Stress :: It Doesn't Do Your Skin any Favors

As I stopped to look at my face in the mirror a few weeks ago - between dashing here and there to care for my toddler and get my preschooler and first grader to school on time - I was struck with some unwelcome reality. The stress I have been under this past year; a new baby, busy school schedules, a new job for my hubby, running the business and most recently a high stress period leading up to our rebranding - has not done my skin any favors. 

My skin looked dull. A few acne scars from the crazy pregnancy and postpartum hormones around my chin, some redness and sensitivity around my nose, tired eyes from lack of sleep...where did that youthful, plump skin go? 

It seems like common sense; we talk a lot about how what we put on topically (personal care products) or consume (diets) affect our skin, but I guess I had never given much thought to the role that stress (and my emotional health in general) played on my skin. But of course! If skin is a barrier of defense for our body, why wouldn't it also mimic our state of mind? 

As I began to research the effects of stress and emotional health on the skin, I discovered that there is a field that addresses the impact of an individuals emotions as related to their skin, called "psychodermatology". How fascinating! 

The more I looked at the role of stress and our skin, the more I realized that this topic is waaaaay too broad to cover in a single blog post. Besides, I think it would be worthwhile to look at some practical ways to manage stress in general (any parents out there ever feel stressed?!) So, let this be the beginning of a series of posts that I hope you find helpful. I want to "stress" (sorry - couldn't help it!) that while I am always looking for interesting and informative topics to blog about, this series is coming from my own personal desire to manage my stress and take care of my skin... and I have a hunch that I'm not the only one out there! So on that note...let's begin! 

In essence, stress makes the skin more sensitive and reactive. Have you ever experienced any of the following in high stress periods?

  • acne lesions 
  • fever blisters
  • hives
  • dehydrated skin
  • excessive perspiration
  • increased inflammation of rosacea or psoriasis

We must understand that all body systems - including the nervous system and immune system  - are talking to each other, and there are so many nerve endings that terminate in the skin! Think of it this way:

  • When we are nervous - we sweat
  • When we are mad - we flush
  • When we are embarrassed - we blush

Now, not all stress is equal. Some stress is healthy, keeps us motivated and protects us from danger. However, chronic stress can do some damage. Everyone goes through a short-lived bouts of stress (think of the student who goes through final exams and gets a fresh crop of acne). This is because cortisol, the stress hormone, increases oil production. Once the stress subsides, the skin begins to return to its pre-stress condition. 

Chronic emotional issues like depression and anxiety can really take a toll, particularly in those who already suffer from skin conditions such as psoriasis or rosacea. Studies are revealing that addressing the underlying psychological condition in patients with psoriasis, for example, has a powerful impact on the successful treatment of the condition. 

Psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression can also lead to a spiraling cycle of feel bad / look bad. A teenager's self-esteem may suffer due to acne, which may lead to depression. A depressed or anxious mom may neglect her skin care/beauty routine and end up further depressed as her self-esteem diminishes more.
Our skin, of course, is not the only thing affected by stress, but it certainly gives us some clues as to what is going on internally. What about you? What red flags does your skin send up when you are in need of some rest?


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