Hello readers, so as promised, this post is about how stress can affect the appearance of the skin. As outlined in a previous post, stress helps us to handle pressing situations and is not bad or harmful in itself. The detrimental effects of stress comes from the prolonged exposure to stressful conditions.
Image from Chen and Lyga, 2014
The effect of stress hormones on the skin
The diagram above, shows the biochemical pathway within the body in response to stress. The pituitary and hypothalamus (structures within the brain), release hormones that exert their effects on the skin cells (amongst cells of other organs and tissues).
Prolonged stress can manifest in the appearance of the skin in ways listed below:
Wrinkles: When cortisol is released, sugar levels in the blood can increase, which, in a continual flow, can cause such things as diabetes. On the skin, it encourages a process called glycation, a stress effect on the skin that damages collagen, hardening it, increasing the appearance of lines and wrinkles. Stress can also induce overeating, which can cause similar effects due to the elevation of blood sugar levels. This can be seen in cases of acanthosis nigricans, in which areas of thickened skin with hyperpigmentation are prominent. Acanthosis nigricans are often seen in the neck, groin, knees, elbows, knuckles, etc.
Dryness: Another stress effect on the skin is dry skin, which has to do with cortisol yet again. In this case, cortisol decreases the skin’s natural production of compounds like hyaluronic acid, a natural moisturizer found in young, healthy skin tissue. It can also damage the skin’s protective qualities that allow it to keep hydration levels up. When these things are compromised, the skin, as an effect of stress, becomes dry, damaged and susceptible to the elements.
Dullness: Another major way that stress effects the skin is by affecting the complexion. When stressed, our bodies also produce adrenaline, which is helpful if you’re out in the woods running from a predator, but, in daily life, it only can hurt. When adrenaline is present, blood flow to the skin is decreased, taking important nutrients (most importantly, oxygen) away from the skin. This allows for toxins to build up, a step that leads many types of skin to develop cellulite as well. Reduced vascular perfusion can lead to poor proliferation of skin cells and reduced production of intrinsic skin moisturising factors.
Acne: Stress hormones can upregulate sebum production in the skin, which can lead to clogged pores and acne. Although it was mentioned earlier that stress can cause dry skin; you would probably doubt this, but oily skin can also be dry. Dryness is as a result of reduced moisture levels and not oil. Trapped dirt and excess oils can turn to those pesky raised bumps full of the nasties!
Inflammation: Stress hormones can exacerbate and prolong inflammatory diseases like eczema, psoriasis, rashes, itching, etc.
In the next post in the series, I will outline a few ways to handle stress. So stay tuned!
How does stress show up on your skin?
1. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2014 Jun; 13(3): 177–190. Published online 2014 Jun.