It’s pretty obvious that psychological stress impacts on your physical health and skin, but exactly how they’re linked isn’t well understood. “Stress” is a bit vague and difficult to measure. But there’s more and more research on how stress impacts your body, and how reducing stress can help.
A small amount of stress can actually be a good thing. Humans have evolved over thousands of years to become quite adept at dealing with short-term acute stress, like escaping from alligators and mammoths. As part of our adaptation, a lot of our bodily functions actually perform better in periods of acute stress: your heart beats faster to transport more oxygen to your body, your liver products more glucose to fuel your muscles for a fight-or-flight response – your body essentially adjusts to give you the best chance of survival, and once you’re away from danger, your body can recover and replenish the stores it used up.
However, humans haven’t evolved to handle constant activation of the stress response. Late night emails, work deadlines, traffic jams and all the other irritating aspects of modern life contributes to a prolonged background of chronic stress. This leads to problems with your heart, immune system, digestive system, and of course, your skin as well.
How Does Stress Affect Your Skin?
Stress has been linked to flare-ups of psoriasis and atopic dermatitis, as well as breakouts. However, even if you don’t have these issues, your skin can still suffer when you’re stressed out!
Chronic stress decreases the amount of lipids your skin secretes. Remember the brick and mortar structure of your skin, where the dead outer layers (stratum corneum) consist of dead cell “bricks” with oily lipid “mortar” in between? The oily lipids are necessary to keep your skin flexible and hold in water. Additionally, your skin produces less of the proteins that hold your cells together (corneodesmosomes). These effects combine to make the skin less cohesive and more susceptible to damage.