Stress may be getting to your skin, but it’s not a one-way street
Are you stressed out? Your skin can show it. Studies show that acute and chronic stress can have negative effects on general skin well-being, as well as exacerbate a number of skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, acne, and loss hair.
But it’s not just a one-way street. Research has also shown that the skin and hair follicles contain complex mechanisms to produce their own stress-inducing signals, which can travel to the brain and perpetuate the stress response.
Stress and the two-way street between your brain and your skin
You may have already experienced the connection between the brain and the skin. Have you ever felt so nervous that you started blushing or sweating? If so, you have experienced an acute and temporary stress reaction. But science suggests that repeated exposure to psychological or environmental stressors can have lasting effects on your skin that go far beyond hot flashes – and could even negatively affect your overall well-being.
The brain-skin axis is an interconnected bidirectional pathway that can translate psychological stress from the brain to the skin and vice versa. Stress triggers the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a trio of glands that play a key role in the body’s response to stress. This can cause the production of local pro-inflammatory factors, such as cortisol and hormones key in the fight-or-flight stress response, called catecholamines, which can direct immune cells from the bloodstream to the skin or stimulate them. pro-inflammatory skin cells. Mast cells are a key type of pro-inflammatory skin cell in the brain-skin axis; they respond to the hormone cortisol through receptor signaling and directly contribute to a number of skin conditions, including itching.
Because the skin is constantly exposed to the outside world, it is more sensitive to environmental stressors than any other organ and can produce stress hormones in response to them. For example, the skin produces stress hormones in response to ultraviolet light and temperature, and sends these signals back to the brain. Thus, psychological stressors can contribute to skin stress, and environmental stressors, via the skin, can contribute to psychological stress, perpetuating the stress cycle.
How else can stress affect your skin?
Psychological stress can also disrupt the epidermal barrier – the top layer of the skin that traps moisture and protects us from harmful microbes – and prolongs its repair, according to clinical studies in healthy people. An intact epidermal barrier is essential for healthy skin; when disturbed, it can lead to irritated skin, as well as chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or sores. Psychosocial stress has been directly linked to exacerbation of these conditions in small observational studies. Acne breakouts have also been linked to stress, although the understanding of this relationship is still evolving.
The negative effects of stress have also been shown on the hair. A type of diffuse hair loss, known as telogen effluvium, can be triggered by psychosocial stress, which can inhibit the hair growth phase. Stress has also been linked to graying of hair in mouse studies. Research has shown that artificial stress stimulates the release of norepinephrine (a type of catecholamine), which depletes pigment-producing stem cells in the hair follicle, causing graying.
How to manage skin stress?
While reducing stress levels should theoretically help alleviate adverse effects on the skin, there is only limited data regarding the effectiveness of stress reduction interventions. There is some evidence that meditation can lower overall catecholamine levels in people who practice it regularly. Likewise, meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to help psoriasis. More studies are needed to show the benefits of these techniques in other skin conditions. Healthy lifestyle habits, including a balanced diet and exercise, can also help regulate stress hormones in the body, which in turn should have positive effects on the skin and hair.
If you have a stress-related skin condition, see a dermatologist for your condition and try stress reduction techniques at home.
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