As common as stress is, most of us don’t consider the consequences it can have on our skin. In most cases, stress and its impact on the skin can be easily managed. We’ve done the research on how to do this, so that you can take one more thing off your ‘to-do’ list. After all, you only have one skin. Read on for our top tips on keeping your skin feeling and looking its best no matter what life throws your way.
While stress is completely normal, too much of it can have some noticeable effects on your skin, as well. Today, we’re exploring the science of stress, the impact it can have on your skin, and most importantly, what you can do to manage it and maintain a youthful glow even in the most stressful of times.
Stress can be defined as your body’s total response to environmental demands or pressures, often a result of the interactions between people and their environment that strain their adaptive capacities and affect their overall well-being.1 Stress happens to everyone, but when it lasts for a long time, it could harm your health – and that includes your skin, too.
Have you ever noticed your eczema flaring up when you get into a heated fight with your significant other? Or more breakouts than usual when you’re spending more time at work? It’s not all in your head – stress really can affect your skin’s appearance and sensitivity, and also lead to flare-ups of pre-existing skin conditions and diseases.2 Let’s check out three of the most common side-effects of stress on skin below.
- Breakouts: Studies have shown that stress causes a chemical response in your body that may exacerbate skin problems like breakouts and acne.3 When your body physically reacts to stress, your adrenal glands receive distress signals from your brain that cause your body to release various hormones which translate into those dreaded physical signs of stress.4 Enter acne, breakouts, and redness – things that make an already stressful situation even worse.
- Flare-ups: Already susceptible to a pre-existing skin condition like eczema or psoriasis? Don’t be surprised if a particularly stressful time causes a flare-up. Stress causes your body to go into flight-or-fight mode, causing an increase in the production of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.5 An overdose of these hormones is what causes an inflammatory response in your skin, which is why those living with skin diseases like eczema experience this inflammatory response to a more obvious degree in times of stress.
- Early Signs of Aging: One long-term effect of stress? In a word: wrinkles. Chronic stress is a problem that many face, and unfortunately, it tends to go hand-in-hand with premature aging. Those that suffer from chronic stress may also be susceptible to cellular aging, which slows down the renewal of your skin, resulting in noticeably duller skin to show for it.6
Now that we’ve covered some of the most common effects of stress on your skin, what can you do to help manage and reverse any physical signs of stress on your skin?
- Get your sleep: Easier said than done, right? Anyone that’s stressed knows that a good night’s sleep is the first thing to go out the window. But, getting enough rest is key to helping your skin reset and recover.7 The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7 and 9 hours of sleep each day, so there’s no more important time to prioritize your sleep than in times of stress.8
- What you eat matters: We all know that your diet affects your skin, but this is especially important to consider when you’re feeling stressed out. Your skin performs many crucial functions, from regulating body temperature to maintaining fluid balance and controlling moisture loss, so it’s a no-brainer that what you eat affects your skin’s appearance and performance.9 Nourish your body with foods that you know work for you, and avoid foods that will be detrimental or exacerbate any skin problems. Above all, stay hydrated with plenty of water.
- Work out so you don’t break out: De-stress by breaking a sweat! Exercise is a great way to reduce your body’s stress hormone levels, including adrenaline and cortisol. It also increases your body’s production of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators, which undoubtedly help to reduce your overall stress levels.10Just remember to take care of your skin before, during, and after your workout, too!
- Relaxation is key: One of our favourite way to de-stress? Relax! Pick a favourite activity and just do it. Treat yourself to a day at the spa, go for a hike on one of your favourite trails, or kick back at home with a lukewarm bath and a favourite book. Don’t be afraid to unwind with some guilt-free “me-time” – your stress levels and your skin will thank you!
Whether your skin’s reacting to your stress with a breakout, redness, or dryness, be sure to stick with a routine. It's easy to rush out of the bathroom in the morning without taking the time for moisturizer, but this can make all the difference. If extra care is needed, a complete routine can help restore your skin’s radiance and texture and to get it back on the right track.
At the end of the day, nobody knows you better than yourself, and the best thing you can do for your skin in times of stress is to anticipate it and set up a game plan to tackle it. “Be proactive and take control of the situation before it escalates,” says Dr. Rivers. “Your skin will thank you in the long term.” So, the next time life hands you a curve-ball and your stress levels begin to spike, keep our tips in mind so that you can minimize the damage to your skin before things spiral out of control.
- Medline Plus. 31 August 2018. Stress and your health. Retrieved from: https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003211.htm
- Garg, A., Chren, M., and Sands, L.P. JAMA Dermatology. January 2001. Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis. Retrieved from: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamadermatology/fullarticle/478156
- Zouboulis, C. and Bohm, M. 26 October 2004. Wiley Online Library. Neuroendocrine regulation of sebocytes – a pathogenetic link between stress and acne. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1600-0625.2004.00254.x
- Arizona Dermatology. 2018. How does stress affect your skin? Retrieved from: https://arizonaderm.com/how-stress-affects-your-skin/
- Suarez, A., et al. January 2012. US National Library of Medicine. Psychoneuroimmunology of Psychological Stress and Atopic Dermatitis: Pathophysiogic and Therapeutic Updates. Retrieved from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704139/
- Sandoval, M. and Ayres, 18 December 2016. E. SpringerLink. Skin Aging and Stress. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-46352-0_4
- National Eczema Association. 2018. Eczema and Emotional Wellness. Retrieved from: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/
- National Sleep Foundation. 2018. How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved from: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need/page/0/2
- Nichols, H. 14 November 2017. Medical News Today. Five life hacks for healthy skin. Retrieved from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320071.php
- Harvard Health Publishing. 13 July 2018. Harvard Medical School. Exercising to relax. Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/exercising-to-relax