Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies, and it can show signs of stress in a number of different ways, such as psoriasis and eczema flare-ups, seborrheic dermatitis and even acne.
Of course, everyone’s body and skin will react to stress in different ways, as we all have different genetic makeups. When it comes to stress our skin can’t tell the difference between different types of stress; physical, emotional, psychological and environmental.
To the skin, stress falls into one of two categories: acute or chronic, the more detrimental form of stress for the skin is the chronic kind of stress. The longer you endure stress, the more it takes a toll on your skin.
Read on to find out the different ways stress can affect your skin and the rest of your body …
To better understand how stress might affect and inflame the skin, you need to realise that there is a deep and powerful connection of the skin, mind and gut. When the mind perceives stress, it can slow down digestion in the gut. The longer the stress lasts, the more of an impact it can have on your digestion, and when your digestion is slowed, it can affect the bacteria in your gut. A recent study found that high levels of stress can affect the gut bacteria much like a high-fat diet.
That slowed motility allows for an overgrowth of unhealthy strains of bacteria, and the natural balance of gut microbes is disrupted, leading to something called dysbiosis. This in turn causes the lining of your intestines to become ‘leaky,’ or more permeable, which triggers a body wide cascade of inflammation.
As a result of the internal inflammation, the skin may break out in acne or experience flare-ups of psoriasis or eczema.
When your body is under stress, your body thinks it’s under attack, and it’s going to form all these inflammatory markers or inflammatory cells to help treat that attack.
Because these inflammatory cells have increased in number, it can trigger flare-ups of any skin conditions people may be predisposed to.
Whenever our body feels it’s under stress, our fight-or-flight response kicks in. As a result, we experience a spike in adrenaline and cortisol.
An increase in adrenaline causes us to sweat more. It activates the eccrine glands, the sweat glands, which cause you to become dehydrated, because you’re losing a lot more water very quickly.
If your body thinks it’s under some sort of stress, it’s trying to cool itself down. If you’re not replenishing your body with water, you’re going to dry out.
Those who have dry skin in general are more prone to eczema. Stress is a known trigger for eczema.
The immune system is directly affected by stress.
Stress releases hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline into our systems. These chemical messages trigger certain physiological responses in our bodies, for instance, adrenaline increases the heart rate and elevates blood pressure, and cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream.
In terms of the skin, when the body produces too much cortisol, the immune system is weakened, causing an inflammatory response such as an eczema or psoriasis flare-up. This factor is particularly relevant for individuals who are predisposed to these skin conditions, stress can exacerbate or unmask those conditions.
The shift in hormone levels, cortisol in particular caused by stress can also be a contributing factor to pesky acne breakouts.
Stress stimulates the brain to produce a specific set of hormones that prepare the body for the stressful environment. As a side effect, these hormones rev up activity of sebaceous glands in the skin, leading to higher than normal levels of oil, blockages in the pores and acne breakouts.
When it comes to your scalp and hair, there are a couple of ways stress can manifest.
Some people might find their hair is oilier or drier than normal during times of stress, depending on the way their bodies react to the shift in hormone levels.
Everyone’s response is going to be different in severity, your scalp and your hair will definitely feel the effects of stress.Some individuals might experience flare-ups of seborrheic dermatitis, a cousin to psoriasis and dandruff. The condition could result in redness and flaking of the scalp.
In some cases, stress can even lead to hair loss. For example, when your body experiences a major stressor, like a severe illness, your body stops producing hair, which isn’t crucial for healing or surviving. The effects of such stress might not be noticeable until months later.
The same way your body stops producing hair in times of prolonged stress, it also stops making nails. Nails are not necessary for survival, so when it comes time for the body to distribute energy to promote healing, nails aren’t a top priority.
Additionally, nails can become brittle or start peeling during times of stress.
So how should you take care of your skin when you’re stressed out?
It’s best to keep your skin care routine simple by using gentle cleansers and moisturizers to remove excess oil and keep the skin well hydrated (particularly important for those with eczema).
For individuals who are acne prone, regular use of retinoids to keep the follicles clear so that oil does not become trapped, causing breakouts.
The first thing is being aware that your body is under stress and trying to find ways to either ameliorate the stress or find ways to release the stress, exercise and meditation have been known to help some individuals feel less stressed.
There isn’t one right answer for each person, but there are different things that will work for each individual, depending on what their stress triggers are.
Managing stress is a multifaceted effort, and there isn’t one single method for treating skin that under stress. Try to aim at getting a solid seven to nine hours of sleep, exercise three or four times a week and consider meditation or deep breathing exercises.