Stress is an important factor in all matters related to health, including the health of your complexion. Americans today appear to be under more stress than ever and it can have a negative effect on health. Chronic stress, or stress on a daily basis, is more common that ever before. The added stress creates health problems that only contribute additional stress, repeating a vicious cycle.
Stress triggers adaptive mechanisms in the body that react to harm, disease, or threats. The initial reaction to stress is a signal to your nervous system that results in a neurohormonal response known as “fight or flight.” This response results in automatic changes by the body that affect how your food is digested, how your glucose is processed and stored, the flow of blood to your vital organs, your heart rate and your breathing capacity, and many other bodily functions. The fight or flight response is a type of evolutionary “hyperaroused” state. When needed, this response to a threat or to stress is a useful adaptation, but it was never designed to be a constant state.
When this occurs day after day, the cumulative effects of stress can be damaging. Eventually, the body’s balance, or homeostasis, will be disrupted and disease can occur. Stress affects your inflammatory and immune response, and over a long period of time, the impact results in dysregulation of these systems. The inflammatory and immune responses result in the release of many endogenous chemicals that impact every organ and tissue in the body, including your skin.
Stress and the Skin
The skin is an important barrier to pathogenic microorganisms that cause disease. Within the skin, specialized cells function to protect against entry of these germs, but when the immune system is depleted, diseases like eczema, acne, and neurodermatitis can occur, further compromising your skin’s barrier protection.
In the stress reaction, the body reduces the blood flow to the skin in order to provide the maximum amount of flow to the heart and to the brain. Over time, this can leave your skin looking dry, pale, and discolored. Reduction of blood flow means a reduction in nutrients and oxygen, but it also means that waste products of metabolism in the skin aren’t efficiently eliminated. Sometimes, a few simple steps like exfoliation or facial massage can boost circulation and reduce the effects of stress on the skin. Exercise is also helpful to increase your heart rate and blood flow.
Some Common Conditions Related to Stress
Acne flare-ups often occur during periods of stress, since hormones released by the body in response to stress stimulate increased oil production by the sebaceous glands in the skin. If your immune system is off-balance or over-loaded by chronic stress, the immune cells in your skin are less able to fight off the bacteria that are associated with acne. Antibacterial skin cleansers can mitigate acne flares during stressful times. If you’re experiencing stress-related acne flares, a cosmetic dermatologist can help you get back on track.
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that can make your skin itchy and red. The skin barrier becomes compromised, allowing bacteria like staphylococcus aureus to gain a foothold, causing skin infections. There are treatments that can bring relief, but it’s important to see your doctor right away if you have signs of infection. Even without infection, a cosmetic dermatologist can help you with recommendations to calm the inflamed skin and restore balance to the skin barrier. Another stress-related condition is known as neurodermatitis. It’s characterized by unexplained itchiness that eventually develops into a thick scaly plaque from scratching. Although stress is a component of this condition, there may be other causes of itchiness that a cosmetic dermatologist can identify and treat, preventing further problems with skin inflammation or infection.
Rosacea is a common skin condition triggered by stress. The latest treatments for chronic rosacea were discussed in an earlier blog. Help is available for treatment of rosacea, but it’s important to realize that people with rosacea often have an exaggerated response to stress. Mindfulness and taking time to do something pleasurable can have a beneficial effect on your skin.
Take Time for Yourself
If you’ve been under chronic stress, you’re not alone. Simple measures to reduce stress include mindfulness, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and adequate fluid intake. Exercise is important for both overall health and for the appearance of your skin. A cosmetic dermatologist can recommend specific measures to reverse the effects of stress-related skin conditions. Our aestheticians can also provide corrective treatments in the comfort of our medical spa. Call today for a convenient appointment at our office in Beverly Hills, Glendale, or Encino. Worrying about your complexion will only add to your stress.