Stress Awareness Month – Effects Of Stress On The Skin
In this article I will provide an overview on how psychological stress or physical stress effects the skin and how it can manifest into deeper skin and wellbeing concerns.
I will provide tools to help you to make positive changes to overcome a stressed-out skin.
How Does Stress Effect The Skin?
The skin is the largest organ of the body with a multitude of important functions; protection, absorption, excretion, secretion, regulation and sensation.
The skin acts as our first line of defence against environmental exposure, such as UV radiation, toxins, pollutants, bacteria, along with other harmful micro-organisms. The skin also has an important role to play when exposed to psychological and physical stresses.
Under stress, whether acute or chronic, the skin can manifest negative effects in the form of various inflammatory responses, such as redness, irritation, eczema, psoriasis and acne.
The psychological, brain, and nerve responses to stress send fine-tuned signals of complex mechanisms to the skin, and vice versa.
For example, when you feel nervous and stressed the skin becomes warm and flushed. Sweating may also occur.
Equally, when the skin is exposed to physical stress, environmental stresses, such as pollutant or UV exposure, stress hormones produced by the skin send signals to the brain. Both psychological and physical stresses perpetuate the stress response on the skin.
Chronic psychological stress or physical stress both contribute to a stressed skin. If this cycle is continued over a prolonged period of time, it can cause pro-inflammatory skin responses with visible signs on the skin’s surface, such as red, dry, itchy, irritated and inflamed symptoms. This cycle exacerbates existing inflammatory skin conditions, such as eczema, psoriasis and acne.
Stress activates the production of stress hormones such as cortisol, androgens and adrenocorticotropic.
Stress also compromises the immune system’s ability to fight off antigens, thus making the body more susceptible to infections.
When the psychological stress response is activated, the sympathetic nervous system further activates the immune system, thus leading to mast cell activity to release even more histamine into the blood stream. Increased histamine levels and other chemicals entering the blood stream cause the blood vessels to expand and the surrounding tissues become itchy and swollen.
Histamine is the substance the body’s immune system releases in response to injury, inflammation or allergic reaction.
This stressed-out skin state can compromise overall health and wellbeing.
Can Stress Cause Dry Skin?
The outer most layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, is composed of protein and lipids. The natural moisture factor (NMF) is responsible for the hydration, barrier and homeostasis, cell turnover (desquamation), and plasticity of the stratum corneum, protecting the underlying skin surface.
Studies highlight that psychological stress negatively effects the stratum corneum function’s ability to retain skin moisture, and also slows down its ability to self-heal, leading to dry skin.
Physical and environmental stress, particularly from chemicals, toxins, including certain topical skin care ingredients, UV exposure, diet, alcohol, smoking, all exacerbate skin dryness.
What Are Typical Dry Skin Symptoms?
Typically, dry skin symptoms include dry, flaky, itchy, sensitive, fine lines.
Can Stress Cause Acne?
When the psychological stress response is activated, the stress hormones can prompt the sebaceous glands to produce excess sebum (oil), as well as excess skin cells. These two factors combine to create a ‘sticky cell’ substance, which adheres to the inside of the skin’s pores. Bacteria add to the mix. As a result, an immune response is triggered to attack the bacteria, causing swelling, redness, and acne symptoms on the skin surface, visible as a break out, pimple, or spot.
Stress also increases blood flow and expands blood vessels, making the skin prone to inflammation.
When a person is under stress, and as already mentioned the immune system becomes compromised, the healing ability is impaired, leading to spots staying for longer and increasing in severity.
Physical and environmental stress, diet, alcohol, toxins, high impact exercise and certain topical skin care ingredients, can exacerbate acne symptoms.
What Are Typical Acne Symptoms?
Typically, acne symptoms include spots, pimples, congested pores, blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, milia, and more severe acne such as nodulocystic acne. Oily skin may also be present, but not always in the case of psychological stress related acne.
Can Stress Cause Sensitised Skin?
As already mentioned psychological stress can compromise the function of the immune system, which in turn effects the immune response and the stability of the skin balance.
Heightened psychological stress levels also effects the gut-skin axis and the immune response, thus the stability of the gut microbiome, known as ‘dysbiosis’, an imbalance of the bacteria in the gut and the skin.
These imbalances cause an overall pro-inflammatory effect on the skin, which becomes sensitised and can create red, swollen, or itchy symptoms. If an individual is particularly susceptible to allergies and inflammatory skin concerns with a lowered immune system, higher histamine levels tend to be present, thus intensifying any symptoms.
What Are Typical Dry Skin Symptoms?
Typically, sensitivity skin symptoms include red, dry, flaky, itchy and swelling.
Can Stress Cause Ageing Skin?
Evidence suggests that chronic psychological stress can speed up the ageing process by causing immune dysfunction, increased oxidative radicals and DNA damage, thus altering the structures of the skin’s cells, collagen and elastin fibres. With a weakened skin matrix, along with the moisture loss, also caused by chronic stress, inevitability the skin’s matrix steadily declines and collapses, promoting loss of skin tone, texture, volume and luminosity.
Physical and environmental stress, particularly UV exposure, poor diet, alcohol, smoking, and certain topical skin care ingredients exacerbate the ageing process of the skin.
What Are Typical Ageing Skin Symptoms?
Typically, ageing skin symptoms include fine lines, wrinkles, loose skin, crepey, jowls, uneven skin tone and discolouration.
Can Stress Cause Hyperpigmentation?
Evidence suggests that under psychological stress, the adrenocorticotropic hormone is at least partly responsible for the pigmentary response after exposure to UV radiation.
The adrenocorticotropic hormone which is released when under stress stimulates the melanogenesis process. This process involves the melanocyte in the deeper layer of the skin to produce melanin, (the pigment and colour of the skin), when exposed to UV radiation.
Inflammation of the skin and increased oxidative radicals triggered by stress is another factor which contributes to hyperpigmentation.
Physical stress, to include hormonal changes in the body, plays a role in the stimulation of the melanogenesis, the production of melanin. Environmental stress, specifically exposure to UV radiation, is the activating component when combined with all of the other factors in the production of melanin.
If under stress, hyperpigmentation is initially found in the surface layers of the skin. Prolonged chronic stress can lead to melasma, deeper pigmentation found in the dermal layer of the skin.
Hyperpigmentation is relatively straight forward to treat, providing protocols are followed. Melasma may take years to treat and to remove successfully.
What Are Typical Hyperpigmentation Symptoms?
Typically, hyperpigmentation skin symptoms include uneven skin tone, discolouration, darker skin patches. Inflammation.
Can Stress Cause Puffy Eyes?
Chronic psychological stress can speed up the aging process of the skin around the eyes and eyelids as described above. The skin becomes too lax and tends to sag, the muscular tissues are weakened which contribute to the sag.
Stress effects sleep, lack of sleep promotes dark eye circles and puffiness around the eyes.
Physical stresses, environmental stress, particularly toxins, poor diet, alcohol, smoking, lack of sleep, individuals with a predisposition to allergies, all exacerbate the production of excess tissue fluid. This drains into the sagging pockets on the upper eyelids and under the eyes, creating puffy eyes.
What Are Typical Puffy Eye Symptoms?
Typically, puffy eye symptoms include fine lines, wrinkles, heavy eye lids, eye bags, dark eye circles, swollen eyes.
How to Cope With Stress
Apply supportive tools to cultivate your internal resources in order to combat stress and improve skin health.
Aim to reduce life stresses to regulate the hormonal activity, which in turn will regulate and rebalance the skin.
Understanding stress can be the gateway to finding simple ways on how to cope with it.
You might find it helpful to read the full articles where I elaborate on various coping strategies.
- Eat a balance, healthy diet
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid sugar and high GI foods
- Eat foods high in antioxidants
- Eat foods high in polyphenols
- Eat fermented foods to strengthen your gut microbiome
- Avoid Alcohol
- Adopt healthy lifestyle habits
- Avoid smoking and taking drugs
- Be more active
- Reduce high impact exercises
- Incorporate relaxing activities
- Tap into your calming breath work daily
- Connect body and mind via yoga or meditation
- Rest before sleep time
- Avoid digital devices before bed time
- Seek a professional skin aesthetician to assess the skin condition
- Try a professional treatments that suits your skin’s needs
- Use the correct skincare products and routine at home daily
- Skincare treatments at Emporium
What Supplements Help To Reduce Stress?
Several supplements are linked with supporting the reduction of stress, as well as help increase your body’s resistance to life’s stresses. These including, Ashwagandha, L-theanine, B-complex Vitamins, Vitamin D3, Magnesium and Saffron.
At A Glance Supplements That Promote Skin Health
Our Choice – ‘Viridian’ Supplements
Clear Skin Complex
Natural Vitamin E
Organic Scandinavian Rainbow Trout Oil
Vegan EPA & DHA Oil
Synerbio Daily High Strength
The Clear Skin Cookbook – The Medicinal Chef Dale Pinnock
Fuel Food Cookbook – Oliver McCabe
Food For Life – Tim Spector
Aesthetician profile expanding 35+ Years
Personal experiences via Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and Psychotherapy
500 hour Yoga Teacher training journey
National Library Of Medicine (NIH)
Public Med Central
Author/ Creator / Director: Angela Taffinder the founder of Emporium Treatment Clinic. A practising Aesthetician for 35+ years, holistic and wellbeing advocate and yoga instructor.
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