Your skin is your largest organ. It protects you from the outside world. Unfortunately, you also have to worry about the impact of the world within you. It is quickly becoming common knowledge that your brain can significantly impact your health. Whether it negatively affects your overall health, gut health, or skin, your brain’s response can play a crucial role. Read more to learn about how stress may increase inflammation and even damage your skin.
The brain’s response to stress is one of the more commonly known connections. The relationship between stress and your body is not a new concept. Our brain reacts strongly to acute and chronic stress, sometimes even triggering the immune system to fight off the perceived threat.
What may not be common knowledge is: that response can mess with your skin.
Though the concept has been around since ancient times, there are recent studies that document the reactions caused by long-term stress. Studies are finding that psychological stress can trigger and exacerbate several conditions, including migraines, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), and neurodegeneration as well as a number of skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.
Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation, and Skin
The effect of stress on the skin is now well documented. There is even a specialization known as psychodermatology that studies the correlation between stress and dermatological ailments. You may notice that stress can:
- Prevent wound healing
- Increase inflammation
- Slow beneficial oil production
- Increase susceptibility to infection
In fact, the brain-skin axis is a bidirectional pathway translating psychological stress from one to the other. As stress triggers a response in the body, the body’s response then triggers more reactions.
But why does stress have such an impact?
Stress causes our body to become distressed, which triggers a release of hormones like cortisol. The cortisol will directly impact the skin barrier through the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Skin mast cells have also been found to play a role in the skin’s response to stress. These can increase inflammation and trigger more specified reactions in the body—specifically on the skin.
Stress-Related Skin Conditions
How exactly does your skin react to stress? There are several stress-related, or neuroinflammatory, skin conditions that can flare up with prolonged psychological stress.
- Atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Pruritus (itchy skin)
- Dry, flaky skin
- Under-eye bags
In addition to skin issues, chronic stress can also negatively affect your hair. Stress can inhibit hair growth, and some studies have shown that there may be a connection between stress and hair graying.
Less Stress, Better Skin
Unfortunately, many of the available skin care products are designed for consumers who already have a healthy skin barrier. In fact, some of the ingredients used in many skin products can exacerbate stress-related skin problems further.
Thankfully, we can treat the stress and reduce the chances of neuroinflammatory skin issues. Reducing stress is not a cure-all, but it can help to limit symptoms and prevent further flareups.
Meditation and mindfulness are excellent alternative options for dealing with stress and anxiety. This is a research-backed method for reducing stress and one that is simple to implement. There are plenty of self-guided meditations available to get you started.
This is referred to as deliberate breathing, functional breathing, mindful breathing, or simply breathwork. You can start breathing exercises on your own, though there are benefits to working with a breathing coach.
Exercise has been shown to reduce stress hormones. It can also stimulate endorphin production, which can lead to a more relaxed state of mind.
While eating a healthy diet won’t directly impact your stress levels, it can support a healthy immune system. It can also help to repair damaged cells, which may offer some relief for stress-induced skin conditions. Some foods that are high in polyunsaturated fats have also been known to regulate cortisol levels, limiting the skin’s response to increased stress levels.