According to the American Institute of Stress, people have been dealing with increasingly higher levels of stress in the past ten years, but when a really serious issue like the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic occurs, anyone can experience a little extra strain. If you’re feeling the adverse effects of stress on your body (tiredness, stomach upset, headaches, increased heart rate, etc.), your skin is likely feeling them too. In this blog, we’re talking about some of the ways that stress can adversely impact your skin health during COVID-19 and beyond and how you can counteract these effects.
Why Does Stress Affect Skin?
Stress has many negative impacts on the body. It activates responses from our endocrine and immune systems, which can trigger numerous health issues. When stress taxes the body’s functions, the skin, hair, and nails don’t receive the nutrients they need. Unfortunately, when it comes to survival, these parts of the body are of the least importance, so the bulk of necessary vitamins and nutrients are given to other, more vital, bodily functions at times of stress, illness, and other difficulties. This is why many chronic illnesses and health concerns have early warning signs that appear on the skin. Our skin is the largest bodily organ, and its role is to maintain homeostasis, the stable interworking of all the body’s systems. In order to do so, the skin has receptors that communicate external concerns and protect the internal organs and systems. Unfortunately, issues like chronic stress can overtax the skin’s ability to respond to concerns, protect itself, and repair damage. Instead, the continually elevated endocrine and immune response leaves the skin at risk for numerous kinds of damage.
Potentially Adverse Effects of Stress on Skin
Some of the many ways that stress impacts the skin include:
- Rashes & hives – This skin issue is so common it’s often referred to as “stress rash.” Raised, red, itchy welts and spots can appear in a centralized area or spread over large parts of the body. Hormone and chemical processes that occur during times of stress cause blood vessels to expand and leak, creating hives. This condition can get worse if you consume alcohol or caffeine or have prolonged exposure to heat and humidity.
- Dry skin – Stress spikes adrenaline levels that in turn lead to more sweating as the body tries to restore its equilibrium. If you’re not replenishing the lost water, you can quickly become dehydrated. When the body is dehydrated, it retrieves moisture from the body to restore hydration. Dry skin is uncomfortable, but it also increases the risk of infection, inflammation, and other health concerns.
- Breakouts – Stress may cause the skin to become oily. This may seem counterintuitive if stress dries out the skin, but dry skin may produce more oil in an attempt to counteract the effects of water loss. This excess sebum (skin oil) can clog pores increasing the risk of breakouts, especially for those who already have acne-prone skin.
- Hair damage – Just like the skin, you may find your hair becomes oilier when you’re under stress in an attempt to counteract a lack of moisture due to the dehydrating effects of stress. When the body experiences prolonged stress, hair may cease to grow or even fall out in order to redirect the nutrients needed for these processes to other, more essential bodily functions.
- Weakened nails – The same lack of nutrients can cause diminished nail growth, thinning, and overall unhealthy nails on the hands and feet. You may notice your nails are brittle or peeling.
- Swollen eyes and dark circles – Lack of sleep, which can occur due to the high levels of cortisol interrupts natural circadian rhythms, causes the production of healthy, new skin cells to take longer, meaning the body doesn’t repair and replace older cells as quickly. This can cause dull-looking skin, dark circles under the eyes, as well as other negative impacts on the skin’s appearance.
- Wounds don’t heal as quickly – Stress excessively burdens the immune system, which slows the healing process for “non-essential” parts of the body like the skin. This means it may take longer for wounds to heal, increasing the risk of infection and scarring.
- Skin aging – Elevated cortisol levels caused by stress leads to the breakdown of skin cells, but the need for necessary nutrients in other parts of the body means it takes longer for these cells to be replenished. This leads to less collagen and elastin production, which is what gives our skin a smooth, youthful appearance. That means chronic stress will dull the skin and cause more lines and wrinkles.
Chronic Skin Conditions Impacted by Stress
In addition to the adverse effects above, the elevated cortisol levels, spiked adrenaline production, changes in circadian rhythms, and other hormonal and chemical processes can trigger flare-ups in chronic skin conditions. If you already suffer from atopic dermatitis (eczema), psoriasis, acne, rosacea, or other chronic health conditions, stress, especially over a prolonged period, is likely to cause flare-ups.
Because spikes in adrenaline can lead to dehydration, skin can get dryer, which results in the production of excess sebum (oil). This increases the risk of clogged pores and acne breakouts.
Atopic dermatitis or eczema is often triggered by stress. Stress triggers eczema flare-ups in complex ways. For example, stress may cause a spike in hormone levels and a heightened immune response that leads to the production of mast cells. These mast cells release histamines and immunoglobulin antibodies that cause itchiness and increase the body’s allergic response. Both mast cells and immunoglobulin antibodies can trigger eczema flare-ups.
There are many types of psoriasis, but the most common, plaque psoriasis, is closely linked to stress. Plaques, thick layers of skin cells, develop due to an excessive immune response. Heightened immune response triggered by stress can lead to a flare-up of psoriasis symptoms.
Rosacea, redness, and inflammation that is typically noticed on the cheeks, is often triggered by stress. The increase in cortisol and adrenaline and other chemical and hormonal changes related to stress can often lead to a severe rosacea flare-up.
Keeping Skin Healthy When You’re Stressed
We may not have complete control over the things in our life that cause stress, but we do know what relaxes us. If stress related to COVID-19 or any other situation is causing the flare-up of chronic skin condition, the first step to calming your skin is to take some time for rest, relaxation, and destressing. Whether it’s a little self-care time with a relaxing bath or reading a book before bed, make sure you’re making time for yourself. To maintain healthy skin even if you’re stressed, keep the following in mind:
- Maintain your regular skincare routine – even if you’re tired or stressed. Make time to clean and moisturize your skin each day.
- Follow your dermatologist’s recommendations for skincare, including appropriate skincare products, using prescription products as directed, and calling the dermatologist right away if issues arise.
- Get plenty of sleep. Between seven and nine hours of sleep each night is recommended to ensure good cellular regeneration and overall health and renewal.
- Exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk around your house or a few minutes of yoga.
- If you’re unable to manage stress alone, make time to work with a therapist.
U.S. Dermatology Partners is Here to Help You Keep Skin Healthy
As U.S. Dermatology Partners offices continue to do their utmost to keep our patients and practitioners safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic, we are recommending online dermatology visits whenever possible. Teledermatology is a great option for our patients who are struggling with flare-ups from their chronic conditions like eczema, acne, psoriasis, and rosacea. We can help you with prescription medications and skincare products, as well as make recommendations for managing your chronic skin conditions. If you’re ready to schedule a teledermatology appointment, use our simple request form. When our local team members receive the information, they’ll be in touch to schedule your virtual dermatology appointment.
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