Stress and Your Skin
March 19, 2019 | Published by Adrenal Fatigue Team
There is a strong connection between stress and your skin’s health. This connection has only become stronger as science has shed new light onto how stress affects your body. Recent studies show that at least 30% of dermatology patients also have unaddressed underlying psychological issues, which, if addressed, can have a profound impact in promoting healthier skin. (3)
The effect stress can take on your skin largely takes place through the HPA axis (hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal gland). The HPA axis is one of the most important elements of the process known as homeostasis, which maintains a steady internal biochemical and physiological balance in your body. One of the primary responsibilities of the HPA axis is to respond to stress (the fight or flight reaction) and return the body to homeostasis once the stressor is gone.
The HPA axis also adjusts cortisol levels according to the needs of the body via the Adrenal Corticotrophic Hormone (ACTH). ACTH is secreted from the pituitary gland in response to orders from the hypothalamus and travels in the bloodstream to the adrenal cortex. Your skin has also developed a fully functional peripheral HPA system where ACTH and its receptors are produced in the skin cells.
Your body can often adapt to short term acute stress, but chronic stress suppresses immunoprotection, increases susceptibility to infections, and exacerbates some allergic and inflammatory diseases, which can wreak havoc on your skin. People suffering from psoriasis, acne, or other skin conditions may also notice flare ups in times of high or chronic stress.
Skin is the primary organ responsible to external stressors including pain, cold, heat, and mechanical tension. Your skin contains three classes of receptors responsible for transmitting the outside signals to the spinal cord and to the brain. The brain responds to signals transmitted to nerve terminals, which influence the stress response to the skin. Your skin and its appendages are not only targets of stress mediators, but also important factors that are responsible for various immune and inflammation responses.
Another effect stress has on the skin is the aging process. While science still hasn’t quite uncovered all the causes for how age shows up on your skin in the form of wrinkles, change in pigmentation, and loss of elasticity, UV irradiation has proven to be one of the most aggressive stressors to skin. Every day your skin is under continual UV stress, which repeatedly reactivates the HPA axis. This process can have critical side effects on skin including flat dermal-epidermal junction, reduced number of fibroblasts (cells that produce collagen), decreased epidermal thickness, and disruption of the dermal fibrous network, which in simple terms are all signs of aging. Studies have also shown that stress leads to increased oxidative and mitochondria dysfunction, which can also have a profound impact on accelerated skin aging. (2)
While under increased stress many suffer from sleep deficiency, which has been shown to reflect on skin health as well. A recent study showed that people with poor sleep quality had increased signs of intrinsic skin aging, such as uneven pigmentation, fine lines, and reduced suppleness. The study also showed a slower healing time after skin barrier disruption. (2)
Other effects of stress on skin may be more direct than you might think. While it’s true that under stress your body releases cortisol, which can increase the skin’s oil production, many people suffer from social ticks, such as touching their own face while under stress. This transfers anything that may be on your hands onto your face, which increases the likeliness of having a breakout.
Stress also has a habit of making us skip out on our healthy routines. When we’re not taking care of ourselves, our immune system can greatly suffer. Sleep, exercise and the food you eat all have a tremendous impact on your immune system which, in turn, can affect your overall skin health. If you feel like your skin isn’t at its healthiest, it’s worth looking into natural ways to get back to looking and feeling your best. Address any stressors you may have in your life and make any adjustments that may be necessary. Try to ensure you’re getting the proper amount of exercise and sleep while also keeping your diet in mind. You can also consider herbal supplements that are designed to promote healthy, stronger skin. (1)
- Barnes, Z. Here’s How Stress Actually Impacts Your Skin. Self Magazine. https://www.self.com/story/how-stress-impacts-skin
- Chen, Y and Lyga, J. Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/
- The Mind-Skin Connection. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/beauty/features/effects-of-stress-on-your-skin