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How your skin can respond to stress and what to do about it

How your skin can respond to stress and what to do about it

You'd better believe it. What goes on inside your body can impact what happens on the outside. Specifically, what happens to your skin and it's appearance.

We always talk about the external factors that can damage your skin. Obviously, the usual suspect in our world is ultraviolet radiation. But what about stress? What about how you're feeling inside? What about all the things racing around inside your head? What about plain, old, everyday life?

Well, today, we wanted to address exactly that. Let's talk about inside-out rather than outside-in for once.

Happy skin

The skin has seven primary functions. Its main job is to act as a barrier, regulating what stays in the body and repelling dangerous substances from entering. It's a full-on, physical, chemical and antimicrobial defence system like no other.

In a happy state, your skin is finely tuned and well balanced. However, during periods of psychological stress, that balance can be disturbed.

The brain-to-skin link or 'psycho dermatology' has been difficult to prove but studies are out there that demonstrate a connection between psychological stress and the impact it can have on your skin.

Unhappy skin

Stress is a response to something that makes you feel under threat or upsets your balance. We've all experienced it to different degrees. How stress manifests itself varies from person to person but today, we're specifically talking about some of the main, tell-tale signs that stress might be having on your skin.


When stressed, the body produces more of the hormone, cortisol, which - in turn - causes the brain to produce corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). It's believed that CRH can stimulate oil release from sebaceous glands in your skin and around hair follicles. Over-production of oil by these glands can clog the pores and lead to acne.


Stress has the potential to weaken your immune system. A weakened immune system can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut and skin known as dysbiosis. When this imbalance happens on your skin, it can lead to redness or a rash.

Irritation, sensitivity, inflammation

Hives, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis and rosacea are often the result of inflammation, but studies have shown that when your brain's on overdrive, it can actually compromise the protective ability of the skin i.e. stress makes it harder for your skin to regulate and stay balanced.


To all those new parents out there, research has found that stress caused by sleep deprivation can increase signs of ageing (wrinkles, uneven pigmentation, fine lines). According to the study, this is because stress causes changes to skin proteins making them less elastic (elasticity is what causes 'bounce back' in a young person's skin).

Dry skin

The stratum corneum is the outer layer of your skin. It contains protein and lipids that play an important role in keeping skin cells hydrated. It also acts as a barrier that protects the skin underneath. When the stratum corneum isn’t working properly, your skin can become dry and itchy. Some studies have shown that stress impairs the barrier function of the stratum corneum and may negatively impact skin water retention.

How can you manage this?

Firstly, all of the symptoms above could be completely unrelated to stress. They could just be a bad response to a particular product. But they could be stress related and - in case you're searching for the cause - we just wanted to raise the idea with you that stress could be your reason.

What's more, the problem with stress is that it can encourage behaviour that exacerbates things: poor diet, little or poor sleep, longer working hours, more screen time, limited exercise and drinking more caffeine or alcohol.

We won't patronise you and tell you to stop being stressed. That's not helpful advice. But identifying the stress point and trying to manage it, could be a good starting point. Don't expect to be able to switch it off overnight. Like most things in life, chip away little by little. Work on it slowly but surely. Try and get back control so you can re-establish balance.

Some of the best tips we've seen include:

  • Try to maintain good lifestyle habits as much as you can (avoiding as many of the behavioural things mentioned above as possible)
  • Get outside for a daily walk. Stay active
  • Schedule time to relax and away from screens
  • Try to get good sleep
  • Give stress management techniques a go (yoga, mindfulness or mediation)
  • Talk to somebody

And what about my skin? 

In terms of skin specific tips, we'd say stick to the basics: eat well, wear your SPF moisturiser every morning, cleanse at night and use a soothing moisturiser at the end of the day to help restore and repair the skin. See a dermatologist if things persist.

But as we've seen, physiological stress can exhibit itself physically through your skin. So, there’s nothing wrong with feeling a bit off and wanting to try and fix it with a bit of skin care, no matter how modest. It could just be the pathway back to finding your balance. Feeling like you look well can only be good for morale after all.