The brain has a stress-activated pathway that causes release of various chemicals and hormones that drive inflammation both in the body and the skin. Specifically:
- The stress response alters the production and breakdown of collagen, proteoglycans and elastin, all of which are part of the skin’s building blocks. Loss of these results in loss of elasticity, and firmness, thus presdisposing to lines, wrinkles, increased pigmentation and dull skin.
- Glucocorticoids (the chemical response of the body to stress) can reduce the production of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is involved in the retention of water by the skin, and this contributes to its natural moisture. Loss of HA therefore would contribute to skin dehydration.
- Stress can affect skin aging through cell DNA damage and poor repair, ultimately leading to premature aging.
- Feeling stressed can have an impact on sebum production that can in turn, cause or aggravate acne
- Short-term stress (e.g., feeling anxious before a presentation/exam) can cause temporary problems like flushing, itching and sweating. Long-term (or chronic) stress however results in the body entering a permanent ‘stress-response’ state, which can aggravate existing skin problems through a poor natural immune response and ongoing inflammation.
What other ways can stress affect skin?
- Low mood and depression are often associated with sad facial expressions (e.g. deep vertical frown lines). When we feel stressed or sad for long periods and have certain associated expressions this can cause physical changes to our face.
- Psychological stress results in the production of neurotransmitters, which alter the permeability of the gut and affect inflammatory pathways. Microbial imbalance is implicated in impaired skin function, illustrated in 3 common skin conditions (acne, atopic dermatitis/eczema, psoriasis).
- Stress hormone levels correlate with lack of sleep, and sleep deprivation activates the HPA axis. Having a longer duration of poor sleep is associated with signs of premature aging (fine lines, reduced elasticity, pigmentation changes), lack of hydration, larger pores, textural changes, and changes in blood flow to the skin. In addition lack of sleep can disrupt the process of skin repair overnight.
How does stress impact the body?
- Shuts down our digestive, reproductive, immune and growth systems as part of the stress response (getting the body to conserve energy to ‘fight’)
- Effect on mood and motivation levels
- Disruption of the body’s natural clock
- Breakdown of food groups (e.g. carbohydrates, fat, protein)
- Chronic stress has been linked to a variety of health problems (e.g. anxiety, depression, headaches, ischaemic heart disease, memory and concentration problems, digestive problems, sleep disturbance, weight gain)
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