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The Effects of Stress on Your Skin

Stressed out skin? When your anxiety levels are sky high - about work, relationships, or anything in between - the effect of stress on your skin can leave it far from bright and healthy.

Stress can have detrimental effects on skin, with the most common effects including breakouts, slow healing, fine lines and wrinkles appearing and worsening of existing conditions (like eczema). Some people also experience stress rashes, blisters or hives during high stress periods.

This is what happens to your body under stress

Let’s start with a quick crash course in the chemistry of stress.

When you experience a stressful situation, your brain sends distress messages to your adrenal glands. This triggers the adrenal glands to release a cocktail of hormones into your body.

2 of the main hormones released are cortisol and norepinephrine. These both play a role in the signs of stress on your face.

Cortisol: A rise in cortisol causes skin to produce excess sebum and reduces the skin’s ability to retain water. This can result in some of the skin conditions caused by stress we’ll look at next.

Norepinephrine: Reduces the blood flow to the skin, leading to flare-ups and undesired bumps, blemishes, or rashes.

Now you know a little more about what goes on inside your body when you're stressed, let’s take a look at how stress shows up on your skin. 

Signs of stressed skin

Breakouts and stress related acne

The root cause of all types of acne is essentially the same, your pores become clogged with excess oil (sebum) and dead cells.

Clogged pores become the ideal environment for skin bacteria p. Acnes, to thrive causing acne, inflammation, and swelling.

It’s not unusual for the effect of stress on skin to cause breakouts. Your skin produces more oil during times of stress, boosting the amount of oil on your skin. This increases the chances of blocked pores and yes, you guessed it, stress spots!

Healing slows down

If you’ve noticed a blemish or cut on your skin that just doesn’t seem to go away, it may be stress related.

Studies show that during times of high or prolonged stress, the healing of wounds - including blemishes and blisters - can slow right down.

Fine lines and wrinkles pop up

Prolonged stress can add years to your face by causing wrinkles and fine lines to appear prematurely.

When large amounts of cortisol are released into the body it causes sugar levels in the bloodstream to rise. This results in a process called glycation which destroys both collagen and elastin.

Collagen and elastin give the skin its structure and elasticity. When they are damaged, the skin becomes weaker and fine lines and wrinkles begin to appear.

Elevated levels of cortisol can also cause dehydration. Your overall tone and complexion can appear uneven, and fine lines will be more obvious.

Existing conditions get worse

The effect of stress on skin can trigger a flare-up of existing skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea.

Acne can also get worse after going through a stressful event, like doing an exam or dealing with a high pressure work situation.

You can get stuck in a problematic cycle. Stress triggers a skin condition, you then feel more stress about what’s happening on your face which only makes things worse.

You may experience a ‘stress rash’

Red, itchy hives aren’t only caused by seasonal allergies. The effect of stress on skin can cause hives to break out in what is commonly called a ‘stress rash’.

The hormonal and chemical changes our bodies experience under anxiety and tension cause blood vessels to expand and leak, resulting in red and swollen patches of skin.

If drinking a glass (or three) of wine is your way to manage stress, think again. Alcohol can increase the severity of hives, as can heat.

Most stress rashes go away within a few days, though some can persist for weeks. You can help relieve swelling and itching with a cool compress or ice pack.

Over-the-counter antihistamines may also be an option but always check with your medical practitioner before taking medication to address the effect of stress on skin. 

Calm your mind and skin 

It’s clear stress and skin health are linked. Any of the above signs could be your skin sending a message to reduce tension in your life.

We know this is easier said than done, but a few simple steps in the right direction can help reduce the skin conditions caused by stress.

Get more quality sleep

Stress and a lack of sleep are a disastrous combination for your skin.

If you’re so stressed that it’s hard to sleep, you’ll get stuck in a cycle of stress-related insomnia.

Try shutting down all screen time at least an hour before bed and use essential oils in the bedroom with calming properties to encourage restful sleep. Sticking to a regular schedule will also help - go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.

Hit the gym, park, or yoga mat

You’ve heard it before but here’s a reminder - exercise is a major stress reliever. Regular exercise has the power to transform your body, your spirits, and your skin!

If you’re not up to an all-out sweat session, gentle activities like yoga or even a 10 minute stretching session are great ways to reduce the effect of stress on skin too.

Embrace the power of No

If you’re naturally the “Yes, I’ll be there/ help/do it” type, learning to say “No” takes practice but it’s so worth it!

When you get better at declining demands on your time that don’t serve you, you’ll cut the stress of trying to juggle it all and simplify your life.

Plus, you’ll find more time to do the things that do serve and energise you.

Create self-care rituals to soothe anxiety

Self-care is about being good to yourself and your mental health.

Simple, self-care rituals can give you a little space to take a much needed mental break and minimise the effect of stress on skin. Don’t underestimate the power of creating a calm mental oasis during your day - even if it’s just a few minutes.

We’ve put together a list of easy self-care ideas to inspire you to introduce more ‘me time’ into your day and dial down stress levels. Our favourite? Turning your skincare routine into a self-care ritual!