The Link Between Stress and Skin Health

September 10th, 2014 | Self Improvement, Skin care

Contributed by reader, Jenni Barnes

Much research has been conducted into the effect that chronically high levels of stress can have on everything from cardiovascular health to mental well-being. Recently, studies have also shown that high job stress can result in a significantly higher chance of contracting Type 2 diabetes and indeed, it may be said that science is only just beginning to realize the importance of an integrative approach to health. It isn’t just our internal organs that are affected by chronically high levels of stress hormones; scientists have also discovered the powerful effects that stress can have on the appearance and health of our skin. These are just a few findings which reveal how excess stress can cause premature aging, disease, and unpleasant, painful skin conditions.

Short-Term Stress May Actually Be Beneficial to Skin in Particular Cases: One of the most recent studies on skin health, published on August 14, 2014 in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology, concluded that stress can actually have beneficial effects on the skin, reducing inflammation and promoting rapid healing in three types of skin irritation (dermatitis, acute allergic contact dermatitis and atop dermatitis/eczema). Stress stimulates the release of glucocorticoids, which reduce inflammation. However, this is the case only when glucocorticoid levels are increased to a moderate extent; when they are chronically high, they compromise the innate immunity of the skin, weaken the skin’s permeability barrier and interfere with the process of wound healing. By compromising the skin’s natural barrier, stress allows infectious agents, allergens and irritating substances to penetrate the skin. Stress can also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb useful nutrients; this is the case with Vitamin D. Excess cortisol (the ‘fight of flight’ hormone) has been found to hamper the body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D3, an anti-inflammatory compound which regulates the immune system, giving the body its best fighting chance against everything from colds, to cancer and skin allergies. This is why those suffering from stress who do not obtain nutrients from a wide enough variety of fruits and vegetables, can often benefit from supplementation.

Stress can worsen psoriasis, acne and rosacea: While the exact causes of conditions like psoriasis, acne, and rosacea is difficult to determine, dermatologists worldwide have pointed to stress and long-term sun exposure as triggering factors. Ironically, these skin conditions can produce more stress; acne, for instance, has been linked to depression and anxiety. Conditions like psoriasis can cause itching, scaling, irritation and even pain, which is why choosing an all-natural ointment or cream is ideal; products containing harsh chemicals can further compromise skin and expose it to toxic build-up. Acne is another skin condition that can be caused by stress. Excess cortisol stimulates an influx of androgens like testosterone, which lead to the production of sebum and thicken the epidermis, causing pores to block and providing fertile ground for spots and blackheads to form. To treat acne, once again, natural products work best, since they will not dry your skin or expose it to unwanted chemicals.

Dandruff: Stress can cause dandruff and itchiness by altering the bacterial balance on the scalp and causing skin to shed and flake. These flakes absorb oil and cling to the scalp, causing more flakes to form.

Stress can cause harmful behaviors: Stress can make it more difficult to avoid scratching or pulling at skin, which can exacerbate already painful situations. When we feel stressed out or pressed for time, we can also grow lazy, neglecting to apply products that should be part of our daily routine if suffering from skin sensitivity or skin conditions like psoriasis.

Positive steps to take if we are suffering from stress: In addition to addressing our skin problems through natural skincare, we should also aim to reduce our stress levels, by taking a comprehensive approach to health and well-being. Exercise has been found to reduce cortisol levels and indeed, yoga is particularly useful in combatting fatigue and chronic stress. It is thought that the secret power of yoga lies in its combination of mindfulness and controlled breathing. Nutritional intake is also important if we are to keep stress at bay; a diet high in processed foods, refined sugar and salt can expose the body to toxic build-up, which contributes to the cross-linkage of collagen and the ensuing formation of wrinkles and loss of firmness. For optimal skin health, we should aim to consume a wide variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables (preferably organic), and attempt to include more raw food sin our diet, to harness their potent phytonutrients in their best state.


T Lin, Paradoxical Benefits of Psychological Stress in Inflammatory Dermatoses Models Are Glucocorticoid Mediated. 2014. doi: 10.1038/jid.2014.265.

The Health, Stress may be food for your skin, accessed August 28, 2014.

American Academy of Dermatology, Stress and Skin, accessed August 28, 2014.

E Choi, Mechanisms by which psychologic stress alters cutaneous permeability barrier homeostasis and stratum corneum integrity.Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 2005. 124: 587-95-

Leslie, Dealing with Stress, accessed August 28, 2014.

Natural, Are stress and high cortisol depleting your vitamin D?, accessed August 28, 2014.

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