When you're stressed or facing any sort of medical or psychological issue, it often manifests on the skin. And while research has found that stress alone cannot directly lead to skin conditions such as acne, eczema, or rosacea, a stressed state does impact the skin's healing process and can lead to breakouts by affecting different systems within the body. It may also lead to other skin conditions like eye bags, dry skin, rashes, wrinkles, and graying hair.
Typically, acne caused by hormones, including stress acne, develops on the oiliest parts of the body, such as the jawline, chin, and cheek area. But it's not unusual for it to also appear on the sides of the face and neck. If you're dealing with more breakouts than normal or several new blemishes at once, you may be facing a stress-related eruption.
So how does stress impact the skin?
Stress leads to hormone imbalances
Acne vulgaris, commonly known as acne, is triggered by a mixture of bacteria, excess oils, bacteria, and possible hormone imbalances. When your brain is given a signal to send off the "stress mode" alarms, it causes the body to produce more cortisol, the primary stress hormone. The increased cortisol leads to an overproduction of oil in the skin's glands and spikes adrenaline. These hormone spikes result in moisture being stripped from the skin so that it can prevent dehydration in other body systems. Then, the skin produces high levels of sebum oil to fight back against moisture loss.
Increased levels of sebum often result in clogged pores and breakouts. It can also contribute to dullness, irritation, and inflammation of the skin.
Stress impacts the skin barrier function
When the body is facing stress, it interferes with the proper function of the skin barrier. The skin barrier refers to the outermost layer of the skin called the epidermis. The epidermis plays a vital role in defending the skin and its associated structures like glands, nerves, blood vessels, collagen, and elastin. Since the epidermis is the layer that comes into contact with environmental stressors, it blocks out foreign substances while also maintaining the body's water balance.
When this natural barrier is damaged, it's as if the skin's filter is broken, making blemishes and acne flareups more prone to happen because bacteria and other substances can penetrate the skin easier.
Wounds, including acne and other skin flareups, heal exceptionally slow when the barrier is damaged, inhabiting the skin's ability to repair itself.
Stress results in a lower cell turnover rate
When under stress, the body will deter resources and nutrients from reaching the skin and reroute them to more essential organ systems, causing a lower skin cell turnover rate. When new cells can't be produced to replace older ones, the cells aren't adequately shed and can lead to blockages and debris buildup.
This buildup leads to dull, dry skin and may also cause pimples and eczema to pop up.
How can I prevent stress acne?
Find time for self-care
One of the best ways to reduce acne is to reduce your stress levels! Take some time each day to decompress and unwind - cooking, meditation, artwork, nature walks - whatever it is that can help you find a few moments of daily relaxation and self-care.
Follow your skincare routine
When you're feeling stressed, it's easy to push your typical routine to the side, but you must keep taking care of your skin! Washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser, using SPF every day, and finding time for a weekly face mask is a great way to unwind and relax for a few minutes. And don't forget about the moisturizer!
Get enough sleep
There's a reason they call it beauty rest. Lack of sleep increases inflammation and the production of stress hormones, both of which contribute to skin issues. Without regular restorative sleep, your body might not feel adequately rested and could jumpstart a cortisol surge, putting you at risk for breakouts.
Keep your hands off
One of the best ways to prevent skin problems is to avoid touching, picking, or scratching at the skin. Doing so puts you at a higher risk of introducing infection-causing bacteria into the skin, making existing breakouts worse and increasing your risk of developing new ones. Popping and picking can even lead to permanent scarring!
For more tips and tricks to introducing self-care into your weekly routine, head to our blog to learn more!