Your skin is the biggest organ in your body, and one of the most vulnerable. Stress can have a devastating effect on your skin, and is responsible for aggravating or even causing a number of skin conditions, including rosacea, eczema, warts and cold sores. Here’s how stress can affect your skin.
Stress Contributes to Eczema, Psoriasis and Dermatitis
The cells of your skin overlap one another, and, normally, a lipid barrier between the cells fills gaps to keep out pathogens, like bacteria, that might enter and colonize the body. When you’re stressed, however, the outermost cells of your skin shrink, allowing the lipids in that barrier to evaporate. As a result, tiny cracks form in the outermost layer of skin, allowing bacteria to penetrate to the deeper layers, and stimulating the immune response, which can lead to outbreaks of psoriasis and eczema, as well as bacterial and fungal skin infections.
Stress can also aggravate dermatitis and other allergies. Cortisol, the hormone that causes feelings of stress, stimulates the immune system in such a way that you wind up vulnerable not only to infection, but to autoimmune disorders like allergic reactions. If you have sensitive skin or contact dermatitis, you’ll find it worsens during periods of stress.
Stress Contributes to Cold Sores and Acne
Studies have shown that you’re more likely to have an acne outbreak when you’re under stress, because stress deprives your skin of the blood flow it needs, leading to more frequently clogged pores. Stress also contributes to the development of cold sores, because it weakens your immune system and allows the virus that causes cold sores to become active.
Stress Causes Wrinkles
It’s hard to keep smiling when you’re under chronic stress; most people who struggle with chronic stress frown constantly without realizing it. Even if you tried to force yourself to smile, you’d start frowning again as soon as you stopped thinking about it. Frowning constantly causes frown lines, a sign of constant worry and stress.
Stress Affects Your Skin’s Appearance
Stress causes the upper layer of your skin’s cells to dry out, causing dry, flaky skin. Constant, chronic stress deprives your skin of the blood and oxygen it needs to be healthy, causing it to lose its elasticity and break more easily. If you suffer from chronic stress, eventually your skin will take on a dull appearance, as healthy skin cells will take longer to reach the top surface of your skin and dead cells will take longer to flake off.
Stress Contributes to Skin Cancer
Stress may be a major contributing factor in the deadliest cases of skin cancer. Studies done on mice have shown that stress can accelerate the development of malignant skin cells, especially when those cells are exposed to UV rays. Studies also suggest that those who develop the deadly skin cancer, melanoma, are more likely than not to have suffered severely stressful life events in the years prior to diagnosis.