6 Ways Stress Is Messing Up Your Skin (And How To Fix It)

Life has a way of throwing stress at us. Granted, in recent weeks, the levels have been higher than ever before, but day-to-day, we all deal with stress. Whether it’s your job that’s particularly busy, a co-worker you’re finding difficult to deal with, money worries, family obligations, an inability to spend enough time with your loved ones, a breakup, or just a general sense of frustration with life, we’re constantly battling stressors.

Yet stress takes a terrible toll on you, body and mind. In particular, stress can have devastating effects on our skin. With so many of us self-isolating and on lockdown currently, many of us are finding our skin extremely problematic.

If you’ve noticed dryness, flakiness, redness, or a sudden tendency to breakout, you’re not alone!

Your skin is your body’s largest organ, and when we experience stress this is reflected in our physical bodies in a number of ways, from eczema flare ups to dermatitis, psoriasis, and even acne.

Just as our genes are unique, so too is our genetic makeup, which means that your skin and body’s individual reaction to stress is slightly different to everyone else’s. That being said, stress is known to detrimental affect your skin in a number of ways, it’s simply a matter of degree, and which issue is most problematic for you personally.

It also doesn’t matter what kind of stress you’re experiencing – whether it’s emotional, physical, environmental, or psychological, your body reacts to all types of stress in the same way.

This is why you might be wondering why you’re breaking out like you haven’t since you were sitting your finals, or working three jobs, or going through your divorce.

Your body is reacting to the stress of your current situation, just as it did to that other, very stressful event. The two times in your life may have nothing in common, leading you to disregard it as a coincidence, yet the common factor is stress.

And when you understand this, you can properly care for your skin, even in the midst of extremely stressful situations.

This is vitally important. Your skin can withstand short bursts of acute stress without too much trouble. But chronic stress – such as spending weeks on end in lockdown with months of further uncertainty ahead even when lockdown lifts – is far more detrimental to your skin.

The longer you’re experiencing stress, the more it’s going to mess up your skin,

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to combat the negative effects stress is having on your body. Here are six ways that stress is messing up your skin and how to fix them…

#1 Stress Triggers Skin Inflammation

There is a powerful and very deep connection between your mind, your skin, and your gut. This is why your gut health can affect your mental health, and why diet and nutrition are so important for ensuring healthy skin and managing mental health issues.

When your mind perceives a stressful situation or feeling your digestion slows in your gut. Over time, this has a big impact on the bacteria living within your gut.

In fact, recent studies have shown that experiencing high levels of stress has the same effect on your gut bacteria as a high-fat diet.

When your digestion slows it enables unhealthy bacteria stairs in your gut to overproduce and grow, disrupting the natural balance of your gut microbes, and causing something called dysbiosis. This state changes the lining of your gut so that it becomes more permeable, or ‘leaky’, causing a cascade of body-wide inflammation.

All that inflammation is felt keenly by your skin – which again, is the largest organ you have – and leads to breakouts of acne and flare-ups of eczema and psoriasis.

Essentially, the sensation of stress is interpreted by your body as an attack, and it responds by triggering your inflammatory cells and markers to respond to the perceived threat. If you’re predisposed to any skin conditions, the increased number of inflammatory cells will trigger major flare-ups.

#2 Stress Will Dry Out Your Skin

When your body feels stress, it causes your fight-or-flight response to kick in. This isn’t a conscious choice, but a primal instinct developed by evolution. When something poses a threat, we either need to fight it off or flee in order to remain safe.

The problem with the fight or flight response is that it didn’t evolve for the modern world. Stress used to mean a fire, an attacker, or a wild animal. Now it’s associated with almost every aspect of life to some degree – everything just got that much faster, than much louder, and that much more complex.

Now, our fight-or-flight response doesn’t just kick in to help us fight off a mugger, or run from a bear. It can kick in any time, anywhere, and whenever it does it causes a spike in your cortisol and adrenaline levels.

This means you’re sweating more, as all that adrenaline activates your eccrine glands – these are your sweat glands – and the result is that you quickly become dehydrated as you’re rapidly losing water. The logic behind this is that, if you did need to run from a bear, you’d need to cool your body down while you were exerting yourself.

But since you’re not exerting yourself, or thinking about it at all, you don’t really notice it’s happening. If you’re not replenishing the water in your body while this is happening you’re very quickly going to dry out.

Even if you’re not prone to dry skin if this goes on for any amount of time your skin will dry out.

#3 Existing Conditions Are Triggered And Worsened By Stress Hormones

Stress also has a direct effect on your immune system, which releases hormones into your system. These chemical messages act as triggers for various physiological responses. What should ensure your body is capable of fighting off disease and illness, instead causes some very unpleasant side effects.

Essentially your body is all geared up for a fight, but there’s nothing there for it to attack, so it ends up in overdrive, inadvertently taking it all out on systems you need. Your heart rate and blood pressure will elevate, while your blood sugar levels soar.

Where your skin is concerned, these stress hormones cause the overproduction of cortisol, which in turn weakens your immune system and causes an inflammatory response. This is why you may experience eczema or flare-ups of psoriasis when you’re stressed.

It will exacerbate an existing tendency towards these problems, and can easily trigger underlying conditions that you’ve not experienced before but were always predisposed to.

#4 Stress Can Lead To Oily Skin And Breakouts

All those shifting hormones, particularly the excess levels of cortisol in your system, are a huge factor in the acne breakouts you may find you’re prone to while stressed.

Another aspect of your body’s preparation to deal with the stress you’re feeling is that the hormones produced are sending your skin’s sebaceous glands into overdrive. The additional oil produced leads to blockages in your pores, which in turn causes breakouts of acne.

#5 Stress-Induced Dandruff And Dermatitis

Stress can manifest in your hair and scalp as well. You may find you experience seborrheic dermatitis – a condition similar to psoriasis – as well as dandruff. This can leave you with a flaky and red scalp.

In extreme cases, stress can lead to hair loss, however, this is usually a result of prolonged exposure to extreme stress, or a long term illness.

In the short-term, you may find your hair starts to shed as a response to stress.

#6 The Havoc Wreaked On Your Nails

Just as your body may stop producing hair while you’re stressed, it can also stop making nails. While we commonly think of nails suffering when we’re stressed as a result of us biting them, they actually get damaged without our help. Nails – like hair – are not essential for survival. So at a time when your body is conserving resources, your nails are likely to become brittle and start peeling. Not only does this damage the nails you have, but they’re also unlikely to grow back until the stress passes.

How To Soothe The Stress On Your Skin

The key to saving your skin during stressful times is to try to alleviate the stress itself. Calming yourself down and reassuring your mind that there is no threat to fight is the most efficient way of short-circuiting the fight or flight response. We recommend a tincture of ylang-ylang and holy basil.

While soothing your stress will help prevent further damage to your skin in future, you also need an effective means of treating the damage that has been done. Ease any inflammation with a tincture of black pepper and turmeric.

Meanwhile, stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water, and ensure you’re regularly using a great skincare routine – we recommend a combo of our soothing facial rinse and our hydrating serum to replenish and lock in your skin’s moisture. For a powerful, long-term solution, try our revolutionary retinol serum.