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How Stress Affects Our Skin– And What To Do About It

How Stress Affects Our Skin– And What To Do About It
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With the colder weather, less sunlight, and influx of events, you might feel the seasonal depression creeping in. Heightened stress– defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a state of worry or mental tension– is a “natural human response.” Knowing how to best manage it can benefit how you feel from the inside out. “Stress can have a profound effect on one’s overall health and bodily functions,” Paula Bourelly MD, FAAD, of Olney Dermatology tells ESSENCE. “And the skin is no exception.” 

When we look at our skin, we may notice it changes during times of high stress. This includes more breakouts, and inflammation. We know that the stress response can impact the immune system,” she adds. This impairs the endocrine system– leading to the release of various inflammatory hormones and neurotic excoriations (picking and scratching.) As Bourelly Shares, this may also include trichotillomania (hair pulling) and onychophagia (nail biting).

“The skin’s ability to promote good wound healing and serve as a barrier against infectious agents can also be hindered by the stress response,” she says. You may notice a flare-up of seborrheic dermatitis (“dandruff”), which is common for people suffering from illness and emotional trauma, or exacerbated acne as a result of psychological stress. This just means your skin will require additional help as you learn to manage stress– especially during the holidays.

But how do we calm our triggered skin? Below, Dr. Bourelly and licensed therapist, Dr. Mariel Buqué share their tips on managing stress and the inflamed skin that might come with it. 

Know the signs

The first sign that your skin may be responding to an upsurge in stress hormones is the increase in acne. “Our skin, just the same as other organs, can become inflamed when under stress. It can show signs through an overproduction of oil on the skin,” Dr. Buqué shares. For ongoing stress, the inflammation can become even more chronic. “We can develop skin rashes, hyperpigmentation, hair loss, hives, dermatitis, and more,” she says. “These are all telltale signs that we must slow down and take a breath. Many times, these longer term conditions are when we begin to take notice, but our skin tends to tell us that we’re too stressed long before these conditions take root.”

Try meditation

“First, we have to find ways to better manage these moments of emotional upheaval,” Dr. Bourelly says. Studies have proven the effects of biofeedback, meditation and even hypnosis as beneficial to various dermatologic conditions. According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), hypnosis can alter your neurotic habits– hair pulling, skin picking, nail biting– and the use of visual and auditory instruments in biofeedback can benefit your skin by altering your physiologic responses (like sweating) and increase stress awareness to promote healing. As for meditation, the practice can reduce your worry and tension overall. 

Make relaxation your lifestyle

As Dr. Buqué says, managing stress is all about managing your response to it. “That means, taking deep breaths, writing down your worries about the issue in a journal, meditating to help balance out your emotions and body’s stress hormones,” she says. “And it means you do this not just in a reactionary way to help manage your stress, but that you adopt these practices as a lifestyle to better prepare you for the ongoing stressors of life that will surely come.” 

Use healing products

Other than these medical techniques, the products you use are a daily solution to stressed skin. “The use of bland [fragrance-free] moisturizers can be soothing to itchy, irritated skin,” Dr. Bourelly says. “Gentle cream-based cleansers that add moisture back to the skin can also be helpful to calm irritated skin.” 

Visit a dermatologist 

Depending on your condition– such as eczema, dandruff, and acne– an appointment with your dermatologist may be the best option. “With certain inflammatory conditions, treatments with prescription medicines like cortisone cream or non-steroid anti-inflammatory agents might be [needed].”

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