Let’s Talk Anxiety Rashes and Stress Acne
Can anxiety cause skin problems? Naturally. Your skin’s condition can tell a lot about your overall health. When something goes wrong in your body, you will likely notice the warning signs in the mirror in one way or another.
Overate spicy food? Now, you’re breaking out in places you least wish to. Not getting enough sleep? That’s a sure way to aggravate that very specific skin condition you’ve been dealing with for some time now. Worried about meeting a tight deadline at work? How about breaking out in hives so you can be nervous and itchy?
Stress-related skin issues are especially tricky, but don’t worry! In this article, we explain both stress and the skin problems it causes and offer helpful tips so you can learn to alleviate and prevent anxiety-induced rashes, breakouts, and skin dryness. Keep on reading to find out more!
The Whys and Wherefores of Anxiety Breakouts
Stress is a natural response your body has to the difficulties and challenges of your day-to-day life. In small doses, stress can be good as it pushes your body to react faster and more efficiently to the situation you’ve found yourself in. Remember pulling all-nighters back in college? Your body carried you through hours of cramming, followed by the stress of taking the test or exam the next day. You wouldn’t be able to pull that off without our inbuilt ability to push through exhaustion and mental fatigue for a short time, i.e., our stress response.
So, how and why does stress affect the skin? When you’re stressed, sebaceous glands in your skin produce more oil. That might trigger flare-ups in common skin conditions, such as acne, psoriasis, and eczema.  A 2018 study showed that the more mental pressure we’re under, the more it might reflect on the state of our skin. You can experience anything from flare-ups to dry patches and flakiness to hair loss. 
Types of Stress-Induced Skin Conditions
Everyone is different, so it’s hard to predict how your body will react to let you know it’s time to take a break and care for yourself. It might be a flare-up of a pre-existing condition or just a few extra pimples on your face. Here are the most common stress-induced reactions you might experience.
Hives are a stress rash. If you notice your skin getting red, splotchy, and bumpy, you might be dealing with hives. They can cause a burning sensation and appear on any part of your body, but most commonly, they affect the face, neck, chest, and arms.
If your skin is prone to acne, stress has the unfortunate side effect of worsening it. Increased oil production in your skin during stressful times might exacerbate your condition.
Speaking of exacerbating your condition, psoriasis and stress go hand in hand. Psoriasis is a chronic disease, and it affects your immune system.  It is one of those conditions that, once triggered, loves coming back at every minor worry you have in your life.
Eczema shows up in dry, sensitive, itchy patches of skin. Much like psoriasis, it is the result of an overactive immune system.  While we still don’t know the definitive cause of eczema, we do know that stress can trigger flare-ups.
Rosacea usually affects the skin of your face and neck. Unlike the redness we all get for a few moments whenever we are too hot or embarrassed, rosacea stays on your face for some time. Like psoriasis, it comes and goes and can be triggered by stress.
The influx of stress hormones in your body might cause you to experience what is known as stress sweat. While sweating to try and cool off is a natural body response, stress sweat is different in smell and texture.
Premature fine lines
Stress ages the skin; there’s no getting around it. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol affect your collagen and elastin production.  So those crow’s feet, laugh lines, or crepey skin on your hands might result from you being under a lot of mental pressure for too long.
How to Take Care of Stressed Skin?
Stress effects on the skin can cause discomfort, pain, and even more stress, which is the last thing you want. Anxiety-induced dermatological issues are notorious for appearing at inopportune times and being challenging to get rid of. But they can be helped. Whenever you’re experiencing a flare-up, here’s what you can try:
- Antihistamines. These over-the-counter or prescription drugs reduce symptoms like inflammation and alleviate itching. If you experience frequent flare-ups, these are a godsend.
- Cool compress. Applying cold can help with itching and the urge to scratch inflamed skin. Use a bag of frozen vegetables or a regular ice pack, but be careful! Avoid applying ice directly to the skin.
- Aloe vera. If you prefer more natural remedies, consider looking into products containing aloe vera. They’re known to have anti-inflammatory properties and have a cooling effect on the skin.
- Topical treatments.
Topical treatments vary from oatmeal baths to antihistamine gels to steroid creams. Depending on the severity of your issue, any or none of those might help you. Consult your doctor on which remedy might suit you best.
- Professional help. If the issue persists, we recommend you see a dermatologist. Short-term solutions are great for momentary relief but can’t replace personalized medical care.
How to Prevent Flare-Ups?
Many factors can contribute to how our skin reacts to stress—lifestyle habits, medication, skincare routine, sleeping schedule, etc. And sometimes, the skin issues happen no matter what you do. We don’t have a definitive answer as to why stress-related skin conditions affect some people and not others. But we do have research that shows there are proven methods to reduce risk or, at the very least, alleviate the severity of stress and anxiety-related skin issues. Here are just a few!
- Regular exercise.
Exercising is not just for building muscle! When actively burning calories, you simultaneously burn off your anxiety.  Lack of fitness has been historically associated with a higher risk of disease, and, as we have mentioned earlier, several stress-related skin conditions directly (or indirectly) correlate to the state of your immune system. So put on your trusty sneakers and go for a run! Or, if you’re not a fan of the outdoors, exercising at home or attending a local gym is still an option!
- Healthy diet.
There’s nothing wrong with occasionally enjoying a pizza or a juicy burger. However, highly processed or high-sugar foods might lead to inflammation, exacerbate your skin issues, and speed up aging. Try to find balance. Choose foods rich in vitamins, antioxidants, zinc, and healthy fats. Olive oil, leafy greens, nuts, salmon, tuna, tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, oranges are famous for their anti-inflammatory properties, so try incorporating them into your diet!
- Good sleep schedule.
Regularly getting eight hours of sleep fixes so many health issues! Flare-ups in most common skin conditions are often associated with poor sleep quality. And there’s proof! According to a 2023 study, “atopic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis have been shown to be exacerbated by sleep problems and vice versa.”  So try to go to bed at the same time every night and give your body enough time to recharge.
- Effective skincare routine.
A consistent, comprehensive skincare routine not only supports your skin’s health but helps alleviate your anxiety! The very nature of caring for your skin, putting on moisturizer, and gently massaging your face, neck, and body is very therapeutic! A well-rounded skincare routine also helps treat acne and skin dryness, making your skin less prone to irritation and redness.
- Meditation and mindfulness.
Juggling a job, household chores, hobbies, and social and family life can be challenging, and sometimes, we lose ourselves in our everyday responsibilities. Meditating and practicing mindfulness might help! The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as one of the most popular meditation techniques that focuses on two main parts: attention and acceptance. Research shows that people who practice mindfulness have less trouble focusing on the present and letting go of negative thoughts. 
Both your emotional and physical well-being have an impact on your skin’s health. The body’s reaction to stress will vary from person to person. Still, stress and anxiety can trigger flare-ups in pre-existing common skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
To prevent the appearance and flare-ups of stress-induced skin issues, we recommend improving your diet, fixing your sleep schedule, exercising regularly, having a consistent skincare routine, and practicing relaxation through mindfulness.
Can stress cause itchy skin?
Yes! A lot of people experience stress rashes or hives. They are reddish bumps that appear on your skin when you’re stressed and may cause burning and itching.
Can stress cause dry skin?
Absolutely. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, your anxiety leads to your body overproducing stress hormones like cortisol. They negatively affect your collagen and elastin production and might result in dry patches of skin.
How do you tell a stress rash from a more serious condition?
You will most likely experience stress rashes when you are stressed. If the issue persists, talk to your dermatologist so they can determine if there’s an underlying skin condition.
How long does a stress rash last?
Stress rashes or hives usually clear out in a matter of days. If your rash persists, please get in touch with your doctor.
- American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). Feeling stressed? It can show in your skin, hair, and nails. (2022). https://www.aad.org/news/stress-shows-in-skin-hair-nails
- Bin Saif, G. A., Alotaibi, H. M., Alzolibani, A. A., Almodihesh, N. A., Albraidi, H. F., Alotaibi, N. M., & Yosipovitch, G. (2017). Association of psychological stress with skin symptoms among medical students. Saudi Medical Journal, 39(1), 59-66. https://doi.org/10.15537/smj.2018.1.21231
- National Psoriasis Foundation. (2022) https://www.psoriasis.org/causes
- National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/
- American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). How your workout can affect your skin. (2021) https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/skin-care-secrets/routine/workout-affect-skin
- Mann, C., Gorai, S., Staubach-Renz, P., & Goldust, M. (2023). Sleep disorders in dermatology - a comprehensive review. Journal der Deutschen Dermatologischen Gesellschaft = Journal of the German Society of Dermatology: JDDG, 21(6), 577–584. https://doi.org/10.1111/ddg.14992
- American Psychological Association. (2019, October 30). Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation
Please be aware that this article has been created for informational purposes only and does not substitute professional medical care. We encourage you to consult with your dermatologist for personalized skincare guidance.