Stress is one of the primary culprits of a host of physical health conditions, and issues with the skin are no exception. While stress can cause certain skin conditions, it can also exacerbate existing problems. Here’s how stress -- particularly chronic stress -- can affect skin concerns like acne and eczema.
There are different types of stress, and they’re not created equal. The state known as acute stress is more temporary and fleeting. It’s the type of stress caused by something like being stuck in traffic or seeing an oncoming car when you’re crossing the street. Acute stress generally goes as quickly as it came. On the other hand, chronic stress is ongoing. It’s often caused by continuing life stressors like issues at work or in relationships.
However, with both types of stress, our bodies respond similarly, releasing certain hormones (primarily cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine). In the case of acute stress, this means blood flow to our limbs and sharper concentration, which can aid in keeping us safe. But in the case of chronic stress, we produce those stress hormones continuously, disrupting the body’s natural rhythms. Too much time spent in the “fight, flight, or freeze” state can result in long-term physical health issues, not to mention emotional and mental health issues as well.
So how does the “fight, flight, freeze” state affect the skin? One of the key chemicals in the stress response, cortisol, actually causes pores to increase sebum production. Sebum is the oil that skin naturally produces, but when it mixes with dirt, bacteria, sweat, and dead skin cells, it can lead to acne problems like blackheads or whiteheads.
Clogged pores are only one skin-related side effect of stress. Eczema (also known as dermatitis) can flare up in response to chronic stress. This is because eczema is immune system-related, and the stress hormones interfere with healthy, normal immune responses. As a result, those who suffer with eczema (or have in the past) can experience outbreaks of this red or brown patchy skin condition, which can often itch terribly.
As if all of this wasn’t bothersome enough, we often don’t help ourselves during times of chronic stress. In fact, we’re more likely to engage in coping behaviors that further contribute to our skin symptoms. Some examples are working too much, not sleeping enough, skipping exercise, forgetting to stay hydrated, skimping on our skin care routine, smoking cigarettes, and drinking alcohol and caffeine.
It’s crucial to manage stress levels, especially in the case of chronic stress. Prioritize self care, set healthy boundaries, and get enough sleep. Be sure to get some physical movement each day -- even if it’s not a full workout -- and drink plenty of water, since your body needs more hydration when stressed.
Use a high-quality non-comedogenic skin care regimen daily, and consider seeing a dermatologist if you have existing skin conditions that are acting up.
If you’re in the Bellevue, Washington area and need an acne treatment or eczema treatment, contact North Pacific Dermatology today for an appointment.