Occasional stress is a normal part of everyday living.
We all find ourselves in stressful situations from time to time, such as getting stuck in traffic or giving an important presentation at work. In most cases, those temporary feelings of anxiety will subside on their own and have no harmful effects on our health.
Stress becomes a problem, however, when it stays elevated for long periods of time. Chronic stress promotes high blood pressure, hurts the quality of our sleep and has other potentially harmful impacts. It can also affect the health of our skin.
In addition to influencing how we look and feel, skin has many important functions. It helps with sensory perception, regulates our body temperature and protects our internal organs.
Let’s take a closer look at how stress affects our skin. We’ll also go over some tips for reducing stress so you can enjoy beautiful, healthy skin.
Understanding Your Brain-Skin Connection
The emotions we all experience — such as worry, anxiety or grief — produce hormonal changes that affect the whole body, including our skin.
Stress can be either acute or chronic. Acute, or temporary stress as noted above, only lasts for a short time. We might experience acute stress when we’re startled by a loud clap of thunder or when we’re anxiously waiting for an important phone call. Physical symptoms might include an elevated heart rate, sweating or blushing. Because acute stress is temporary, these symptoms typically fade on their own with no long-term effect on our health.
Chronic stress occurs when we face long-term exposure to stressful situations, such as conflicts at work or caring for a loved one with a serious health condition. When your brain perceives a stressful stimulus, it triggers the production of hormones such as cortisol. Your skin has cortisol receptors which produce a stress response at the cellular level. Prolonged elevation of cortisol can promote skin inflammation, as well as increased oil and sebum production.
In addition to these hormonal changes, psychological stress may influence behaviors that can affect our skin. Some people touch their faces more often and wash less frequently when stressed out. This allows dirt and oil to accumulate, which leads to clogged pores and more breakouts. We may also find ourselves getting less sleep and exercise or eating less healthy foods.
Finally, environmental stressors like ultraviolet light and pollution may trigger stress hormones which can lead to skin damage.
Stress-Related Skin Damage
There are many skin conditions which may become worse when we go through stressful times in our lives. Stress may also contribute to premature signs of aging.
Acne & Breakouts
Skin produces more oils when stress hormones are elevated. This can lead to clogged pores and more frequent breakouts in people with acne. You may also notice more redness and inflamed skin when going through stressful situations.
Worsened Skin Conditions
Stress hormones can interfere with your immune system. Because of this, prolonged stress may aggravate symptoms of many skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema or psoriasis. This may lead you to experience more inflammation, redness and itching.
Your skin’s outer layer contains proteins and lipids which help to retain moisture. Stress may interfere with this ability to stay hydrated, leading to more dryness and itching. In addition, cortisol hampers the ability of hyaluronic acid, or HA, to help your skin retain moisture. Stress may cause increased sweating, which also accelerates moisture loss.
Chronic stress may lead to a loss of elasticity, a more tired appearance and poor complexion. This promotes the early appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. A lack of quality sleep due to stress may also contribute to swelling and sagging around the eyes.
You may notice that minor cuts and scrapes take longer to heal during periods of prolonged stress. That’s because cortisol and other stress hormones can slow down cell regeneration, interfering with skin’s ability to repair itself.
Hair and Nail Problems
Some people may experience hair thinning or even hair loss related to chronic stress. You may also notice fingernails becoming more brittle, breaking more easily or developing ridges.
Managing Stress for Healthier Skin
First, it’s important to remember that stress is not your fault. It’s your body’s natural response to difficult situations. Second, there are many things you can do to ease the impact of stress on your skin and your overall well-being.
Investing in regular self-care is a great place to start. Something as simple as getting enough good, quality sleep goes a long way toward helping you deal with tense situations, in addition to other health benefits. Eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of fluids and engaging in regular exercise are other stress-busting essentials. In fact, working out actually helps to lower stress hormones.
Set aside time each day for relaxation. Reading, meditation, deep breathing and yoga are soothing activities that help to calm your body, mind and spirit.
Spend quality time with the people you care about. Whether it’s sharing deep conversations with your kids or your significant other, or getting involved in organizations in your community, an active social life actually reduces stress! Stay in touch with family members and friends who live far away, either online or by phone. Talk to a mental health provider if needed for additional support.
Finally, make a healthy skin care regimen part of your self-care routine. Choose skin care products that are appropriate for your skin type. Cleanse and moisturize frequently and use a full-spectrum sunscreen to protect against harmful UV rays.
It’s also a good idea to speak with a dermatologist to address your unique skin-related concerns. At Cayce Medical Spa, our medical professionals work closely with patients to develop a personalized skin care plan that meets your needs and helps you feel confident in your skin.
To schedule an appointment, you can reach out to us online or call us at 573-234-6930.