How Stress Affects Pre-Existing Skin Conditions

Woman stressed out How Stress Affects Pre-Existing Skin Conditions

Some say that stress is all in your head, but being stressed out can actually have serious implications for your skin as well as your overall physical health. You might already know this from experience if stressful periods of your life have coincided with skin issues. Stress affects everyone differently, but those with pre-existing skin conditions and/or sensitive skin are more susceptible to these complications. Let’s outline how stress affects the skin and what you can do to curtail these negative effects.

What Stress Does to Your Skin

How Does Stress Sabotage Your Skin?

You might wonder how something emotional like stress can have tangible effects on your body. Simply put, when we feel stressed out, our nervous system reacts in an evolutionary “fight or flight” response to get us out of whatever pickle our bodies think we’re in. This response comes with a sudden spike in hormones like cortisol, increasing our heart rate, stimulating our skin glands to produce more oil, and inflaming parts of our body. More oil production translates to clogged pores, which in turn can cause breakouts, rashes, and other problems; inflammation can take pre-existing skin problems and aggravate their symptoms. Beyond these direct physical effects, stress might also throw off your skincare schedule by making you tired and/or uninterested in these matters. And lastly, stress-related skin problems can create a feedback loop wherein feelings of low self-esteem create even more stress and make skin problems worse.

Now, let’s dive deeper into the specific problems stress can intensify.

Stress Can Exacerbate Acne Outbreaks

As mentioned earlier, stress and acne often go hand in hand. Acne is a chronic inflammatory condition that’s often triggered by hormonal activity. It’s no wonder, then, that the rapid increases in adrenaline and cortisol caused by stress would lead to breakouts and make them harder to get under control.

Stress Can Amplify Other Chronic Inflammatory Skin Conditions

Acne isn’t the only chronic inflammatory skin condition, of course, even if it’s the most common. Eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis are three more examples of pre-existing skin problems that come and go based on certain circumstances (i.e., triggers). Sunlight, for instance, can cause your rosacea to flare up, and allergies can trigger an eczema episode. Stress is a common trigger for these various chronic conditions as well. The inflammatory response that comes with stressful feelings just amplifies these symptoms and can make it harder for your skin to heal after the fact.

Stress Can Accelerate Hair Loss

An abundance of stress can also cause your hair to fall out in more ways than one. Telogen effluvium occurs when a severe amount of stress forces follicles into a dormant phase -- after two or three months, those frozen follicles may then fall away all at once when jostled by your hands or a brush. Alopecia areata refers to hair loss caused by an autoimmune attack. There are many potential reasons for your immune system to turn on your hair follicles in this way, and stress may be one of the triggers. And lastly, significant stress, depression, anxiety, and/or mental illness can cause one to compulsively pull out their own hair; this is known as trichotillomania.

Stress Can Trigger Hives and Rashes

In most cases, both acute and chronic hives occur thanks to an allergic reaction, but allergies aren’t the only culprits. Infections, excessive sunlight, exercise, and of course stress can all contribute to a hives outbreak. Stress related hives aren’t any different than hives caused by any other trigger, but being stressed out can certainly make a flare up worse and last longer.

Saving Your Skin from Stress

We all get stressed out, and that’s perfectly normal. That said, making an effort to lower your stress levels is good for skin and your health overall. If you want to mitigate the negative effects of stress on your skin, consider making these changes in your life:

  • Maintain your skincare routine even when you’re not feeling up to the task

  • Get a good night’s sleep every night (7-9 hours is ideal)

  • Practice mindfulness via activities like yoga, deep breathing, and meditation

  • Exercise regularly

  • Eat a nutritious diet

  • Enjoy personal and recreational time

  • Seek emotional support from friends, family, and professional psychologists (therapy)


In addition to these lifestyle improvements, talk to your dermatologist about treatments for your chronic condition(s) so you can better counteract stress-related skin problems when they occur. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners are also here to give you more resources and advice on stress and skincare. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.

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