Can You Stress Your Skin Out?

How your overworked lifestyle can overwork your skin

Credits: Antonika Chanel at Unsplash.com
Edited By:
Raja Sivamani , MD, MS, AP

While ancient wisdom has long drawn the connection between foods and skin conditions, we now have the modern technology to identify and confirm this relationship. But why is it that certain foods trigger peoples’ skin pathologies at certain times more than others? Why is it fairly common to experience a huge pimple or acne breakout the day before an important event?

Perhaps it is time to further explore and look at the connection between chronic stress and skin. Research has shown there is an association between stress exacerbating certain skin conditions such as acne vulgaris and psoriasis.

To understand why this may happen, it is important to understand what happens in the body during times of high or prolonged stress.


The Effects of Stress

Under perceived stress, the body responds by producing “stress hormone” cortisol, a glucocorticoid produced by the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are a pair of small glands located on top of the kidneys that regulate many functions including your stress response. Cortisol has many effects that are intended to help the body cope with an immediate stressor but in today’s modern society, stressors are constant and many people end up experiencing symptoms and ailments attributed to prolonged cortisol release. Initially, the body will adapt. However, when the body stops being able to adapt, symptoms start to appear.

During this time of stress, the body is under sympathetic nervous system control; what is known as “fight or flight “ as opposed to parasympathetic which is known as “rest and digest.” Under sympathetic control, blood flow is shunted to limbs and muscle activity in the digestive tract is halted. Changes occur in the gut microbiome (known as dysbiosis) and overall digestive function is decreased.

What does this have to do with the skin? Inadequate digestion can lead to inflammation in the digestive tract and intestinal permeability (more commonly known as leaky gut) which has been shown to contribute to eczema and acne.


Resetting the Mind-Body Connection

More and more light is being shed on the phenomenon that is known as “mind-body” and while research is being done on this topic, more is still needed. It is clear that everything is indeed connected. What does this imply? It is important to treat the body and person as a whole; look beyond the skin and beyond the physical to find the source of whatever the body is perceiving as stress and manifesting on the skin.


3 Simple Things You Can Do to Minimize Stress

  • Begin your day by breathing deep, conscious breaths; breathing in through the nose for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds and breathing out through the mouth for 8 seconds. Start with 4 of these breaths and slowly increase each day to calm the nervous system.
  • Exercise at least 20 minutes per day to increase circulation and oxygen to the brain, release endorphins (feel-good chemicals) improve mood, release stress, and improve sleep (which will also reduce stress on the body).
  • Incorporate facial massage into your nightly skin care routine to release muscle tension in the face, improve lymphatic drainage, and induce relaxation.

For further information on stress, skin and the body, click on the article links below:

The Connection Between Stress and the Gut Microbiome

A Mindful Approach to Acne

The Gut Microbiome and the Skin

Exercise for Skin Health

Mindfulness for Healthier Skin

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