Many of us will have experienced stress in some form at one point in our lives. The feeling of pressure, be it related to work, finances or relationships can have overarching effects across various elements of our health and well-being.
Stress is known to impact our mood, sleep and even our diet, but are you aware of the effect it can have on your skin?
According to the Australian Psychological Society, over a third (35 per cent) of us report ‘significant’ distress playing an active part in our lives. In addition, 2015 saw anxiety levels reach an all-time high over the past five years. With so many of us experiencing stress, it’s important to understand what is happening on a biological level, and how it can impact us physically.
Taking a closer look at stress
Our body’s reaction to stress can be traced back to our innate ‘fight-or-flight’ reflex triggered in response to a potential threat. When we are stressed, our system is flooded with hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine.
The former, which you may already have heard referred to as ‘the stress hormone’, causes increased oil, or sebum production, which can trigger a raft of skin problems such as breakouts.
While our stress response can fade naturally after a sudden shock, long-term, recurring distress, such as chronic stress can have some serious negative side effects. As noted by Mayo Clinic, anxiety, weight gain, sleep problems and even depression can accompany this condition, making it vital to address the stress at its root cause as soon as possible.
Stress and our skin
When we are stressed, our skin can show it through sensitisation and inflammation, as well as dehydration.
A study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that the skin’s protective barrier function can be adversely affected by psychological stress. If we do not take steps to restore our skin’s barrier, this means our skin can experience water loss, hindering its capabilities of repair.
With the excess sebum starting to collect dead cells and bacteria, it blocks up our hair follicles, making our stress-affected skin a prime breeding ground for pimples and acne cysts.
In addition, stress can trigger the release of neuropeptides. Molecules released by sensory nerves, neuropeptides can cause irritation, in addition to scaliness or flaking. Stress can also lead to redness with our blood vessels opening too widely, or alternatively, sallowness when the vessels close up.
Acne sufferers may also find that their skin flares up during stressful periods. This was demonstrated in a study published in the Acta Dermato-Venereologica, which found that students experiencing exam-related stress were 23 per cent more likely to have acne.
How can we treat skin affected by stress?
One way to combat stress is to practice relaxation and breathing techniques that can help to soothe and reduce its symptoms. In addition, exercise has also been found to be beneficial in helping us unwind, as it can reduce our levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, according to Harvard University.
If stress has taken its toll on your skin, one of the best ways to address it is to consult a qualified skin therapist. They will be able to take a closer look at the overall state of your skin and suggest which professional treatments could be the most effective.
In addition, your skin therapist may be able to prescribe products to treat the effects of sensitisation and dehydration by restoring our skin’s natural barrier function. You can locate your nearest Ultraceuticals clinic online, or contact us to find out more.