The Effects of Stress on Your Skin

Anxiety has a negative effect on your skin. In this article, we take a look at some of the ways in which it manifests itself.
The Effects of Stress on Your Skin

Last update: 20 October, 2022

Being in a continuous nervous state is bad for your body overall. However, the most visible signs are the effects of stress on your skin. In fact, your skin is your body’s first defensive barrier. There’s also the aesthetic angle at play here, since the effects are visible.

Despite the fact that mental disorders are now becoming less stigmatized, they still don’t receive the necessary attention from society as a whole. This leads many people (especially those who don’t have the resources to access private mental health) to look for ways to manage these issues on their own.

Your skin is one of the most delicate organs of your body. For this reason, it’s only to be expected that it’ll be one of the first affected when you regularly experience stress. Indeed, your skin will demonstrate all the signs that your cortisol levels are beginning to affect your body.

The effects of stress on your skin

You’ve probably noticed that, when you’re stressed, your appearance deteriorates. It’s not just that you have a downcast expression or dark circles under your eyes from sleeping badly, but acne also appears more easily and wounds heal more slowly, among other effects.

This is due to chemical mechanisms that are regulated by hormones in your blood. They’re responding to a state of psychological alertness in you that’s lasting too long. Let’s take a look at the most common symptoms of the effects of stress on your skin.

Girl scratching her arm
Stress can cause hives and other types of skin rashes.

1. Acne

Psychological stress has been shown to worsen acne. As the levels of cortisol in your blood increase, your skin secretes more fat, so the appearance of blackheads and pimples tends to increase.

2. Atopic dermatitis

Your skin becomes more sensitive at times of stress. This is actually useful, as all your senses are heightened during times of danger. However, it’s not so helpful when it happens continuously.

In fact, the vicious circle between itching and scratching ends up complicating the condition of your skin, causing atopic dermatitis to appear. This condition presents with welts, eczema, or rashes.

3. Seborrheic dermatitis

Cortisol increases the production of sebum in your skin. Seborrheic dermatitis is produced by this phenomenon. As in atopic dermatitis, in this condition, lesions appear on your skin that are aggravated by continuous scratching.

4. Psoriasis flare-ups

Psoriasis is a chronic disease characterized by the acceleration of the life cycle of skin cells, which die prematurely. However, it’s known that stress causes more frequent episodes than would be the case if it weren’t present.

5. Signs of skin aging

When your skin detects stressful events on the outside, such as temperature or pressure, it sends signals to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This triggers the release of cortisol and other hormones that move to solve the supposed problem.

This defense mechanism, when activated chronically, affects the blood supply to your skin. In fact, it’s diverted to your muscles and organs responsible for launching the fight-flight-freeze responses. The most striking effects of stress on your skin in these instances are as follows:

  • Wrinkles.
  • Flaccidity.
  • Spots.
  • Dull skin.
  • Loss of elasticity.
Woman with spots on her face
Stress generates the production of cortisol that inflames the skin.

6. Infections and healing problems

Stress also weakens your immune system. Therefore, it’s extremely likely that, in addition to falling ill more often, you’ll notice that your wounds heal more slowly and are more likely to become infected. This is especially prevalent in the case of acne.

What to do to avoid the effects of stress on your skin

Since the root of the problem is chronic stress, this is the first thing you should try to address. However, it’s easier to talk about fixing it than actually doing it, as you probably well know if you’ve ever been told: “Try not to worry”.

As a matter of fact, you shouldn’t underestimate the help of a psychology professional. Because facing life’s problems when you’re in a constant state of fear and anxiety isn’t easy. In fact, you may well not even know where to start. Therefore, relieving this stress will not only improve the health of your skin but your life in general.

In the meantime, you can combat the effects of stress on your skin with a treatment that improves its appearance and health. For this, you can consult your doctor or a trusted beauty clinic.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gracia, M.J. y Ruiz, S. Estrés, calidad de vida y psoriasis: estado actual. Psiquiatr Biol. 2001;08:141-5
  • Cheng, Yi., Lyga, John.Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging.
  • Alonso, O. E. R., Sánchez, M. B. R., Fernández, M. H., & González, M. A. (2019). Aspectos de interés sobre dermatitis atópica, su diagnóstico y tratamiento. Revista Médica Electrónica41(2), 496-507.
  • Chiu, A., Chon, S. Y., & Kimball, A. B. (2003). The response of skin disease to stress: changes in the severity of acne vulgaris as affected by examination stress. Archives of dermatology139(7), 897-900.
  • Acuña De La Rosa, J. J., Altamar Castro, G. A., & Oñoro Vargas, P. R. (2020). Acné y estrés: Una problemática común entre los estudiantes de medicina.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.