Its the holiday season and as wonderful as it is, it can be stressful. Between cooking up delicious feasts and marathon gift shopping its enough to get the heart going! In my experience of treating skin for over a decade, I know that stress deeply affects our skin. This is a two way relationship: while our skin controls our bodies’ stress response through its receptors, the stress response also effects our skin. This can trigger sensitivity, acne, skin aging and disease. Stress and skin? The relationship creates another argument for serenity now.
Inflammation and Redness
Stress is inflaming for our skin. Those with rosacea and other inflammatory conditions have seen this first hand as emotional distress is cited to be one of the most common triggers of a rosacea flareup. This connection has be well studied. Stress hormones produced while experiencing distress can be detected in our skin cells and the body responds to them by inducing vascular permeability of the skin and inflammation. Along with this, stress upregulates the neuropeptide and neurotransmitter, Substance P, which leads to more inflammation and inflammation cytokines of the immune system also become upregulated, enhancing the inflammatory response.
Acne is also worsened with stress for a number of reasons. First, the inflammation explained above influences acne as blemishes are often full of inflammation. But beyond this, antimicrobial peptides in skin have been found to be impeded by stress, making us more vulnerable to bacterial infection that leads to pimple formation. Lastly, stress causes the production prolactin and this increases sebum production. This means that the more stressed we are, the more oily our skin can become. While oil alone does not cause acne, combined with inflammation and decreased antimicrobial function, makes for an acne-inducing environment.
Distress is incredibly aging. Not only for our skin but for our bodies and…well…our minds. A number of physiological responses to stress leads to a variety of signs of aging. Dull skin arises when adrenaline is produced in acute situations of stress. Adrenaline limits blood flow – and while this makes for a colorless complexion, it also can cause long term aging. For more info, read how blood circulation is key to anti-aging (LINK). Stress also prompts the body to secrete cortisol. This damages the DNA of skin cells similar to the process and results of UV damage. Anxiety and stress has been found to delay wound healing because of cortisol. Aging is just the accumulation of damage in the skin over time, so the ability to repair and heal is very important for keep our skin vibrant and healthy. Moreover, one study found that stressed out caregivers of impaired relatives needed 20% more time to repair because of this. Research has also linked insomnia to skin quality so stress that disrupts our sleep is also damaging. It was found that Insomnia decreased skin lipids as well as the size and density of corneodesmosomes (structures that hold the surface skin cells together on our outermost layer of epidermis). This means less moist, firm skin with an impeded barrier function.
There has been a lot of research on stress and psoriasis that displays how emotional this skin ailment is. This can be because of the increase in inflammation (especially because it is an autoimmune disorder) but also because of the links between stress and dehydration. Increased transepidermal water loss was found in mice who were put into overcrowded environments (uh-oh, is daily metro experience is dehydrating me?). This exacerbates eczema, psoriasis as well as contributes to the above discussed skin aging. Makes me want to make sure I repeat a calming mantra while in the morning rush commute.
There hasn’t only been studied on how stress influences the skin but also on how skin disease causes emotional distress. This is especially true for psoriasis cases as it leads to discomfort, appearance and frustration from the skin condition. I remember how stressed out and upset I was during my struggle with acne. While it is very, very, very difficult, I have found that trying to mitigate this stress can actually help to clear up the skin. This two way relationship also works in de-stressing the body and improving our complexions.