4 min read | Health Psychology

How Stress Affects the Skin, and What You Can Do About It

Dennis Relojo

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Having great looking skin goes beyond perfecting a beauty routine. Your dietary choices, sleep
schedule, and stress levels are also reflected in your skin.

This relationship can lead to a vicious cycle, with skin conditions leading to stress, and stress
leading to even more flare-ups. Here are a few common skin conditions that are impacted by
stress, what you need to know in order to break this cycle.

Stress and the epidermis: The secret link


The epidermis is your body’s first layer of skin. These skin cells act as a barrier to block bacteria
and similar pathogens from entering. Studies have shown that during a stressful situation this
protective layer of skin can be weakened, causing the development of cracks between skin cells
which allow bacteria to enter. This can then lead to irritation and rashes, as well as more serious
conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

Meditation may be a helpful way to improve your skin.

Stress also accelerates the breakdown of the epidermis, making it more susceptible to the sun’s
damaging UV rays. This increases your likelihood of being diagnosed with skin cancer. Sunscreen
application and your body can only do so much to protect your skin if your anxiety is actively
working against it.

While meditation is a helpful way to clear the mind, truly taking care of your skin starts
with completely changing your approach to dealing with stress.

Changes in the endocrine system

The endocrine system consists of the glands that produce all the different hormones your body
needs. Stress causes your body to release more of the hormone cortisol, which works to shut
down parts of your immune system as well as make you more susceptible to allergens.

Additionally, a build-up of cortisol can lead to weight gain, dull skin, and dry skin. When the
cortisol produced from stress is counteracted with joy or laughter, the body will experience a
reduction in stress and allergy symptoms.

Hormonal changes can exacerbate existing skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, viral warts,
and shingles. They can also lead to the development of cold sores. While cold sores typically go
away in a few days, if your stress isn’t handled properly, they may return on a more consistent
basis.

These flare-ups often cause more stress, leading to further flare-ups. Anxiety and stress also
frequently accompanied by consumption of junk food and alcohol, both of which adversely
affect the skin.

Increased acne

When examining acne in college students, doctors discovered that the higher their stress levels,
the worse their acne was. Heightened levels of stress often lead to a lack of sleep and improper

hygiene, which in turn contribute to an excess of acne. Students who were less worried and
practiced relaxation techniques were more likely to have clearer skin and calmer demeanors.
While it is clear there is some correlation between stress and acne, scientists are still not sure
exactly how stress leads to breakouts. A pimple is formed when a hair follicle is clogged by dead
skin cells and sebum. As the cells that produce sebum are affected by stress hormones, it is
hypothesised that the link between stress and acne is hidden in this process.

Frown lines and dull skin

For some people, stress can result in more frown lines and otherwise drooping facial
expressions. When under severe stress, you may not even notice that you have been frowning.
However, if you are in the habit of frowning regularly, your face will start to show it. These lines
will develop around your mouth, causing you to appear older.

Dry skin is another consequence of excessive stress: the body’s lipid barrier is reduced,
accelerating the evaporation process of bodily fluids. This leads to dryness, ultimately causing
the skin to lose its elasticity and quickening the aging process.

Similarly, dullness in the skin comes from a build-up of dead skin cells. If skin cells are not flaking
off or exfoliated, your skin will continue to look dull and lackluster.

Glowing and healthy skin requires a bit more effort than a perfect skincare routine, especially if
you live a stressful lifestyle. Be sure to carefully analyze these factors to help you become more
mindful of how stress has been affecting your skin. By tackling your stress, you'll be able to put
your health and your skin in the best condition possible.


Dennis Relojo is the founder of Psychreg and is also the Editor-in-Chief of Psychreg Journal of Psychology. Aside from PJP, he sits on the editorial boards of peer-reviewed journals, and is a Commissioning Editor for the International Society of Critical Health Psychology. A Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society, Dennis holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Hertfordshire. His research interest lies in the intersection of psychology and blogging. You can connect with him through Twitter @DennisRelojo and his website.