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5 Effects Of Stress On The Skin (& How To Deal With It)

Have you ever noticed that your skin suddenly starts acting up when you’re stressed?

Acne breakouts, flare-ups, and rashes tend to become worse when you are going through a stressful period and this is quite a common occurrence.

I am quietly sipping on my glass of water while I’m putting the words I want to write in order but my other hand is vigorously scratching my already red and inflamed scalp as all I’m thinking of is tomorrow’s final exam.

My seborrheic dermatitis which I have been successfully managing to keep under control has been noticeably worsening and spreading in the past week due to stress and anxiety for the upcoming exams.

Stress can affect your whole body, including your hair, nails, and skin.

The mind and skin are connected by means of nerve endings so as emotions are played out neurologically, stress, tension, and anxiety are very common to be expressed through the skin.

Since stress is a part of life and it happens to all of us because unfortunately, we cannot avoid our jobs, bills or even the annoying people we have to face on a daily basis, we have to find a way to handle it.

Besides being one of the main factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, heart diseases, and even chronic sadness and depression, here are 5 effects of stress on the skin and how to deal with it.

effects of stress on the skin

1. Skin Aging

As the skin is the largest organ of our bodies, it plays an important role as a barrier to maintain homeostasis between environmental and internal tissues.

Upon sensing stress, neurons in the hypothalamus which is a small region of the brain located at the base secrete hormones which are transported to the pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland uses these messages to produce hormones that affect many parts of the body including stimulating all the other hormone-producing glands to produce their own hormones.

As a reaction to this complex process, the adrenal gland is being stimulated and this allows the production of the hormone cortisol which is commonly known as the primary stress hormone.

Cortisol can accelerate the aging process as it aggressively attacks and breaks down elastin and collagen which are the main proteins that keep our skin toned and provide it with elasticity.

Furthermore, we all tend to make certain facial expressions such as frowning that can cause fine lines and wrinkles between the eyebrows as well as horizontal lines on the forehead.

If this is constantly being repeated, the skin will eventually lose elasticity in the area and it will not be able to bounce back leading to permanent wrinkles.

2. Acne Breakouts

Stress has long been suspected to induce acne flare-ups and it has been closely studied only to be confirmed by a well-controlled and extensive study some years ago.

Increased acne severity is significantly associated with the spike of the cortisol hormone as this directly stimulates the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum that can lead to clogging of the pores and further inflammatory acne breakouts.

Stress is closely associated with increased colonization of P. acnes bacteria which is the main acne-producing bacteria that lies on the skin.

It can actively interfere with your daily skincare routine as we all tend to skip on our skincare regimens from time to time after a long, exhausting and stressful day.

3. Dehydration

The outermost layer of our skin serves as a barrier function by regulating our epidermal permeability. This barrier creates a “seal” which is essential for retaining hydration and protection against infections.

When your body is constantly exposed to producing excessive amounts of cortisol, this leads to its reduced ability to retain water.

The absence of moisture leads to dehydrated skin and the formation of dry patches and flakes.

If this condition persists for a prolonged time period if will inevitably lead to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles as well as redness, irritation and rough texture.

4. Aggravates Skin Conditions

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin disorder that is commonly known as eczema. A complex mixture of genetic, environmental and immune factors may lead to this condition and its stage.

A defect in the skin’s barrier function caused by excessive amounts of cortisol may be the main factor contributing to acquiring this condition in the later stages of life.

The reason for this is that the stress hormone can weaken the skin’s barrier function and lead to increased sensitivity to environmental allergens and foreign microbial organisms.

An inevitable inflammation and flare-ups will follow contributing to further and aggravated itchiness and discomfort.

Another very similar type of autoimmune disorder is thought to occur when the immune system is weakened due to constant exposure to stressful situations.

Psoriasis while most of the time being a genetic condition with symptoms very similar to eczema, it may also be triggered by stressful life events.

It is a common disorder affecting almost 3% of the population and it is characterized by rapid and abnormal growth of skin cells followed by a formation of silvery scales on the outermost layers of the skin.

Having psoriasis is stressful on its own, though being constantly presented to emotionally stressful factors will further contribute to flare-ups.

5. Stress Rash

Stress is becoming increasingly associated with an outbreak of hives which are characterized as raised, red-colored spots or welts.

This can make up what is described as a stress rash.

Areas affected by stress rash feel itchy or in more severe cases can cause anything from mild tingling to a burning sensation when touched.

These dry and inflamed patches can develop in one area on the skin but they can often “connect” to form even larger welts that typically vary in size.

Although highly uncomfortable and even painful at times, hives are considered to be an acute condition that normally doesn’t tend to persist beyond a few weeks time depending on the severity and the size of the affected area.
how stress affects the skin

How To Control Stress?

It is completely unrealistic to think that you can avoid stress completely. We are all exposed to a stressful situation at some point in our lives and it is ridiculous to expect that this can completely be cut off as you go about your daily life.

It is normal to become stressful and anxious when you are late for an important meeting but still nowhere near to your destination due to crazy traffic.

Or it can even occur at the end of an already stressful day when you are about to hit the gym and blow off some steam when someone just decides to take their time on your favourite machine.

It is important to understand and accept these situations because they simply won’t go away just because you hate it.

Taking time for yourself to do something you enjoy, even if it’s just for 10 minutes of your day can have a positive impact on you.

Getting enough sleep is another good way to start the journey of successful stress management. Seven to eight hours is recommended for a well functioning metabolism.

Remember that it is okay to say no when you feel like you are being pushed to do something you are not comfortable with doing. It is important to set limits and boundaries as this will help to lower your stress levels.

Does this mean that every once in a while you can just leave answering all the demanding e-mails for tomorrow morning?

Absolutely.Β 

Breathing exercises are a great way of lowering stress levels. Remember, stress has a seriously negative impact on your well being and simply breathing in and out can distract your mind from a stressful situation for a moment.

Take a walk or commit to getting regular exercise. It is good for your mind, body, and soul.

Don’t neglect your skin. Take care of it by getting into the habit of regularly doing your daily skincare regimen without skipping even if you are tired or stressed.

Pushing yourself to actually do something for yourself will automatically have a positive impact on your thinking.

Final Thoughts

You probably didn’t need me to tell you that stress is bad for your health.

But while I am not a doctor and can’t help if there are any serious health issues associated with stress in your life, I would love to teach you all I know about how stress negatively affects your skin.

This article covers 5 effects of stress on the skin as well as suggestions on how to deal with it.

5 ways stress can be harmful to your skin

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6 Comments 5 Effects Of Stress On The Skin (& How To Deal With It)

  1. Riaz Shah

    Timely article Simone,

    I get acne not just when I’m stressed but when I sweat, or even when I don’t sleep overnight due to work and I wonder why. I totally forgot about cortisol, we actually learned that in school and it’s pretty helpful, so glad you mentioned about it – Jogged some memory back into me. 

    Thinking about, I feel stressed already thinking about how wrinkly my face is starting to look like due to the huge amounts of work stress I have to endure. Do you happen to know how to reduce stress at work if you’re always faced with annoying customers? I fear that might be one of the main reasons for my work stress.

    Reply
    1. Simone Sydel

      Thank you for your comment!

      We often get acne breakouts when we sweat but the truth is that sweat itself isn’t the main cause for breakouts.

      The most common cause for acne is bacteria, dirt, pollution and dead skin cells that accumulate on the surface of our skin.

      When we are sweating, for example, after an exercise, our pores open and this creates an easy way in for the mentioned bacteria and potential irritants into the skin.

      I must thank you for your question regarding how to reduce stress at work as it really made me think of what to answer.

      Unfortunately, you cannot pick your customers and we have all been exposed to a situation where we have to deal with difficult customers more than once.

      What I can think of as advice would probably be that you have to understand in which situation can you actually help the customer and do so the best you can and which situation is just out of your hands and you cannot do much about helping your customer in the way they expect you to. In any way, try your best to explain this to the person in front of you and let them decide what they think it’s best for them.

      Reply
  2. Shannon

    Thank you for your informative article. I’ve noticed in the last few years that my skin is changing as I am getting older. I have been blessed with skin that seems to age slowly however other issues such as clogged and enlarged pores and combination skin has plagued me most of my adult life. 

    I have definitely noticed the effects of stress on my skin. I was not aware that the release of cortisol effects the skin’s ability to hold moisture. I drink water almost exclusively (and lots of it lol) and I still have random occasions of dry flaky skin. This may be why. 

    Do you have any suggestions on how to keep the skin hydrated? My skin is very sensitive to just about every store bought moisturizer out there so I primarily look for natural remedies and cremes I can make at home. Even these can sometimes irritate my skin and leave it dry at times. Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks so much!

    Reply
    1. Simone Sydel

      Thank you for your comment Shannon,

      I am happy that you found my article informative and helpful.

      Yes, the excess release of cortisol can affect the skin’s ability to hold moisture.

      It is always recommended to have a good water intake and I am happy that you are taking care of your health in that way.

      I would like to know if you have ever done any allergy tests to determine that there isn’t a commonly used ingredient in a product that may be causing the hypersensitivity on your skin?

      I would also like to recommend soothing ingredients such as aloe vera, chamomile, evening primrose oil or even hydrating serums that contain vitamin B3 or Niacinamide.

      Make sure you always do a patch test before introducing a new product or an ingredient to your skincare routine.

      A patch test can be easily done by applying a little bit of the product on the inside of your wrist and let it stay there for up to 24 hours.

      Reaction to the product typically happens after 15-20 minutes if not immediately, but it is always recommendable to go that extra mile of being careful when approaching hypersensitive skin types.

      Reply
  3. Adyns68

    Hi Simone

    I enjoyed reading your post. It is very easy to read and very informative for me.

    I know we can not avoid stress, it is always around the corner in whichever situation. But is there a more effective way to help my skin not to suffer the consequence of my stress? Because, I have never been good at keeping a daily routine, no time or I simply forget. 

    Will using more powerful beauty products once or twice per week help? As, I get old the effect os stress is too much on my skin, it is too obvious. Maybe I need a very powerful solution, what do you think?

    Thanks

    Reply
  4. Sondra M

    Thank for for sharing this reminder that we really need to try to control our stress levels if we care about how our skin looks.  Irreversible signs of aging due to stress worries me the most.    

    I hope this does not sound like a stupid question. Do you know if we  drink extra water and fluids after we have been super stressed, could that reduce some of the fine lines and wrinkles? 

     I must admit, I’ve never been very good at drinking water to stay hydrated…. 

    Reply

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