Does Emotional Stress Affect Your Skin?

You have been feeling stressed, and now you have got another rash. Which makes you more stressed. What is going on?

It is true: what you are feeling inside will eventually show outside. Stress can cause all sorts of skin problems as well as exacerbate existing conditions.

We often do not realise our stress and our skin breakouts are related, but think about the last time your skin flared up. Were you under stress?

Perhaps it was a new job that caused a red rash around your chin.

Or a relationship breakdown that made you break out in hives.

You might even remember when you were a teenager, stressed about an upcoming performance or party, then horrified to discover your acne had flared up.

It seems like an unfair double whammy, for our skin to betray us when we are down. Why does it happen?


The inflammation pathway

Stress can cause a chemical reaction that affects your skin.

Dr Neera Nathan, writing for Harvard Health, explains:

“The brain-skin axis is an interconnected, bidirectional pathway that can translate psychological stress from the brain to the skin and vice versa.”

Dr Nathan says stress triggers glands which release more cortisol and other hormones called catecholamines, which in turn cause inflammation. Stress can also cause inflammation through the gut-skin connection. Stress impacts the balance of bacteria in your gut, which can lead to inflammation.

The inflammation is intended to help you: it is to heal the wounds that your body is anticipating from the stressful situation. But in our modern world, the inflammation is more likely to cause redness and itching, and trigger conditions such as psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema.


It is psychodermatological

The study of the connection between skin and mind is called psychodermatology.

A 2020 study review of research studies by the University of Messina in Italy found that people affected by a skin disorder often have a related psychological problem.

They cite numerous studies which showed that people with depression and anxiety often have skin conditions, and vice versa. Interestingly, they also found a link in skin problems with people who reported high levels of anger and disgust.


How to reduce the impact of stress on your skin

The best way to manage stress induced skin flare ups is to manage stress. Dial-up all your stress management tactics such as:

  • Practise mindfulness or meditation
  • Reduce screens and social media in your leisure time and get more sleep
  • Move your body as much as you can with activities you find enjoyable
  • Eat more anti-inflammatory foods, including foods high in vitamin B, magnesium and fatty acids such as fish, whole grains and fruit and vegetables
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take time for yourself as much as possible. Do what makes you feel good, even if it is not “productive”
  • And do not forget to keep up your skin care routine.

Important. Never self-diagnose. If you notice a rash or new skin problem – even if you have been stressed – see your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Different skin issues require different treatment.