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Can Stress Cause Skin Problems?

a woman is scratching her face

What is stress?

Stress is basically a physical response to certain situations or events. It’s caused by your body releasing fight hormones. These are the chemicals produced by your body, such as adrenaline which contribute to this hormone response.

Stress also affects how you feel when you find it difficult to cope with something being under pressure. 

Everyone's reaction to stress is different. The way you respond may depend on your personality and how you respond to a challenging environment.

Stress effects on skin

When you’re stressed, the body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. They affect different functions of the body, like the flow of blood to your skin. A common symptom of stress is skin irritation or a rash. There are various other stress-related skin problems to look out for.

  • You might have temporary hair loss after a stressful event like the loss of someone or a major operation.
  • Extreme stress may also lead to vitiligo if it is hereditary. This is a condition where pale white marks develop on the skin. 
  • There’s a type of hive called ‘adrenergic urticaria’ that is caused by stress. Hives are itchy, red, raised bumps that appear on the skin.

Ongoing stress can also weaken your immune system making you more susceptible to infection and skin diseases like vitiligo and urticaria. These are autoimmune diseases. This means your body thinks it’s fighting an infection and in turn, produces chemicals that attack various normal cells.

Stress may also lead to inflammatory conditions like rosacea, a common skin condition that can cause redness and visible blood vessels on your face.

If you’ve got a skin condition like acne, stress can make them worse.

Responding to stress

Stress can be hard to avoid and how you acknowledge it can affect your skin too.

Stress can keep you awake at night. It may also increase the urge to score itchy eczema and urticaria. This can make it even worse to get a good sleep in the night.

You might find you turn to sugary and fatty comfort foods, caffeine, alcohol, or smoking to cope with stress. But they aren’t good for your overall health or skin. For Example, caffeine and alcohol can cause skin redness, such as rosacea. They might also activate the itchiness of urticaria and eczema. 

Breaking the cycle

Skin conditions may also elevate stress because of how they make you feel about your skin. For instance, you might worry about stress causing a burst making it more difficult to cope with whatever’s making you stressed.

It’s important to break this cycle. Have a talk with your doctor about handling both problems together. Relaxation techniques can assist you to reduce stress and the scratching habit that can make eczema worse.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can help you react differently to stressful situations and also teach you to cope with the psychological effects of a skin condition. 

Mindfulness is about being active at the moment and makes you more aware of how you feel, both emotionally and physically. It can help reduce symptoms of stress that affect your skin. 

Stress Symptoms

Under stress, chronic skin conditions tend to rise up, making any skin problems worse. Symptoms of stress-related skin conditions include:

  • Acne and skin rashes
  • Burning or itching skin
  • Eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea flare-ups
  • Hair loss or oilier hair
  • Hives and red bumps
  • Dandruff, redness, and flaking of the scalp
  • Delayed wound healing
  • Dermatitis
  • Dry skin, hair, and nails
  • Fever blisters and cold sores
  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Nails that stop growing and become brittle or peel
  • Under-eye bags and dark circles

Follow these tips for stress-related skin conditions

  • Stick to your regular skincare routine, even you’re stressed. Keep it simple. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser morning and night, apply a moisturiser with sunscreen and avoid skipping prescription and non-prescription topical treatments.
  • Schedule regular exercise. Find something you enjoy doing, whether that’s jogging, running, cycling, hiking, or any other thing. Add in some gentle yoga that will surely help combat stress. It’s good for your skin and your overall well-being and elevates your feel-good hormones.
  • Practice regular stress management activities, including deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, daily affirmations, and journaling and get youthful spotless skin.
  • Be cautious of your diet. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, sweets and refined complex carbs, highly processed foods, and food allergens. Focus on eating a ‘rainbow’ of fruits and vegetables, good fats, lean protein, and antioxidant-rich foods such as avocado and berries.
  • Take time for yourself to relax and unwind. Take a regular nightly walk around. Read a book or listen to music, or do whatever makes you feel relaxed.
  • Keep a regular sleep schedule. Stress can make you look tired and unwell, but so can lack sleep. Proper sleep helps elevate mood, cognition and will help you cope with daily stress. Have a proper uninterrupted sleep every night. Avoid using social media and your electronics an hour before bed.
  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water helps flush out toxins from the body and keeps your skin hydrated. 

Take Away

Speak to your doctor, who can suggest healthy lifestyle advice. These may help you feel better to be able to cope with both stress and your skin problem. You may not be able to avoid stress altogether but stress management is necessary. But there are ways to reduce stress levels and their impact on your skin.