The Effects of Stress on Skin

Stress, Skin and How to Treat Your Stress Breakouts

Written by Elaine Menshoff

In the same way that stress can affect your mood, appetite and sleep schedule, it impacts the way that your skin functions. In order to understand the skins’ needs in times of distress, you must first understand how your skin reacts with it.

Skin Barrier Function

The skin barrier protects your skin from infection by environmental and psychological toxins, and needs to be kept healthy in order to do its job. The weaker the skin barrier function, the more susceptible the skin becomes to breakouts. Studies show that psychological stress is correlated with weakened skin barrier function, meaning that when you endure stress, your skin loses its ability to properly protect your skin.

Some signs that your skin barrier function has been compromised include:

  • Dry/Flaky skin
  • Dehydrated skin
  • Redness
  • Irritation on the skin
  • Bacterial or fungal skin infection
  • Acne

In addition to weakening your skin’s ability to protect and repair itself, the lower your skin barrier functionality, the greater your chances of dehydrating and irritating the skin.

Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL)

TEWL is the measure of water that evaporates after passing through the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermal skin layer). More simply, it's how much moisture your skin is losing. When your skin loses higher than normal amounts of water, it becomes dry and dehydrated. 

If untreated, this skin can develop complications that require more nuanced treatment, such as:

  • Redness 
  • Irritation and/or itchiness
  • Flakeyness
  • More pronounced wrinkles and fine lines

Preventative Measures

The greatest way to reduce stress breakouts is to minimize stressors. If stress breakouts are common for you, consider ways in which you can nurture your mental health. Sometimes life gets in the way and psychological stress is unavoidable, so you should consider the following ways that you can proactively protect your skin barrier.

Hydration

Staying well hydrated is crucial to maintaining your skin’s health. When we drink water, it is distributed and used to fuel different parts of the body. If the body does not get enough water, it eventually stops functioning well (and if we spend a hot summer day under the sun, this happens even quicker!). The skin operates the same way and when it lacks hydration, so does the skin. With dehydration comes weakened skin barrier function and repairability. To avoid dehydration, be sure to drink at least two liters of water each day.

Apply Sunscreen Daily

Wearing sunscreen daily ensures that your skin is protected by harmful UV rays which further weaken your skin barrier function. UV light damage can also lead to discoloration of the skin, pronunciation of dark spots, and worsened skin texture. Adding sunscreen to your routine not only protects your skin barrier from these visible effects but also fuels your skin’s ability to repair itself from damage. 

Cut out Physical Stressors

While psychological stress is sometimes unavoidable, there are physical stressors that can be impacting the way your skin reacts to stress. Consider switching to a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser, or a creamy cleanser. When possible use a humidifier in your home to add moisture in a dry climate. Small adjustments like these can help your overall skin health in the midst of psychological distress.

Treating Stress Breakouts

Stress breakouts are inevitable and while we can do our best to prevent these break outs, we need a plan of action for treating them when they flare up. You should continue preventative measures even after a breakout occurs, most importantly keeping yourself well hydrated.

Re-Hydration

Psychological stress has been linked to the loss of moisture in the skin, particularly on the face. If you’re experiencing a stress breakout on your face, increase your daily water intake. Aside from water’s role in strengthening your skin barrier function, studies show that dehydration can lead to impaired mood/concentration, and general mental performance, which suggests that hydrating can actually curb thinking patterns that lead to psychological stress.

Moisturizing 

Moisturizing is equally important as drinking water. Be sure to pick moisturizers that contain barrier repair ingredients. Because the face is more susceptible to moisture loss due to stress, you should generally focus more on facial moisturizers.

Antioxidants

Both in diet and in skincare, look for ways to include antioxidants in your regime. The skin, especially the face, is nourished by Vitamins C, A, E, B3 and other antioxidants such as Resveratrol and Green Tea Extract. Not only do these topical ingredients improve skin barrier function and repairability, but they also target your stress breakouts. For example, Vitamin B3 can help fight acne breakouts while Vitamin C works to fade scarring and dark spots. 

Including antioxidants in your diet supports skin health, so while you apply topicals to work on the front end, eat your greens, berries and nuts to make sure your body is working on the back end.

Bottom Line

Hydrate, moisturize, and nurture (your skin and your mind!). If you find yourself dealing with stress breakouts often, consider changes you can make to your day-to-day to mitigate stress or consult a medical professional to explore adjustments that can help. To curb and treat the breakouts you can’t avoid, be sure to drink enough water and make sure you are using the best skin care products for your skin type.

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