How stress impacts our skin

With Stress Awareness Month upon us we thought it would a good opportunity to talk about how stress can impact our skin. Stress is one of the most common, widespread struggles all of us are likely to experience at some point in our life. Generally, we link stress to being something that primarily takes a toll on our emotional wellbeing. Although this is absolutely correct we perhaps fail to consider the effects it can have on the way our skin behaves.

Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies and it can show signs of stress in a variety of ways. It’s not just a coincidence that your eczema suddenly becomes itchier when feeling overwhelmed, or that a huge spot crops up just before an anxiety inducing event. There is logical reasoning behind why this happens! Here we look through the ways stress can upset the balance of our skin.


Inflammation flare ups

Our skin, gut and mind are all interlinked. Essentially when we experience stress, our mind sends out signals within our body triggering an inflammatory response. This is what naturally happens when our bodies perceive a threat to our health and in some ways it’s a good thing. Inflammation plays a critical part in keeping us healthy as it protects us from viruses and potential dangers. Unfortunately, the down side to this is that it can overreact! Whether we are troubled about a relationship breakdown, anxious about a work deadline or involved in an accident, our body responds the same way each time, releasing chemicals that cause inflammation.

Of course, prolonged, chronic levels of stress can cause bigger impact on skin health which can lead to inflammatory conditions such rosacea. If you already experience certain skin conditions such as this including acne, eczema and psoriasis you can expect flare ups during periods of stress.

Stress can make you hypersensitive

Usually, stress won’t cause skin conditions to manifest but if you already experience conditions such as those mentioned above, then stress can absolutely make them much harder to manage. 

When under levels of stress our immune system is weakened which results in an imbalance in our gut. This is can increase the likelihood of irritable skin and lead to areas of redness and the development of rashes. You may find that it can also trigger flare ups of problems originally caused by other factors, such as infection. For example, cold sores. These are caused by the herpes virus which lays dormant in your nervous system and can become re-activated when stressed or run down.



How you feel determines how you behave

How many of us demonstrate unhealthy nervous habits when stressed? Whether that be biting our nails, or picking and scratching at our skin, these can all be tell-tale signs that we are under more stress than usual. Unfortunately, these habits can exacerbate conditions such as acne and eczema as this negative response mean we are quite often damaging our skin in the process. In many cases it’s not actually the stress that causes these conditions to worsen but our reaction to the stress. It’s quite the vicious cycle!

Another aspect is when we are feeling stressed, we are less likely to stick to healthy habits such as eating a balanced diet and drinking water. We tend to spend less time caring for ourselves overall which can have an adverse effect on our skin. During this time switching off also tends to prove more difficult leading to a disturbed/unsettled sleep pattern. This then negatively impacts our skin as it cannot heal in the way it usually would if we are getting a full, rested night’s sleep.    

Stress can make you oilier or drier

Two ends of the spectrum here but stress can result in either of these skin issues. In terms of oily skin, when stressed our brain triggers the production of a set of hormones (cortisol) that prepare the body for a stressful environment. The shift in these hormone levels results in excess oil being released from the sebaceous glands, potentially leading to clogged pores and breakouts.

In relation to dry skin, there are studies to show that our skin barrier is more likely to become impaired when stressed. The outer layer of our skin (stratum corneum) doesn’t function the way it should which can increase the possibility of dry and itchy skin. This is why stress has been proven to aggravate skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and contact dermatitis. 

The takeaway from this is that if stress is causing your skin to misbehave and is making you feel even more stressed, seek help from a medical professional. A dermatologist is a good place to start and if they cannot help then they will assist you in finding someone who can.

Although stress is fairly unavoidable the good news is there are many ways you can manage it, and the majority are easy to implement. Taking some time out for yourself, focusing on self-care and relaxation can really help you feel calmer. Practicing a mindfulness approach can also be effective, as paying more attention to our thoughts and feelings enables us to manage difficult situations better. For more information and support you can also visit the Mind website which is an incredible mental health resource.