Can Stress Cause Skin Problems?

Stress can affect our bodies in all kinds of ways. We already know stress can be bad for our weight and our emotional health. But what about skin problems caused by stress? Doctors believe that stress has such a negative effect on our skin’s health, dermatologists have come up with a name for it: psychodermatology.

Stress can cause itchy skin, hives, rashes and a variety of other conditions and diseases. Find out what conditions your stress might be affecting — and how to soothe your red, itchy and irritated dermis.

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Dry Skin

Technically, stress can cause dry skin — just maybe not in the way you think. While stress is known to raise cortisol levels (and cause oily skin), you may end up with dry, flaky skin anyway after a stressful week at work.

Most people tend to self-medicate to deal with stress. You’re trying to stay focused, so you indulge in that second or third cup of coffee each day. You can’t sleep at night (probably because of all the caffeine), so you end up tossing and turning for eight hours. To unwind, you start drinking an extra glass of wine at night.

And for the love of yoga, in the midst of all of your meetings, errands, conference calls and to-do lists, are you remembering to drink eight glasses of water a day?

That question was rhetorical. We know you’re not.

So while stress might not cause dry skin directly, it has been known to lead to behaviors that will cause your skin to flake.

The Solution

Try to avoid self-medicating with coffee, alcohol and salty foods. Make sure you increase your water intake when you’re starting to feel stressed. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on your skincare regimen before bed, thinking you’ll gain an extra few minutes of shut-eye. It’s important to keep your skin as hydrated as possible during stressful times, so you’ll want to use a good moisturizer and a nighttime serum.

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Oh holy yoga blocks. Now you’re going to tell me that stress is the reason my face is breaking out, too? Just tell me. Does anxiety cause acne? Does it?

Well, maybe.

Stress acne is definitely a thing. Whether or not you have it depends on your level of stress. As you know, stress can ramp up your cortisol levels, and high levels of cortisol can cause oily skin. Stress acne can manifest itself just about anywhere: you can get stress acne on your forehead, on your chin — and even on your neck.

If you have teens in the house, you might hear them complaining about stress zits. Your hormonal kids are probably under pressure thanks to finals, after-school activities and whether their faces will clear up for the prom. Stress acne can be a double-edged sword; you can’t get rid of it when you’re stressed, but the acne itself is so stressful that it’s hard to avoid.

The Solution

Try to use a combination of breathing exercises, meditation and physical exercise to combat stressful situations. Simply taking a “time-out” to focus on your breath for a few minutes can help lower your body’s cortisol levels. Wash your face with a good cleanser to ensure any existing blemishes don’t get infected. You may even want to use a topical acne cream to help spot treat pimples.

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Rashes and Hives

Rashes and hives are both the result of of dysbiosis — or, too much bad bacteria in your digestive system. Stress hormones can end up knocking your gut bacteria out of whack.

Yes, you can get an anxiety skin rash.

In addition, stress can also make you turn into the Incredible Hulk of Your Kitchen. You might end up eating things you’d never dream of in a stress-free environment. Pickles with cottage cheese and leftover McDonald’s French fries, anyone?

In order to keep your gut bacteria in check, you’ll need to keep your stress levels low and try to avoid foods that might mess up your bacterial balance.

The Solution

Lower your stress levels by using a combination of deep breathing, meditation and aerobic exercise to help keep your gut bacteria at healthy levels. Talk to your doctor or naturopath about whether or not a probiotic is right for you. Keep your cravings in check by stocking your fridge with plenty of healthy snacks to help curb hunger.

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Flushing and Rosacea

While flushing and rosacea are two skin ailments that look alike, the two are very different. Flushing is simply when your skin gets a little red due to a variety of factors, including environmental temperature, food and drink — and yes, even stress.

Have you ever felt your face get red when you’ve gotten embarrassed or upset? It’s just your fight-or-flight response and a rush of adrenaline. And guess what? This adrenaline spike can happen whenever you get stressed.

Like flushing, rosacea is caused by alcohol, spicy foods and changes in environmental temperature. Unlike flushing, rosacea is a medical condition that can cause a flushing of the skin and red, raised bumps.

The Solution

Remember that stress can cause flushing and rosacea flare-ups. When you feel yourself getting upset or frustrated, try focusing on your breath and taking deep breaths. It’s okay to excuse yourself from a stressful situation, hot room or alcohol-infused evening. Some rosacea sufferers find lavender oil to help calm their skin and ease their symptoms.

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Psoriasis and Eczema

Psoriasis and eczema are two other skin issues that are commonly mistaken for each other. While psoriasis is an autoimmune condition, eczema is a hypersensitive reaction to creams, soaps, dyes and fabrics. Psoriasis can manifest as white, scaly stress spots on the skin, and eczema manifests as a red, flaky rash.

Both psoriasis and eczema are exacerbated by stress. It doesn’t make matters worse than most sufferers of both conditions become stressed because they suffer from psoriasis and eczema.

The Solution

Like most of the other tips suggest, the best way to deal with many of the skin issues that are trigger by stress is to keep a few stress management techniques in your toolkit. Try not to get too stressed about your skin conditions, and talk to your doctor about topical creams that might help ease the pain.

When it comes to your skin, your mental health is directly linked to your dermis’s. While stress can cause and exacerbate most skin problems, you always want to talk to your doctor to ensure the cause isn’t more serious. The good news is that stress is a completely “curable” condition that doesn’t cost a lot and doesn’t require any special surgeries. Take a few moments of your day to practice self-care to ensure your skin stays clear and your hormones remain at normal levels.