We’ve always known stress is bad for our health - it has been found to affect the immune system and contribute to heart disease, insomnia and poor gut health. However, more and more scientific research demonstrates there is a clear link between stress and poor skin quality and it can manifest in a number of ways. Psoriasis, acne, rosacea, eczema and dermatitis are all common surface signs that you might be suffering with stress in some form.
Due to our unique genetic make-up, everyone’s skin reacts differently to stress. For some people, there will be little sign of stress in their skin, and for others, there will be clear outbreaks and signs of premature aging. Whilst our skin can’t tell the difference between the different types of stress we’re under; whether its physical, emotional, psychological or environmental, it can recognise the level of stress you experience. Research shows that chronic levels of stress often have a detrimental impact to your skin.
So why exactly does our skin reacts so badly to stress? According to experts, increased levels of stress mean our adrenal glands produce excessive amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.
Facial aesthetics expert, Anna Kremerov of Anna Medical Aesthetics in Swindon explains further: “Often stress can cause inflammation, outbreaks and the appearance of accelerated ageing. This is down to increased production of cortisol, the body’s stress hormone which regulates a wide range of processes throughout the body. You’ll notice in stressed people that wrinkles appear more prominent and they’ll start to look older very quickly. This is because cortisol depletes your body’s natural collagen reserve, which is essentially responsible for the skin structure and vitality. If your collagen levels become compromised, you will almost certainly look older.”
Anna goes on “Another common sign of stress is a darkening of the skin, for example, dark circles under the eyes. Often stressed people experience dryness, redness and are more prone to blemishes. Higher cortisol levels make our skin glands produce more oil, and oily skin is more prone to acne. So, if you’re breaking out more than usual, it could be a sign of too much stress in your system. Stress also slows down the body’s natural healing process, so breakouts and spots take longer to heal. We also know that anxiety has a direct effect on more serious skin conditions, such as eczema and psoriasis.”
In addition to the theory surrounding raised cortisol levels, we can also look to the gut for the wellbeing of our skin. ‘The gut-skin axis’ ultimately links the skin directly to the health of the gut. We know from past studies that having a healthy and balanced microbiome can have a positive impact our mood. But many experts also believe that this can have a ‘knock-on’ effect on your skin too. Logic says that if your gut is healthy, you’re more likely to cope well with daily stress, and therefore your skin’s health isn’t compromised by inflammation and depleting collagen levels.
This all ties in with the theory that keeping your body healthy can have a positive impact on many other areas of your life. Easier said than done though when you’re experiencing financial pressure, a stressful work situation or challenges at home. Often when we’re under stress, we make poor decisions and this can manifest itself in our diet choices. It’s common to feel so stressed that you can’t face cooking healthy food from scratch, and you resort to a takeaway or a ready meal. We’ve all reached for a sugary drink or a chocolate bar when we’re feeling the pressure at our desks. However, these poor diet choices result a direct impact on our skin. Sugar, salt and fat are known to aggravate the skin and cause breakouts.
With all of this in mind, what would Anna recommend to help manage stress better?
“It’s almost impossible to avoid stress all together, so we need to learn to cope with it better if we want to ensure it doesn’t have a negative impact on our lives, but also on our skin. Physical exercise is proven to have an enormous impact on our mood, and it can be as effective as antidepressants. Regular exercise can increase our levels of endorphins, also known to be a natural mood booster. Hence, it's important to keep up an exercise programme”.
“Simple practical coping techniques like yoga, meditation, breathing exercises etc can easily be incorporated into your day, no matter how busy you are and will allow you that much-needed mental space. By taking control of your stress, you can finally take control of your skin. “
Meet the Expert
Anna Kremerov is an independent nurse prescriber and owner of Anna Medical Aesthetics in Swindon. Anna is a qualified practitioner in Aesthetics, completing Postgraduate Level 7 Injectables for Aesthetic Medicine.