Stress - the word alone can trigger a heightened response.
We all have dealt with stress in our lives. Some of us even deal with it daily on a chronic level. Stress can have negative effects on your health, which in turn, adds to the amount of stress you have. It's a vicious cycle. Has this happened to you? I personally can't count the number of times my acne has flared up on my face after several stressful days or sleepless nights.
Do you ever wonder why stress triggers health problems, including skin problems? I've been studying it in nursing school and want to share what I've learned. Below we will explore 5 common ways stress affects your skin. I'll also share what I've learned from Dr. Bailey to fix these skin problems.
What is Chronic Stress?
First, before understanding how stress can affect your skin, you need to understand chronic stress. Stress is not always bad. In fact, stress is designed as an adaptive mechanism to harm. As the famous endocrinologist Hans Selye showed through research, way back in 1946, our body's response to "stressful" stimuli is a 3 stage process that he called "general adaptation syndrome." The stages are:
Stage 1, The Alarm Stage - the initial reaction that signals your brain to ready its defenses, such as the "fight or flight" response, which is fueled by adrenalin.
Stage 2, The Stage of Resistance or Adaptation - your defenses are fully activated and several hormones are released, including cortisol, (aka the stress hormone) to continue the battle.
Stage 3, The Stage of Exhaustion - the buildup of stress and hormones reach a peak load that the body can no longer endure or compensate for. The result is a disruption of the body's homeostasis or the onset of disease. This is when chronic stress occurs.
We have all felt that increased heart rate during the Alarm Stage of immediate stress. It's much more difficult to be aware of the Adaptation Stage and the Exhaustion Stage of chronic stress. This is when the internal damage caused by chronic stress happens, especially on our inflammatory and immune responses. It's complicated to understand, but chronic stress leads to our immune system becoming dysregulated and this, in turn, can fuel chronic inflammation, or the release of important building blocks n the body called proinflammatory cytokines. The impacts on our heart, digestive system, and other body systems are numerous - including issues with skin and acne! I'm going to focus here on what we know about the impact of chronic stress on the skin.
The skin is our primary barrier against many germs. When the skin's barrier becomes compromised, it opens our bodies to a host of infections. Chronic stress compromises the skin barrier in the following ways: eczema, acne, and neurodermatitis. If these are problems for you or someone you love, it's important to know how to repair and prevent these skin conditions when chronic stress occurs.
5 Ways Stress Effects Your Skin and How to Fix Each of Them
Acne is "famous" for flaring up when you are in the midst of a stressful period in your life. This is my skin's personal stress barometer, and it's how I met Dr. Bailey years ago (there can be silver linings to bad experiences!). The cortisol hormone released during stress stimulates increased production of skin oil. The immune system dysregulation disrupts the skin's ability to effectively combat the bacteria on your skin and triggers more severe inflammatory reaction to germs that are associated with acne. When you are under chronic stress, it's good to give your skin a little assistance to fight off the microbes. In other words, identifying the culprit organism is helpful in picking the right acne products.
A cleanser with an antibacterial or anti-skin yeast agent is the first choice. Dr. Bailey's Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser is effective for bacterial-type acne, while her Calming Zinc Bar Soap is more useful for rosacea and pityrosporum yeast-type of acne. Dr. Bailey also prefers to pair an acne cleanser with a day or an overnight cream. This is useful to further keep the pores clean, to help remove excess oil, and to keep microbes at bay.
To that end, Dr. Bailey's Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kits combine all the essential products to treat acne with an instructional manual to guide your daily skin care routine. For more in-depth acne treatment information, check out Dr. Bailey's Acne Advice pages.
Eczema is a type of skin reaction, not an actual skin condition itself. Dr. Bailey explains it in her original blog post: What Eczema Really Is & How You Can Remedy It. Among the various causes of an "eczema-type" skin reaction, stress often brings on the typical red rashes that develop on elbows and sometimes even under your armpits. Similar to acne, the immune system disruption provides opportunities to bacteria that live on our bodies naturally, such as Staph aureus, to suddenly cause skin issues.
In order to calm the inflammation of an eczema reaction and to restore the skin barrier, a hypoallergenic and natural moisturizer is best. Dr. Bailey recommends applying coconut oil to inflamed areas after you bathe. Coconut oil is a gentle moisturizer with the additional ability to prevent the growth of staph aureus. Once your skin has healed, switch to a lighter hypoallergenic moisturizer, such as Dr. Bailey's All Natural Face and Body Lotion, which contains a mixture of natural oils, including coconut oil.
Rosacea is another skin condition triggered by stress. Dr. Bailey is an expert in treating rosacea, having suffered rosacea herself. She wrote a 5-part series discussing the subject, including a post on skin care tips from her dermatology practice. Rosacea skin is highly sensitive and notorious for its compromised barrier and heightened inflammatory response to just about everything! That includes skin care products that are irritating the inflamed skin. In her skin care tips, Dr. Bailey discusses all the products that successfully calm, treat, and protect rosacea skin.
For the simplest treatment, our most popular kit, Dr. Bailey's Facial Redness Relief Kit - Paraben Free does the trick. It not only calms the redness and irritation of rosacea skin, but it also fights a yeast in the skin that proliferates in some rosacea-prone complexions using moisturizing soap combined with anti-yeast pyrithione zinc.
Neurodermatitis is an unexplained itching in a particular area that develops into thick scaly patches from repeated scratching. Although the exact cause is unknown, stress is one of the triggers for this condition. The best way to prevent further inflammation of the area is to not scratch the itchy area. However, the itching can disturb sleep or focusing at work,thus it may prove to be difficult to fight the urge to scratch. Properly hydrating the area with hypoallergenic moisturizers, such as the ones discussed in the eczema section, will help nourish the damaged skin barrier.
Since a raw skin area is susceptible to infection, it is best to consult your local physician to determine the exact cause of your dermatitis. Your local physician may prescribe corticosteroid creams or other medications that will help stop the "itchy feeling."
5. Reduced Blood Flow
Chronic stress leads to overall reduced blood flow because the body diverts blood to essential organs as a survival mechanism. Additionally, the stress response includes a narrowing of blood vessels to increase our blood pressure and eventually raise our heart rate, further reducing the overall blood flow. When the blood flow in our skin is reduced, the exchange of nutrients and wastes is also reduced, leading our skin to look pale, sunken, or even darkened in some areas. The area under your eyes shows the most dramatic effects from reduced blood flow, which Dr. Bailey details here. The Replenix Eye Repair Cream is a miracle skin care product in how it targets eye vascular congestion to reduce under eye circles, bags, and puffiness.
Rubbing or brushing the skin can stimulate blood flow by reacting to the sense of touch. Using a Clarisonic or Salux Wash Cloth while washing your body in the shower can provide a little boost to your skin's blood circulation. In the process, you will also help exfoliate your skin and remove dead skin cells.
Stress and Skin Connection Bottom Line
Even though we covered the 5 main effects of stress on the skin, there are countless others or variations on the effects discussed. Reducing stress in your life is the best method to decrease resulting skin symptoms. However, we understand often our skin's appearance further adds to our stress. Armed with methods to treat stress-induced skin conditions will at least knock off one stressor on your list! If you have a skin issue caused by stress that we haven't addressed, let us know in the comments below. Dr. Bailey will try her best to guide you to the best resources for your questions!
The National Eczema Association: Neurodermatitis