Stress and the Skin

Stress affects every living being on this earth. It’s unavoidable, and is increasingly becoming a known factor for every major chronic medical condition. Our bodies give us clues about when we should take a step back and reduce stress to preserve our health. One of the first places that stress shows up on your body is your skin. Skin is our largest organ. It works hard to keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. But it’s also your body’s first interaction with the world, and has a sensitive connection to your brain. Whenever we feel anxious or overwhelmed a gland in the brain called the hypothalamus signals the pituitary gland, which sends a chemical message to the adrenal gland to produce cortisol –a major stress hormone. Once cortisol is pumped into our system, it communicates with all of our organs and causes inflammation as a reaction to stress. Inflammation produces oxidants, which damage cells. Short-term inflammation helps fight off disease and promotes healing (that’s why you get a goose egg when you bump your head), but chronic inflammation severely harms the body and is linked to a wide variety of conditions, such as diabetes, arthritis, and asthma. This hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is an ancient hormonal pathway that proved very useful for keeping us alive when we were faced with the possibility of being eaten by a predator. Even though most of us aren’t worried about fighting off a bear, your brain interprets any kind of stress as a potentially life-or-death situation. It’s no wonder that stress impacts our bodies so severely!

What does that mean to the skin? When a pore is inflamed, it becomes thick and swollen and is more likely to become clogged. When collagen becomes inflamed, the matrix breaks down and produces a wrinkle. Acne, wrinkles, dryness, and itchiness appear with inflammation – they’re telltale indicators of what’s really going on inside.

The Emotional Effect

All too often, we try to blame external influences – chocolate, dust, even the weather – for the state of our skin. But the real cause of a so-called “bad skin day” is often emotional. Think of how many times a friend has asked “What’s going on?” the moment they see you on an upsetting day. Your emotions are written all over your face! The flip side is that once your skin starts to mend, people notice immediately and tell you that you look great.

8 Ways to Reduce the Effects of Stress on Your Skin

According to WebMd here are some ways to limit your stress,

  1. Don’t neglect your skin. Take care of your skin, even if you’re tired or stressed.
  2. Get regular exercise. It’s good for your skin and the rest of your body.
  3. Prioritize self-care. Take time for yourself to do something you enjoy, even if you only have 10 minutes. Take a bath or read an article.
  4. Take a walk around the block.
  5. Visit a spa or holistic health centre – let someone else take care of you!
  6. Practice stress management techniques, such as breathing exercises, yoga, meditation or visual imagery.
  7. Get enough sleep. Seven to eight hours each night is ideal.
  8. Say no. It’s ok to set limits and boundaries to lower your stress.
  9. Talk to someone. Seek support from a friend or professional therapist.



SOURCES: Department of Health and Human Services: "Stress and Your Health." American Academy of Family Physicians: "Psychodermatology: The Mind and Skin Connection." American Academy of Dermatology: "What is psoriasis?" American Academy of Dermatology: "What is rosacea?" American Academy of Dermatology: "What is eczema?" American Academy of Dermatology: "Stress and Skin." Acne Resource Center: "Does Stress Cause Acne?"

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