Stress can cause skin problems too? It may sound like a weird connection initially, but trust me it isn’t.
Do you recall any moment when you’re giving an exam and you’re under a lot of pressure and stress, and the pen or pencil starts to slip due to sweat in your palms? Or if you’re someone suffering from eczema or dandruff, ever felt more itching when subjected to increased levels of stress?
Well, our brain really is connected to every aspect of our body. But in this post, I’ll not just leave you with the above 2 examples to show you this skin-brain axis. I’ll dive deep into this topic to make you aware of the multitude of ways our psychology affects our skin.
Why does stress affect the skin?
See, there’s no single uni-directional connection between your mental health and your skin. It’s not just the classic examples of reflex arcs or our sense of touch that skin sends signals to the brain during physical stress There’s a multidimensional link between these two. Our mind affects it too in many ways and through many pathways, as I’m going to discuss.
When our body is subjected to psychological stress, our body starts to release several stress hormones such as cortisol and other hormones called catecholamines, the group of hormones released in the fight or flight response of our body. Now, these hormones do not just affect our body internally. They also have a notable effect on the body’s largest organ, the skin, as it responds through its receptors to these hormones.
How does stress cause skin problems?
Now, that we know why stress affects our skin, let’s explore how it affects it!
Remember the cortisol I talked about earlier? Well, this hormone also causes our immune system, mast cells specifically, to release histamines, which are chemicals that play a role in allergic reactions and can cause blood vessels to leak fluid. This leakage results in the characteristic welts and swelling associated with hives. However, It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences stress will develop hives, and individuals may have different triggers for their hives. Stress is just one potential factor among various possible causes, including allergies, infections, and certain medications.
We know, that stress alters the hormonal levels of our body. And the increased levels of these hormones I talked about, cause the oil glands in our skin to produce more oil as part of the fight or flight mechanism of our body in response to stress. Now, the more this stress, the more oil (sebum) production, and the greater chance you’ll have of making your skin pores clogged with dead skin cells and oil, aka developing acne. It’s also seen that the impact of stress on our immunity can influence our body’s ability to limit the growth of acne-causing bacteria.
Stress can aggravate eczema, psoriasis etc. –
Skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis are directly susceptible to exacerbated stress levels. In the case of eczema, increased inflammation due to stress and worsening of the skin barrier dysfunction make the characteristic redness and itching in the skin worse. In the case of autoimmune skin conditions like psoriasis, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the skin, stress-induced immune system dysregulation may contribute to flare-ups. Due to increased stress, there’s also a heightened release of neurotransmitters which increases the sensitivity and itching.
Hair loss and greying of hair
I think this is one of the most common link that people know about stress and its effect on our outer body. But ever wondered why? It’s because stress reduces the amount of melanocytes, cells which are responsible for reducing melanin ( the pigment that gives colour to hair and skin). Chronic stress is also a key factor in contributing to hair loss in people. It can cause people to develop a condition known as telogen effluvium, where a higher-than-normal percentage of hair follicles shift into the telogen (resting) phase of the hair growth cycle. This results in a larger number of hairs entering the shedding phase simultaneously and several months after the onset of stress, individuals may notice increased hair shedding, often manifesting as diffuse thinning.
Collagen, the most abundant protein in your body, is responsible for cell regeneration, maintenance of structure, strength and elasticity of skin. But when you start to stress out and increase cortisol levels in the body, collagen decreases in the body. Due to this, the skin’s structural support is degraded, and there is a loss of volume and firmness of skin, thinning of skin and wrinkling of the skin. So fair to say now that stress does increase ageing, at least on the skin. (However, skin does increase ageing in many ways)
So far in our journey of the skin-brain axis, I think you would’ve known by now how damaging stress can be on our body and not just mentally.
However, if this line’s making you stressed that “Oh shit! I’ve to work towards my stress!”, let me tell you, that indeed that’s a good step. But you don’t need to add more stress to eliminate stress. Because, although there seem to be many links between stress and bad skin health, there’s been various studies which show that reduction of stress will not totally eliminate or significantly reduce skin problems. There’s no study which confirms that stress treatment should be a necessary part of treating several dermatological conditions.
Again, I’ll repeat my message. You should work towards your stress levels, but not to keep your skin healthy. Yes, stress is a part of skin problems but other measures such as maintaining good skin hygiene and diet will have a more significant effect on your skin.