The Toll Stress Takes on the Skin

 The Toll Stress Takes on the Skin

In life, stress is an unavoidable factor that can make everything just that much harder. Your hair, skin, and nails are not immune to the negative effects of stress, so read on and learn what to look out for.

What Is Stress, Exactly?

Stress is a natural part of life, and it actually does serve a purpose in the body. Without the stress response, we may not be here today. Evolutionarily speaking, the stress response hasn’t changed much since the first humans walked the earth. The circumstances that cause stress, however, have. Instead of warding off sabertooth tigers, we’re worrying about a presentation or trying to stretch last week’s paycheck until next week. That isn’t to diminish how stressful modern life is, but it does highlight the importance of recognizing that we’re all human. Stress is incredibly common, and so are the effects it has on our skin.

The Toll Stress Takes on the Skin

While tensing up, breathing faster, and increased brain activity related to stress are good for escaping danger, they’re less useful when you’re about to go on a first date. Prolonged stress, whether it’s from work, home life, or a traumatic event, can be very harmful to your skin’s health. One common condition that’s made worse by stress is acne. Acne occurs when the body produces too much sebum or oil within the sebaceous glands. These glands are concentrated mostly on the face, chest, back, and shoulders. When too much oil collects in these glands, they become clogged and develop into acne. Acne often gets worse when a person is under stress because stress causes the body to produce more cortisol, among other hormones. Cortisol can make the skin produce more sebum, triggering a breakout or making pre-existing acne even worse.

Acne isn’t the only thing stress makes worse, but did you know stress can cause some conditions all on its own? Hives are rashes of red, raised bumps that can appear on their own (often looking like mosquito bites) or spreading into a cluster of irregular redness and inflammation. Stress causes hives because in some cases, stress triggers a histamine response. This histamine response is usually reserved for allergic reactions, which is why you get rashes from poison ivy or bug bites. Stress hives can happen to anyone, but they’re most likely in women in their thirties and forties.

Our Best Advice for Stress-Related Skin Problems

Stress isn’t just limited to triggering acne and hives. It’s also responsible for worsening conditions like rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. The best way to treat stress-related skin problems is to reduce stress. Seeking support from a friend or mental health professional, reducing the amount of responsibility on your plate, or practicing good stress management techniques like yoga or meditation can all be helpful in reducing stress. Getting a good night’s sleep, at least 7 or ideally 8 hours, can help prevent stress. Reducing stress is easier said than done, but it’s a critical element when taking on stress-triggered skin conditions. So what else can you do? To treat hives from stress, your dermatologist may prescribe topical antihistamines that can reduce inflammation and itching. Scratching your itchy hives can make them worse, so avoid this at all costs. When it comes to acne, there are a number of over-the-counter and prescription treatments that can help. If your acne is mostly limited to stressful events, you probably won’t need prescription drugs to treat it. Try over-the-counter cleansers with salicylic or glycolic acids, and make sure you’re not overly moisturizing your oily skin.


Stress doesn’t have to pile onto your already existing skin problems. Know your options and how to reduce stress, and if your skin needs some extra help, contact us at Pacific Dermatology Specialists today.

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