Stress is a normal mental, physical, and emotional reaction that individuals experience due to changes in their environment. Most environmental changes, also known as stressors, often result in destructive health outcomes. Scientists suggest, however, that stress is essential to human advancement. This is because it allows individuals to adapt to unprecedented changes and develop solutions to cope.
Despite stress playing a role in positive human development, researchers also note that stress is only beneficial in low levels. Chronic stress can lead to negative implications associated with elevated anxiety and depression. However, most individuals ponder whether their stress level is affecting their skin, especially because there is limited research on the topic.
How Stress Causes Skin Problems, the Science
The brain and the skin are interconnected in that they share a bi-directional pathway. In other words, stressors affecting the brain can adversely affect the skin and vice versa. The hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis refers to three interrelated glands that play a crucial role in the body’s response to stress.
Therefore, when stressors trigger the HPA axis, they facilitate the production of pro-inflammatory products. This includes cortisol and fight or flight stress response hormones known as catecholamines or adrenaline. As a result, they can give rise to numerous skin conditions.
However, these hormones do not directly impact the skin. Instead, they activate skin receptors that increase inflammation, impaired wound healing, and less resistance to infections. Furthermore, it can bring about more oil and sebum production, resulting in skin lumps.
Additionally, stress interferes with an individual’s mental functions, resulting in fluid imbalance and diminished homeostasis between internal and exterior tissues. As a result, stress affects the skin by disrupting temperature balance, fluid retention, and sensory receptors.
Sorry to say, it gets worse. It can also interfere with behavioral responses that contribute to skin deterioration. For example, some people occasionally touch and rub their faces when nervous. Therefore, they introduce germs to their faces, thus worsening conditions like acne. Additionally, when individuals are stressed, they stray from healthy habits like maintaining a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and hygiene. Consequently, these behaviors can promote further stress to the skin.
How does skin stress manifest?
Stress is one of the significant contributors to acne because it initiates the excess production of cortisol, responsible for the production of corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) by the hypothalamus. CHR stimulates oil release by the sebaceous glands, thus blocking skin pores and contributing to acne. Therefore, alleviated stress occasionally manifests as acne.
The indicators of skin stress also include dry skin and bags under the eyes. Dry skin results from stress' interference with the outer layer of the skin. It's also known as the stratum corneum, responsible for maintaining hydration in the skin cells. Similarly, cell dehydration can lead to bags under the eyes due to decreased elasticity, characterized by puffiness and swelling.
Alleviated stress can also lead to rashes because of diminished immune system response, the formation of wrinkles, hair loss, and graying hair. Similarly, stress can contribute to sore lips and tooth damage as a result of occasionally biting the lips and grinding teeth. Therefore, you should look out for these manifestations to identify the impact of stress on your skin.
My skin is stressed! How can I deal with it?
Stressors are often inevitable because of unprecedented changes in the human environment. However, there are several solutions to deal with stress and prevent it from interfering with your skin.
- Always ensure that you allocate time for relaxing and engaging in fun activities to enhance your physical and mental health.
- Share your problems with family and friends for social support.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol, since they can increase your stress.
- Maintain good lifestyle habits like healthy eating and exercise.
- Meditate to limit psoriasis.
- Drink water regularly.
The skin is one of the most sensitive organs in the body. Therefore, any chemical, mental, or psychological adversities can negatively reflect on your skin. However, learning how to identify the potential signs and symptoms of skin stress can help you deal with them before they result in adverse outcomes. Nonetheless, if you are experiencing such issues, you can see a dermatologist or mental health professional for guidance on the best way forward.