- Stress can take a toll on your body, especially on your skin.
- When you are stressed out, it’s more common to notice heightened acne and sweat.
- Eczema, rosacea, and even hair loss are other side effects.
As more and more of us face increasing demands at work and at home, it’s no secret that feeling chronically stressed can impact our health in many ways, affecting us both mentally and physically.
Chronic stress messes with your body in several ways – from sleepless nights to appetite changes, your body can react in seemingly unusual ways when you’re experiencing a lot of stress.
It turns out that your stress levels can seriously impact your skin, exacerbating existing skin conditions like eczema or rosacea, and causing side effects like excessive sweating or even hair loss.
In fact, the link between skin and stress is becoming better understood in the medical community. “Psychodermatology is a field that addresses the impact of an individual’s emotion as it relates to the skin,” Karen Mallin, PsyD, an instructor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioural sciences and dermatology & cutaneous surgery of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami told WebMD.
Insider spoke with Marisa Garshick, MD and Certain Dri chief medical correspondent, and she told us all about the many ways your skin can be impacted by your stress levels.
You might deal with acne breakouts when you’re under stress.
By now, many popular myths surrounding acne have long been disproven, and we know that it’s not just teenagers who battle breakouts. Adult acne is surprisingly common and has many causes, with stress being a major trigger.
“It is very common for people to experience breakouts when stressed,” explained Garshick, and it’s all due to hormonal changes our bodies experience during times of stress. “Your body releases stress hormones including cortisol, which may increase the skin’s oil production, making you prone to breakouts.”
If you’re suddenly battling breakouts and can’t figure out why, you might want to check in with your stress levels.
Eczema flare-ups might be worse during stressful times.
If you have eczema, a skin condition which typically presents as a red, itchy rash, you might find that flare-ups are markedly worse during stressful times, explained Garshick. “Some people with eczema may find that their flare-ups start or worsen with increased stress. Once eczema is active on the skin, that can also lead to more stress as it can be itchy and uncomfortable for patients, so it can lead to a vicious cycle. This is because stress can increase inflammation which can trigger an eczema flare.”
“Also, when the skin is dry, which can occur when the skin is stressed, it tends to be more prone to an eczema flare,” she added, so keeping skin adequately moisturized is crucial to help minimise irritation.
People with rosacea might also notice an uptick in symptoms.
Just as inflammation can cause an eczema flare, it can also trigger a flare-up in those who suffer from rosacea, as Garshick told Insider. “It is well-known that rosacea, characterised by red bumps, redness or flushing, can have many triggers, including stress. Being stressed can trigger an inflammatory response that can aggravate the skin, increase redness and bumps.”
You might notice that you break out in hives when you’re acutely stressed.
“Hives, which is also known as urticaria, is due to an increase in histamine levels” in the body, said Garshick. “While many times the triggers for hives is unknown, it can be due to a recent infection, [new or change in dose of a] medication, food [allergy or intolerance], or stress. Stress can trigger or worsen hives by increasing the release of histamine.”
Any sudden skin reaction should be examined by your doctor or dermatologist, who can determine if it’s stress-related or has another underlying cause.
The skin around your eyes might look puffy or dark circles might look more pronounced.
It’s common for many of us to experience dark undereye circles after a few sleepless nights, and Garshick explains that when we’re stressed out, we might pick up habits that literally lead to stress showing up on our faces.
“Often when we are stressed, we are not always as good about taking care of ourselves, getting sleep, staying hydrated or eating well, all of which can lead to worsened under-eye appearance,” she said.
There’s no shortage of skin-care products on the market designed to reduce or help deep under-eye circles, but it also might help to check in with your mental health before dropping big bucks on pricey creams, lotions, and potions.
Your skin might also look sallow or dull.
Similarly, if you’ve noticed that your overall skin tone isn’t as bright these days, it might be a matter of stress showing itself on your face. “When stressed, we often forget to take care of our skin or apply our typical creams. As a result, the skin can look sallow and/or dull.”
For many people, skincare is a form of self-care, so if you find that your routine helps relax you, you might want to keep at it, even when you’re feeling extra stressed.
Your skin might feel dry or flaky.
If you’re noticing an overall change in your skin’s texture, check in with your stress levels. “When the skin is stressed, cortisol can lead to a decrease in the synthesis of hyaluronic acid, which can lead to moisture loss in the skin, leading to the skin looking dehydrated,” said Garshick. “We often also forget to apply moisturizing cream and our normal routine when stressed, so this can also affect how the skin looks.”
The relationship between stress and psoriasis is cyclical.
Unfortunately for those who suffer from psoriasis, a skin condition marked by thick, scaly patches of skin that might appear all over the body, stress and psoriasis can be a vicious cycle.
“Stress can be considered a trigger of a psoriasis flare, but a psoriasis flare can also cause stress,” said Garshick. “Stress may trigger psoriasis by increasing inflammatory markers that are involved in psoriasis. Although more research is needed to determine the exact mechanism, one 2004 study showed that 66% of psoriasis patients reported that their psoriasis was exacerbated by stress.”
Your doctor or dermatologist can help alleviate this catch-22 if you find that your psoriasis is worsened by stress or vice versa.
Your sweat glands might be on overdrive during moments of stress.
Sweating before a big meeting or a public speech is surprisingly common, yet sudden sweating in a stressful situation can make even the most confident person feel even more stressed.
“When the body is reacting to a stressful situation, it often responds with sweating,” said Garshick. “Stress leads to the release of sweat from our apocrine glands after an increase in adrenaline as part of the body’s fight-or-flight response. Although this sweat can be considered situational, it can still respond to standard treatments for sweating such as OTC antiperspirants like Certain Dri, or prescription medications that are available through your dermatologist.”
Stress can age your skin more quickly.
Though there’s no shortage of products out there that claim to slow the skin’s ageing process, one thing is clear: chronic stress can show up on your face, possibly leading you to look older than you actually are.
“Stress can lead to increased cortisol which has been shown to break down collagen and decrease synthesis of hyaluronic acid,” said Garshick, noting that the loss of collagen and hyaluronic acid “can lead to fine lines and wrinkles over time.”
“Stress can also increase free radical formation which can lead to skin ageing,” she added.
It might be harder for your skin to repair itself after an injury.
According to Science Daily, a 2001 study in the Archives of Dermatology found that water loss experienced when you’re stressed can hinder the skin’s ability to repair itself after an injury. In 2007, dermatologist Flor A. Mayoral, MD, FAAD, clinical instructor in the departments of dermatology and cutaneous surgery at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine spoke about the link, pointing out that the study “was the first of its kind to suggest what dermatologists anecdotally have known for years – that psychological stress adversely affects the normal functions of the skin.”
“This can be related to the fact that stress can lead to inflammation and some inflammatory markers can inhibit or prevent proper healing of a wound,” Garshick told Insider. “Additionally, since stress can also impact the skin barrier, it may be harder for the skin to repair itself.”
Stress can also lead to hair loss.
If you’re noticing a marked change in hair shedding lately, you might be battling stress, explained Garshick. “There is a type of hair loss, telogen effluvium, that can be related to physical or emotional stress. With this, people notice hair thinning or hair falling out which can sometimes be noticed months after the original stress took place. The stress triggers inflammatory markers that cause the hairs to all go into the resting phase too early, which leads to the eventual loss of the hair two or three months after the original stressful trigger.
She noted that “this type of hair shedding is often considered temporary,” but if you’re concerned about the amount of hair you’re losing, see your doctor or dermatologist, who can help determine the cause of your hair loss.
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