microbiome of the skin will set up the foundation of defense against skin stressors.

Stress & Skin Aging

The effects of stress have been shown to have equally damaging effects when it comes to skin aging. In a mouse study, chronic stress significantly accelerated UV-induced skin neoplasma development (skin tumors caused by UV exposure)! The stressed mice started to develop skin tumors much earlier than the non-stressed mice and had significantly lower survival rates. It was later discovered that chronic stress caused a significant decrease in the body’s cancer fighting immune cells.

It's well known that UV exposure is one of the biggest contributors to premature skin aging, but why? This is because UV iradiation is one of the major stimulants of the skin HPA axis – inducing repeated activation of pro-inflammatory stress hormones.  

Our Probiotic Anti-Pollution + Firming Treatment was formulated specifically with this in mind. It contains an exclusive anti-pollution complex that helps to regulate the pollutant stress response in the skin. It also uses a natural botanical that inhibits what is called Cathepsis G, an enzyme involved in photo-aging, reducing damage from IRA rays exposure.

The physical effects of stress on your skin

There are many ways stress physically affects your skin:

  • The stress hormone cortisol leads to an overproduction of sebum (oil) in your skin glands, which causes acne breakouts.
  • Stress weakens your immune system by destroying the beneficial bacteria in the skin microbiome, causing your skin to be more reactive and sensitive, and triggers rashes, hives, and redness.
  • Stress exacerbates existing inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.
  • Stress may cause you to feel overwhelmed or anxious, and pick at scabs or acne, or scratch your skin until it becomes red or breaks.


A proper skincare regimen is just one piece of the puzzle. Skin health starts with your mental and physical health. What you eat matters, what you think & believe matters and clearly how you handle the everyday stressors of life truly matters.

And in the event life throws you a curve ball (past few years ring a bell?), aid from medical-grade probiotic skincare ingredients will provide crucial support for your skin in that balancing act – but often one cannot work without the other. 

Keeping your skin healthy is as easy as religiously applying incredible, high-quality products. Consistent results show us that. But the key is to start at the source. To start within you, to stop the inflammation and flare ups before they begin.


Chen Y, Lyga J. Brain-skin connection: stress, inflammation and skin aging. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2014;13(3):177-190. doi:10.2174/1871528113666140522104422


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