How Stress Affects The Skin And 7 Ways To Ease It

Be aware of how physical and emotional tension can affect your skin health.

Medically reviewed by Dr. CP Thajudheen, MD
Written by Arshiya Syeda, BA (Literature & Psychology), PG Dip
Edited by Ramona Sinha, MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach
Fact-checked by Swathi E, MA (English Literature), Certified Skin Care Coach  • 

Everyday life can be stressful enough, but modern life and workloads have gotten all of us feeling even more stressed than usual. While stress was always thought to be solely a psychological issue, experts have now shown that it has physical consequences as well. The most visible signs of stress are usually found on the skin. But, how does stress affect your skin?

There are two types of stress – acute and chronic. The more you are under stress, the more adversely it impacts you. Chronic stress is thought to harm your skin by causing the release of cortisol, a hormone that stimulates oil production and clogs your pores. This eventually results in skin breakouts.

In this article, we talk about how stress affects your skin differently, how to treat it, and a skin care regimen to follow to combat it. Keep reading!

How Stress Affects The Skin

Your stress level and the condition of your skin are correlated. The following are some of the most common ways in which stress affects your skin:

1. Triggers Existing Conditions

Stress causes an increase in stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which weakens the immune system (1). This leads to inflammation, which causes reactions like an eczema flare-up or a stress rash. People with a history of skin diseases are particularly susceptible to this response (2).

2. Dry Skin

A major hormone responsible for skin conditions induced by stress is adrenaline. An increase in adrenaline causes the body to produce more sweat by activating the eccrine glands (3). This further leads to dehydration. Your skin dries out when it is low on hydration.

3. Acne

A study published in Clinical, Cosmetic And Investigational Dermatology showed that an increase in stress severity is directly linked to an increase in acne severity (4). Your mind and emotions play an integral role in maintaining the hormonal balance in your body. Prolonged stress evokes a chemical response in the body that makes the skin more sensitive, resulting in the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol activates the sebaceous glands that stimulate oil release around your hair follicles, which makes your skin oily, clogs your pores, and causes breakouts. This is often referred to as stress acne.

According to a study conducted in 2011, the majority of acne is aggravated by stress, excess alcohol consumption, and menstruation (5). These are commonly known as stress bumps or stress breakouts.

Daniela, a blogger, shares her experience of how stress affects the skin. She describes that she had a successful job which was stressful but everything was going well until she realized in her 30s that her health had taken a tragic turn. She stated, “My physical appearance had taken a toll: my hair had lost its vitality, adult acne was affecting my skin, and I developed psoriasis on my scalp (i).”

4. Decreases Collagen Production

Stress causes an increase in cortisol levels, the fight-or-flight hormone. Cortisol weakens the collagen in the skin and the cellular matrix, leading to early signs of aging and loss of skin firmness (6).

Now, let’s talk about the chemistry behind the connection between stress and your skin.

The Chemistry Behind Stress And Skin Problems

The root cause of stress-related skin conditions spreads far beneath the skin’s surface – it lies in the neurotransmitters, hormones, and other elements deep within the body. For example, when your body comes across a stressful situation, the adrenal glands receive distress messages from the brain. As a response, your body releases various hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine, which are responsible for the physical signs of stress.

1. Adrenaline

This hormone is also known as epinephrine, and it causes the fight-or-flight response. This response generates immediate stress-related symptoms such as increased heart rate, muscle contractions, palpitations, and recurring thoughts. It is also said to trigger inflammation, eczema, and rashes (1).

2. Cortisol

Unlike adrenaline, cortisol affects the body within minutes. It is a hormone that largely contributes to the majority of skin problems and reactions. A chain reaction is caused in the body – perspiration occurs, blood pressure increases, and the immune system suppresses itself. These continuous factors can cause a wide range of skin problems. The skin problems range from severe rashes to stress bumps to acne (1), (4).

3. Norepinephrine

This hormone is responsible for inducing awareness and alertness in your body. It does so by directing the flow of blood where it is needed the most, such as the brain. Unfortunately, this means the blood flow is reduced towards areas such as the skin, causing it to flare up and produce undesirable bumps. However, there is not enough scientific evidence to prove the same.

Certain neurotransmitters help your body to calm down after a stressful situation. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing your physical response to stress. It acts as a buffer against stress and gives your body a much-needed break, which helps calm down the physical components of stress, like skin problems.

Other Effects Of Stress On The Body

Aside from the problems induced by stress on your skin, it is also responsible for messing with your hair, nails, and teeth. Chronic stress can wreak havoc externally and internally. Here are a few other organs, other than skin, that get affected by stress (7):

  • Hair

Prolonged stress can cause a significant amount of damage and disturbance to your hair cycle. For example, it can cause telogen effluvium – a condition that causes half to three-quarters of your hair to shed (8).

Stress-induced hair loss can also be a self-caused action, i.e., picking out your own hair. This condition is known as trichotillomania (9).

  • Nails

The release of cortisol has proven to be one of the common causes of the loss of biotin (10). When this is combined with fatigue and high stress, it is said to weaken the nails. Healthy nails require vitamins such as biotin, zinc, magnesium, and iron. Unfortunately, stress makes it harder for your body to absorb the nutrients they need.

People who are stressed also have a habit of biting their nails, which causes more damage to the nail bed.

  • Teeth

Stress can cause you to clench or grind your teeth, leading to joint and muscle pain, known as temporomandibular disorder (11). TMD can also give rise to other issues such as the collapse of oral tissue and the closing of the body’s airway.

Some other ways stress affects you externally include sore lips (as many people chew the inside of their lips when under stress) and face flushing, which is caused due to the change in your breathing habits.

Check out the next section to learn how to deal with the effects of stress on your skin.

Ways To Ease The Effects Of Stress On The Skin

You can probably never avoid stress, but there are some ways to handle it in a way that limits its consequences. Managing your stress in a holistic manner can help you ease the effects it has on your skin. Here are a few coping techniques to control the skin conditions caused by stress:

  • Fix Your Sleep Cycle: Get good sleep, ideally seven to eight hours per night. Sleep and food are at the forefront of a healthy and nourishing lifestyle.
protip_icon Quick Tip
Resist the urge to touch your face frequently, as it can transfer bacteria and exacerbate skin issues.
  • Learn To Say ‘No’: It is alright to set your boundaries and say ‘no’ to certain tasks and commitments if you know they will affect your mental health. This can help you control your stress-related acne and eczema internally.
  • Just Breathe: Meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises are some of the proven stress-management techniques.
  • Talk It Out: Talking and confiding in others can help a lot. Seek help from a friend or a professional therapist. Pouring your thoughts out to someone can help you manage your stress levels.
  • Take A Break: Make sure to take out time to do things you love, even if it is ten minutes. For example, take a bath, read a book, or go for a stroll.
  • Stay Active: Get regular exercise – it is good for the mind, body, and skin. It also helps in lowering the stress hormone levels and takes your mind off the cause of your stress.
  • Avoid Drugs And Alcohol: Persisted drug and alcohol use can increase your stress. Avoid consuming them to manage your stress in a healthy manner.
protip_icon Quick Tip
Apply a cold compress to areas of redness or inflammation. It constricts blood vessels and reduces swelling.

Now, let’s check out a skin care regimen that you can follow to prevent stress-related skin problems.

Skin Care Regimen For Stress-Related Skin Problems

A good skin care routine can counter the ill effects of stress. What you put on your skin is important and must be tested beforehand with the help of a patch test. Antioxidants, humectants, and peptides are the best for de-stressing your skin.

  • Antioxidants: They help in restoring the lost cells in your skin. Vitamins A, C, and E are the leading vitamins that fight free radical damage (12).
  • Humectants: Niacinamide and hyaluronic acid (HA) help in improving the skin barrier function and restoring the lost moisture in your skin (13).
  • Peptides: They help in soothing your skin. They also fight the signs of aging like fine lines and wrinkles (14).

When crafting an anti-stress skin care regimen, you must keep in mind to add a daily sunscreen (preferable SPF 30 or higher) and nighttime retinol alongside the aforementioned ingredients.

Today, the fast and hectic lifestyles we lead make stress an unavoidable part of our lives. It not only affects us psychologically, but can affect the skin as well. The increased level of cortisol and adrenaline in your system weakens the immune system and may trigger existing conditions such as eczema, flare-ups, dry skin, or acne. That is why managing your stress effectively and healthily is important to your overall physical and mental health. A good skincare routine with moisturizers, peptides, and antioxidants will protect your skin from free radicals and keep it hydrated. Additionally, getting adequate sleep, practicing yoga, and engaging in your favorite hobbies can go a long way in keeping your skin healthy and stress-free.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is dermatitis caused by stress?

No, stress does not cause dermatitis. However, stress can trigger flare-ups if the person has dermatitis.

Does stress cause dull skin?

Stress may restrict the blood flow towards the skin and cause dull skin.

Does stress cause psoriasis?

No, stress does not cause psoriasis but can trigger the symptoms, causing flare-ups.

Key Takeaways

  • Hectic lifestyle and lack of work-life balance can lead to stress that affects our physical and mental well-being.
  • Our skin is often the first reflection of our health, diet, and lifestyle, and chronic stress can show up on our skin as dehydration, pimples, acne, or age spots.
  • Stress can also affect the condition of your hair, nails, and teeth.
  • Proper sleep cycle, venting it out to a friend, journaling, or mediation are a few ways that can help you destress and calm your skin.

Stress can negatively affect overall health and skin. Check out this video and learn how it affects the skin and health negative, from causing breakouts to hair fall.

Personal Experience: Source

References

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Psychoneuroimmunology of Psychological Stress and Atopic Dermatitis: Pathophysiologic and Therapeutic Updates
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704139/
  2. Eczema and Emotional Wellness
    https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/
  3. Elevated Social Stress Levels and Depressive Symptoms in Primary Hyperhidrosis
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3960246/
  4. The association between stress and acne among female medical students in Jeddah Saudi Arabia
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5722010/
  5. A multicenter epidemiological study of acne vulgaris in Korea
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21595660/
  6. Stress immunity and skin collagen integrity: evidence from animal models and clinical conditions
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19523511/
  7. The Shocking Ways Stress Directly Affects Our Appearance—And How to Beat It
    https://www.stress.org/the-shocking-ways-stress-directly-affects-our-appearance-and-how-to-beat-it-2
  8. Hair loss
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003246.htm
  9. Trichotillomania and its treatment: a review and recommendations
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3190970/
  10. Biotin interference
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5951654/
  11. Temporomandibular Syndrome
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551612/
  12. Antioxidants in dermatology*
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5514576/
  13. The Role of Moisturizers in Addressing Various Kinds of Dermatitis: A Review
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5849435/
  14. Anti-Wrinkle Benefits of Peptides Complex Stimulating Skin Basement Membrane Proteins Expression
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6981886/
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