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Could Stress Lead to Bad Skin?

Studies show that stress can exert negative effects on overall skin wellness, as well as exacerbate a number of skin-related issues. Let’s have a look at some of them.

By Adarsh Soni
11 Aug 2021

Have you ever gotten so nervous that your skin started to flush? Or did you ever notice your skin getting minor rashes when you’re worried about something? This is because of the brain-skin connection.


The brain-skin axis is an interconnected, bidirectional pathway that can translate psychological stress from the brain to the skin and vice versa. A research paper by Dr Neera Nathan, MD, dermatologist and researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital and Lahey Hospital and Medical Center, states that stress triggers the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, a trio of glands that play key roles in the body’s response to stress. This can increase the production of hormones like cortisol and catecholamines, which can direct immune cells from the bloodstream into the skin or stimulate pro-inflammatory skin cells. These cells then respond to the hormone cortisol through receptor signaling, and directly contribute to a number of skin conditions, including rashes, itching among others. Here are some common skin-related problems that may be a direct result of stress.



When you feel stressed or anxious, your body releases cortisol. Cortisol causes your brain to produce something called ‘corticotrophin-releasing hormone’ (CRH), which is responsible for stimulating oil release from sebaceous glands. Excessive oil production by these glands can clog your pores and lead to acne. According to research by Dr Shadi Zari, Department of Dermatology, University of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, female medical students within the age group of twenty two to twenty four experienced severe acne due to high stress levels. Another study by Dr JK Kiecolt-Glaser, Department of Psychiatry, Ohio State University College of Medicine, Columbus, USA, states that stress induced acne can take significantly longer to heal and can get even worse over time.



Stress rashes often appear in the form of hives, which are characterised by redness, itching and slight swelling. In most cases, hives are caused by an allergic reaction but stress can also be one of the common irritants that trigger these rashes. When you’re stressed, your body releases chemicals like neuropeptides and neurotransmitters which can cause a change in several bodily functions. This change in response alerts the uppermost layer of your skin and can increase inflammation and sometimes even lead to acute rashes.


Under-eye bags

As you grow old, the supporting muscles around your eyes weaken, leading to under-eye bags, which are characterised by puffiness and swelling. Sagging skin caused by a loss of elasticity can also contribute to eye bags, but research shows that stress and lifestyle factors can accelerate the process. A study by Dr Ying Chen, research and development, Avon, New York, USA, states that stress caused by sleep deprivation is one of the main reasons behind the development of under-eye bags.


Skin dryness

According to a 2014 review published in Inflammation & Allergy Drug Targets, research performed on lab mice found that stress impairs your skin’s barrier function and may negatively affect skin’s ability to retain water. The outermost layer of your skin contains protein and lipids that play a critical role in keeping your skin cells hydrated. But when it is affected by stress and anxiety, your skin can become dry and itchy. The study also mentions that stress from marital clashes can slow down the skin barrier’s ability to heal itself.



Aging is a natural process and wrinkles and fine lines are inevitable, but studies have shown that excessive stress can speed up the process and lead to premature wrinkles. Along with forming temporary lines on your face, stress causes changes to the proteins in your skin and reduces its elasticity. This loss of elasticity can contribute to permanent wrinkle formation. According to the previously mentioned study by Dr Ying Chen, stress can lead to insomnia which can further aggravate the formation of fine lines and wrinkles.


Don’t worry, there’s a way to fix it

Since the brain-skin connection is a two way path, you can always reduce the negative impact stress has laid upon your skin. While permanent changes like wrinkles might not vanish overnight, you can certainly stop them from getting worse. The simplest solution would be addressing the root cause of your stress and fixing it before it gets too late. You can keep your stress levels in check by doing the following:

  • Take out time for yourself: Indulge in activities that help release happiness hormones like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.
  • Eat healthy: Dietary habits have a huge impact on both our physical and mental health.
  • Stay physically active: Exercise can help lower stress hormone levels and also distract you from your regular schedule.
  • Get rid of bad habits: Smoking and drinking too much alcohol can lead to more stress and not to mention, other skin-related problems.
  • Don’t suffer quietly: Talk to your family, friends or a therapist if required.




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