The "Stress-Skin" Connection


Everyone knows that stress can negatively impact the skin. How many of you have experienced a ‘break out’ before a big event? I know I have. Psychological stress can aggravate skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and other allergic reactions. This week, I discuss the “Stress-Skin Connection” and provide ways to get started towards health.

Stress can arise from a multitude of places; family dynamics, lack of sleep, stressful work environments, to drug and alcohol addiction.

The brain perceives stress and releases specific hormones i.e. cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline). These hormones are released into our bloodstream where they attach to receptors throughout our body. Some receptors are located in the skin and when stress hormones attach to those receptors, inflammatory chemicals release and an immune response occurs. When this happens over and over, conditions like psoriasis, acne, hives, and dermatitis are activated. Further, the effects of stress inhibit the ability for our skin to repair itself (1).

If you suffer from such skin conditions, keep in mind that treatments should be customized to meet your individualized needs. My practice focuses on individualized treatment plans.

What to Do About It

SLEEP -- Sleep and stress are regulated by the same hormones. These hormones play a role in arousal; for example when you wake up in the morning, cortisol should be at its highest point. This emphasizes the point that stress hormones have normal physiological function; they are not all bad.  When we don’t get enough sleep, these hormones are also released because lack of sleep is a stress on the body. It can become a problem for the body if it happens repeatedly. Stress hormones can attach to receptors in the skin and cause inflammatory and immune dysfunction (i.e. acne, eczema, psoriasis, allergic response, etc.) (2)

EXERCISE -- It reduces stress hormone levels, mainly adrenaline and cortisol (3). Our innate stress response exists because of ancient times where humans could physically activate and get away from danger safely. We often hear our stress response as the “fight or flight’ response. It makes sense that exercise reduces these hormones, as this is its purpose. Further, exercise has favorable impact on the immune system by increasing the proteins responsible for defense (4).

EAT REAL FOOD! We cannot control all the stress in our lives, but we can control what fuel we offer our bodies. Feed your body a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grain, legumes, nuts, seeds, and fermented foods. Choose dairy and meat products that are free of hormones and antibiotics. These foods are nutrient dense and contain fibers that help keep our blood sugars steady. Foods that are highly processed and sugared set us up for blood sugar roller coaster rides that stress the body (5).  

Healthy skin represents a healthy body and a healthy body is one that can adapt to stress. Sleeping, exercise, and a whole foods diet are foundational to healthy skin because of their role in stress.