Clinical observations have established a direct connection between psychological problems and the occurrence or exacerbation of various skin diseases, including atopic dermatitis, eczema, acne, psoriasis. In particular, stress has been found to trigger a chemical reaction in the body that makes the skin more sensitive and reactive.
What is the relationship between stress and skin condition? How exactly does stress affect the skin? Is it possible to reduce its harmful effects? Let's figure it out.
Margarita Gekht, a dermatologist at the Butterfly Children Foundation, a leading speaker at the Skill for Skin online academy of skin problems
How stress affects the skin: important physiological facts
The skin is the largest organ of the body that performs important barrier and immune functions, maintaining homeostasis between the external environment and the internal tissues of the human body.
The skin is made up of three main layers:
The epidermis is a continuously renewing top layer in which the basal proliferating keratinocytes gradually differentiate, move upward, and eventually exfoliate.
Dermis is the middle layer. It consists of fibroblasts, collagen and elastic fibers, and an extracellular matrix that provides the skin with elasticity and strength.
Hypodermis - subcutaneous fatty tissue.
The skin is the main organ that responds to external stressors: heat, cold, pain and mechanical irritation. For this, there are three categories of receptors in the dermis:
- thermoreceptors react to heat and cold;
- nociceptors - for pain;
- mechanoreceptors - for mechanical irritation.
Receptors transmit these external signals first to the spinal cord and then to the brain. They also send signals to the central nervous system about changes in acidity and the response of inflammatory mediators.
Nerve endings are often associated with receptors that transmit impulses directly to the skin. The brain responds to these signals, which in turn influence the stress responses of the skin.
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Peripheral nerves can also influence skin health through secreted factors such as neuropeptides and neurotrophins. They serve as local stress factors that trigger neurogenic inflammation and affect all signs of allergic inflammation and cutaneous stress reactivity.
Substance P (SP) and its role should be discussed separately. This stress-related pro-inflammatory neuropeptide is released from peripheral cutaneous nerve endings and acts as a key mediator in the brain's interaction with the hair follicle. It stimulates the release of mast cells, causing inflammation and itching. Interestingly, substance P can increase the ability of microorganisms to cause disease, which leads to the development of pathogenic skin microflora by increasing the activity of enzymes of microbes and bacteria.
2 types of effects of stress on the body
Every person experiences stress from time to time, and there is nothing to worry about. The likelihood of serious health consequences increases when stress becomes chronic. It can manifest itself both in the form of physiological changes and in the form of neuroses.
Negative physiological changes are caused by the release of hormones and other biologically active substances - cortisol, adrenaline, substance R. Thus, during stress, the body produces more cortisol. This hormone causes the hypothalamus to release corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). It, in turn, stimulates excessive release of sebum from the sebaceous glands located around the hair follicles. Excessive oil production from these glands can lead to clogged pores and acne.
The neuroses triggered by stress can provoke unhealthy habits such as teeth grinding, skin picking or lip biting.
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5 types of skin reactions to stress
There are five main types of skin stress response:
Exacerbation of chronic dermatoses
The most common are atopic dermatitis and psoriasis.
The formation of bags under the eyes
As we age, the supporting muscles around the eyes weaken, so swelling or puffiness under the eyelids is more common and can become chronic. Loss of skin elasticity also leads to the appearance of bags under the eyes. Research has shown that the stress caused by lack of sleep increases the signs of aging, which include fine lines and uneven pigmentation.
The stratum corneum is the outermost layer of the skin that contains proteins and lipids that play an important role in maintaining cell hydration. It also acts as a barrier to protect the deeper layers of the skin. According to a 2014 review published in the journal Inflammation & Allergy Drug Targets, stress impairs the barrier function of the stratum corneum and can negatively affect water retention in the skin, making it dehydrated and dry.
Stress causes changes in the proteins in the skin and decreases its elasticity. This loss of elasticity can contribute to the formation of wrinkles.
Gray hair and hair loss
Scientists have also figured out why gray hair appears. The color of the hair is given by the pigment melanin, produced by the cells of melanocytes. A 2020 study published in the journal Nature found that sympathetic neural activity triggered by stress can lead to the disappearance of the stem cells that make melanocytes. As soon as these cells disappear, the new cells lose color and turn gray.
5 ways to ease the effects of stress on your skin
First of all, you should take care of your mental health and increase stress resistance. It is unlikely that you can completely avoid the effects of stress, but you can minimize its effects.
- Do not neglect cleansing your skin, even if you are tired.
- Get enough sleep. Seven to eight hours of sleep every night is the optimal amount of sleep that will relieve the skin of traces of stress.
- Use serums enriched with hyaluronic acid and vitamin C under the cream.
- Use exfoliants daily to combat uneven skin and a dull complexion.
- Use SPF15-25 sunscreen before leaving the house, regardless of the season.