3 MIN READ | Health Psychology

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

Dennis Relojo-Howell

Cite This
Dennis Relojo-Howell, (2018, May 21). How Stress Affects the Skin, and What You Can Do About It. Psychreg on Health Psychology. https://www.psychreg.org/stress-skin/
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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, and what you need to know in order to break this cycle.

Stress and the epidermis

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.

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 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 foods and alcohol, both of which adversely affect the skin.

Increased acne

When examining acne in adolescents, researchers 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 practised relaxation techniques were more likely to have clearer skin and calmer demeanour. While it is clear there is some correlation between stress and acne, researchers 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 ageing 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 lacklustre.

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 analyse 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-Howell is the founder of Psychreg. He writes for the American Psychological Association and has a weekly column for Free Malaysia Today. 


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