The Toll of Stress on Your Skin

The Toll of Stress on Your Skin

As the primary sensory organ, skin serves as an incredible indicator of overall wellness, responsible for balance between our internal and external worlds. Skin health is interconnected with the brain in a bidirectional line of communication, the brain-skin axis. Your brain affects your skin health, and your skin health affects your mental health. Stressors primarily exert their effects on the skin by acting on the HPA axis: hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal. 

Exposed to the outside world, skin is vulnerable to external stressors. When our skin is damaged by these stressors, both acute and chronic, it affects the health and wellness of our skin. Exposure to extreme heat, cold, or pain can cause physiological stress acting along the brain-skin axis. When the body perceives stress, there is an increase in certain hormones, one of which is cortisol. Cortisol is the primary stress hormone in the body that plays a crucial role in metabolism and immune response and is activated in times of stress. Our stress response is adaptive and beneficial when we need to perform under stressful conditions. However, chronic and underlying stress will damage your skin from the inside out.  

When too much cortisol is released, it becomes catabolic breaking down tissues so that amino acids are available for the perceived need of necessary energy. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body and contributes to a more youthful appearance with a tighter, fuller, and thicker dermal layer. Cortisol also inhibits the synthesis of new collagen.  


Cortisol also disrupts the production of hyaluronic acid. As our natural production of hyaluronic acid starts decreasing in our 20s, chronic stress can exacerbate this process resulting in diminished elasticity of the skin and greater appearance of wrinkles.  

The stress-induced rise in cortisol also contributes to inflammation, which makes your skin more sensitive and reactive. Many skin conditions, like rashes and acne, are inflammatory responses. Cortisol causes an unnecessary increase in production of oil which contributes to clogged pores and breakouts.  

Your skin can serve as a wake-up call to make sure you are managing stress well. A healthy diet and exercise set a powerful foundation.  A consistent exercise regimen increases the good hormones that work to combat stress.  The key is to prioritize your overall wellbeing and even small changes can elicit impactful results. Slowing down to ( walk and breathe can provide a quick reset. Many experts recommend journaling and practices that bring you to the present and quiet your mind. Then you are better equipped to handle momentary stresses.  

Stressing about the effects of stress on the body and the skin does not help anyone! Being kind to yourself and aware of potential underlying and chronic stress will ideally help you prioritize your wellness.  

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