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Effects of Stress on Skin

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 5 Jan 2011 | comments*Discuss
Stress Skin Immune System Rosacea Skin

Stress plays a big role in almost everyone’s lives, but did you know that it can even affect the quality of your skin? As the skin is the largest organ in the body, it’s not surprising that the effects of stress should show up on our skin – or is it?

For people with specific skin conditions, stress plays a big role in their lives. The presence of stress can either trigger or aggravate chronic conditions such as eczema, hives, rosacea, acne, psoriasis dandruff or herpes (fever blisters), which is a virus that shows up on the skin.

But even those of us without any type of skin condition can feel the effects of everyday stress, whether we are experiencing tension at work, get riled up every morning as we negotiate the rush hour traffic, or experience family and relationship problems.

How Stress Affects the Skin

Ongoing stress adversely affects all of us, which is why so many of us try methods to keep stress at bay, such as regular exercise, yoga and meditation.

Constant stress and tension can make a huge impact on your immune system. When the immune system is weakened, our bodies – and our skin – are more susceptible to infection.

Stress also contributes to an influx of free radicals in the body, which leads to premature ageing. And extra stress can also contribute to blushing and flushing in some people, and make rosacea more prominent.

A lack of sleep, which is also often the direct result of stress can make people look older, with puffy eyes and eye bags. A recent study said people who did not get enough sleep were found to be “less attractive” than those who did.

Advent of Psychodermatology

The effects of stress and skin are so well documented that a relatively new field of medicine has been predicated on it. Psychodermatology studies the impact of our emotions on the skin, seeing how the mind and the skin are linked.

It believes that emotions are played out neurologically, due to the many nerve endings present in the body, especially in the skin. For example, if you are stressed your body might release excess cortisol, which can result in acne.

Similarly, many autoimmune disorders can be triggered by stress, such as alopecia, or hair loss, which can happen quite suddenly and be emotionally devastating.And if your skin condition affects your appearance, the cycle can even worsen, as you will be dealing with even more stressful issues as your self-esteem takes a beating.

How to Help Yourself

Doctors are now advising people with conditions that are exaggerated or exacerbated by stress to do what is called “habit reversal training.”

For example, if eczema is made worse by scratching at it, sufferers need to be aware of where their hands are and “train” them to so something else.Doctors also recommend relaxation and other feel-good techniques to reduce stress, including:

  • Regular exercise to release those feel-good hormones.
  • Healthy eating.
  • Doing something you love on a regular basis.
  • Taking time to practice breathing deeply as often as possible.
  • Visualisation to think about good, happy thoughts.
  • Yoga, meditation, pilates or another form of stress relief to concentrate one’s mind and body.
Stress affects all of us virtually every day, but those who learn to handle it well reap the results. Learning how to relax and calm down will not only make us feel better, but make us look better as well.

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