woman in black and white stripe dress holding wine glass

“Stress is not a friend of ours, for our minds or for our skin.”

Everybody deals with stress, regardless of whether it is related to work, family, or just the daily struggle to get by.

We we told by Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City that stress is not a friend for either our minds or our skin.

The skin is our largest organ and can show signs of stress in many ways.

Because we are all different, our bodies and skins will react differently to stress. According to Dr. Whitney Bowe, a New York City dermatologist who is also the author of “The Beauty of Dirty Skin”, our skin cannot distinguish between different types of stress.

She told us via email that stress can be divided into two types: chronic or acute. Chronic stress is more damaging to the skin. Stress can cause more damage to your skin the longer you are under it.

Continue reading to learn about the many ways stress can affect your skin, and other parts of your body.

woman in black and white stripe dress holding wine glass

1. Inflammation is triggered by stress

Bowe stated that stress can cause skin inflammation and irritation. She looks at the “deep, powerful connection” between skin, mind, and gut to better understand the effects of stress. According to Bowe, stress can cause a slowdown in digestion in the stomach if it is perceived by the mind. Your digestion can be affected by stress. The longer it lasts, the worse it can make you feel. Recent research has shown that high levels of stress can have a negative impact on the gut bacteria, much like high-fat diets.

She explained that slow motility can lead to an increase in unhealthy strains and disruption of the natural balance of microbes in your gut. This is called dysbiosis. This causes the linings of your intestines become more porous, or ‘leaky’, which in turn triggers inflammation throughout the body.

She said that the skin can become more sensitive to the inflammation and may experience acne breakouts or flare-ups like eczema or psoriasis.

Dr. Forum Patel of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City reiterated Bowe’s point. He explained that stress causes your body to think it is under attack and that it will create inflammatory markers or inflammatory cell to treat it.

These inflammatory cells are more numerous than ever, which can cause flare-ups in any skin condition people might be predisposed to.

2. Stress can dry your skin out

Patel explained that our bodies respond to stress by activating the fight-or flight response. We experience an increase in adrenaline or cortisol.

She noted that adrenaline increases our sweat production. She said that adrenaline activates the sweat glands and eccrine glands. This causes you to lose more water quickly, she explained.

She said, “If your body believes it is under stress, it’s trying cool itself down.” “If your body doesn’t get enough water, it’s going to dry out.”

Patel stated that people with dry skin are more likely to develop eczema. Dr. Michael Eidelman, a New York City-based dermatologist, said that stress is known to trigger eczema.

3. Stress hormones can cause existing conditions to get worse or flare up

Eidelman stated that stress directly affects the immune system.

He pointed out that stress can trigger physiological reactions in the body by releasing hormones like cortisol or adrenaline. For instance, adrenaline increases the heart rate and elevates blood pressure, and cortisol increases sugar in the bloodstream, .according to the Mayo Clinic.

In terms of the skin, when the body produces too much cortisol, the immune system is weakened, .causing an inflammatory response such as an eczema or psoriasis flare-up. Bowe stated that stress can “exacerbate, or unmask” skin conditions.

4. Stress can make you oilier which can lead to acne breakouts

Stress can cause a shift in hormone levels, particularly cortisol, which can lead to acne breakouts.

Zeichner stated that stress stimulates the brain’s production of a set of hormones to prepare the body for stressful environments. These hormones can also increase the activity of the sebaceous glands, resulting in higher oil levels, blocked pores, and breakouts.

5. Stress can also cause hair and scalp problems

There are several ways that stress can affect your hair and scalp.

Patel says that some people may notice their hair becoming oilier or drier during stressful times, depending on how their bodies respond to changes in hormone levels.

She said that everyone’s reaction will be different. Stress will have an impact on your scalp and hair.

Eidelman stated that some people may experience flare-ups in seborrheic dermatologtitis. This is a cousin condition to psoriasis or dandruff. This condition can cause reddening and flaking of your scalp.

Patel stated that stress can lead to hair loss in some cases. Your body may stop producing hair when it experiences severe stress, such as a severe illness. This is not a critical step in healing or survival. She said that the effects of stress may not be apparent until several months later.

She said that hair can start to shed even when there aren’t any major stresses. She cited the keto diet, which she called a crash-diet, as an example. It’s basically a stressor, because it puts your body through significant changes.

6. Nails can be damaged by stress

Patel stated that the body also stops making nail after prolonged stress. She said that nails are not essential for survival. Therefore, when the body needs to distribute energy for healing, they shouldn’t consider nails a priority.

Science Daily also states that nails can become brittle and start to peel during stress.

How can you care for your skin when you are stressed?

Zeichner stated that it is best to keep your skin care simple. Use gentle cleansers and moisturizers to remove oily skin and keep it hydrated. This is especially important for people with eczema.

He suggested that acne-prone individuals use retinoids regularly to keep their follicles clean so that oil doesn’t get trapped and cause breakouts.

Bowe believes that managing stress requires a variety of skills. Bowe said that she suggests her patients get seven to nine hours sleep, exercise three to four times per week, and meditate or do deep breathing exercises.

Eidelman also agreed, stating that there’s no single way to treat skin under stress.

He said that the first step is to be aware of your stress levels and to seek out ways to reduce it. Meditation and exercise can also help to lessen stress.

He said that there is no one answer for everyone, but there are many things that can work for people depending on their stress triggers.