a woman at a computer stressed out, which can impact her skin health

How Does Stress Impact Your Skin?

It's not all in your head: when you're stressed out, your skin gets stressed, too. Here's what to do about it.


4 minute read

It’s no coincidence that your skin doesn’t look great when you get stressed out. In fact, it’s scientifically proven, according to SLMD Skincare founder and dermatologist Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper). From acne breakouts to undereye bags — and a host of skin woes in between — stress can have a profound impact on your skin’s health and appearance. Here, we break it down, and offer some practical tips from Dr. Lee.

How stress contributes to acne

According to Dr. Lee, the connection between your mood and your breakouts is complicated — but definitely connected. Remember that acne begins when pores become clogged with excess oil and dead skin cells. If C. acnes bacteria moves in, you end up with an inflamed pimple

When you’re stressed out, your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which stimulates your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. You guessed it: more oil means more clogged pores, which means more pimples. And if your breakouts are stressing you out, it can become  a vicious cycle.

Dr. Pimple Popper’s stress tips

  • Get your acne under control. Following a consistent acne routine will keep pores clear and pimples at bay. Try: SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser, Acne System.
  • Manage your stress. Try relaxing techniques like meditation or yoga.
  • Examine your diet. While foods don’t directly cause acne, an anti-inflammatory diet can help lower your stress response. Lowering your blood sugar also reduces stress hormones.

SLMD Acne Picks

    How stress contributes to wrinkles

    High levels of chronic stress can lead to increased muscle tension, especially around the forehead and brows. Over time, this can result in those "worry lines" etched onto your skin. 

    What’s more, the stress hormone cortisol also damages collagen and elastin — those protein building blocks of youthful skin — in several ways. 

    • Increase in MMPs: these enzymes cause collagen and elastin breakdown
    • Fibroblast decline: changes in gene expression lead to decrease in protein synthesis
    • Oxidative stress: free radicals damage fibers and structure that keeps skin resilient

    Dr. Pimple Popper’s stress tips

    SLMD Anti-Aging Picks

    How stress contributes to eye bags

    If you’ve ever woken up with under-eye bags after a sleepless, stress-filled night, you can blame cortisol…again. Stress can disrupt your sleep patterns, leading to insufficient rest. This lack of sleep can cause blood vessels under the eyes to dilate and fluid to accumulate, resulting in puffiness and dark circles. We’ve said it before: it's called "beauty sleep" for a reason.

    Dr. Pimple Popper’s stress tips

    • Try a depuffing eye cream. Ingredients like caffeine and peptides can help reduce puffiness and improve circulation.
    • Catch some zzz’s. Prioritize sufficient sleep to minimize fluid retention and prevent under-eye bags. Avoid stomach sleeping.
    • Apply a cold compress: Place chilled cucumber slices or tea bags to the eyes to temporarily alleviate puffiness.

    How stress contributes to eczema, psoriasis and rosacea

    Stress-induced inflammation can make your skin more reactive, leading to flare-ups. Chemical changes in response to stress can trigger or worsen chronic skin conditions by compromising your skin's barrier function in several ways:

    • Reduced ceramide production. These key lipids play a crucial role in protecting skin from irritants.
    • Compromised microbiome. An imbalance of beneficial and harmful microbes can trigger inflammatory responses.
    • Increased permeability. Irritants and allergens crossing the skin barrier can lead to heightened sensitivity.
    • Impaired healing. Stress can slow skin’s ability to repair and regenerate, making existing skin conditions worse. 

    Dr. Pimple Popper’s stress tips

    • Choose skincare wisely. Look for gentle, non-irritating products that don’t contain synthetic fragrances.
    • Support your skin barrier. Hydrating creams with ceramides, hyaluronic acid, aloe and colloidal oatmeal are typically safe for most skin types. Try: Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer, Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
    • Manage your stress. Try relaxation exercises or mindfulness to prevent flare-ups.

    How stress contributes to skin picking

    It’s not uncommon to “stress pick” a pimple now and again — but there are better ways to manage breakouts. Sometimes, the physiological and emotional effects of stress can lead to dermatillomania, aka excoriation disorder. Chronic stress not only heightens the sensitivity of the skin but also triggers inflammatory responses, creating sensations of discomfort, itchiness, or perceived imperfections. These sensations can intensify the urge to pick or scratch the skin as a coping mechanism, providing momentary relief but ultimately leading to a vicious cycle. 

    What’s more, stress can impair the skin's natural healing process, making it more susceptible to injury and leaving behind visible marks or scars, which can further fuel the compulsion to pick. If your skin picking is disrupting your everyday life and/or leaving scars, please talk to a healthcare professional. 

    Dr. Pimple Popper’s stress tips

    • Treat your skin concern. Get your acne, dry skin, or chronic condition under control. This will reduce your urge to pick.
    • Incorporate a spot treatment. If you pick your pimples, use a cream or acne patch to protect and heal instead. Try: SLMD Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment, BP Acne Spot Treatment, Salicylic Acid Pimple Patches.
    • Use stress reduction techniques. Exercise and mindfulness can help distract you from your skin fixation.

    SLMD Spot Treatment Picks

    Dr Sandra Lee

    Dr. Lee's Last Word

    I think people tend to underestimate how big a role stress can play in their skin health. But the good news there is that we have very effective ways of helping people reduce their levels of stress hormones, through techniques like mindfulness and exercise…not only will you feel better, you’ll look better, too!


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