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The Effects of Stress on Your Skin

stress and your skin

The Effects of Stress on Your Skin

As if you didn’t have enough to be stressed about, here’s a little bit of information to make you more stressed: Stress is terrible for your skin.

Your board-certified dermatologists at Genesis Dermatology see evidence of this every day in our patients. And it’s not just the most obvious culprits—hives, eczema, rosacea and psoriasis—either. We can tell when our patients walk into our office how much stress they’re feeling in their lives just by the way their skin looks.

Whether you’re stressed about money, relationships or the state of the world, it doesn’t matter. All that stress affects your skin the same way.

Here’s how: when you’re stressed or anxious about anything, you trigger the fight-or-flight response in your body. This causes adrenaline to be released, triggering the major stress hormone cortisol and quickening your heartbeat in preparation to fight or flee the threat. This is nature’s genius plan to save us from sabre-tooth tigers. Ideally, once you’ve either killed or escaped the tiger, your body returns to its normal resting state.

But, as in the examples above, modern-day threats are longer-lasting. Health issues, your children’s slumping grades, or your boss’s lousy attitude tend to linger, causing constant—if low-level—assaults from your body’s defense mechanisms on every part of your body, including your skin. The inflammation caused by your cells being constantly bathed in cortisol results in wrinkles, dryness, redness, and acne. The wrinkles result from damage to collagen and elastin, the supportive tissue beneath your skin. They also arise from cortisol’s effect on the skin’s ability to retain water, hence dry skin. The redness is from inflammation of the blood vessels and the acne comes from inflamed pores, which are then more likely to become clogged.

In fact, one of the first places that stress shows up is on your skin, because it’s the most visible organ on your body. What’s happening underneath is more sinister. Stress damages our DNA, specifically the telomeres attached to the end of each DNA strand. Telomeres protect our chromosomes. With the constant bombardment of chronic stress, however, the telomeres shorten, thus allowing our cells to become damaged or even to die off.

So what can you do about it? De-stress! There are many good ways to reduce your stress level.


  • Exercise: Vigorous exercise (the kind that induces deep breathing) not only helps reduce stress, but also boosts circulation, which increases cell turnover and helps control inflammation. Even a quick walk around the block or through the mall will yield benefits.


  • Meditation: Whether you do a type of formal meditation or just sit calmly and breathe deeply for 10-15 minutes a day, taking a break like this will do wonders for your stress level. And your skin.


  • Fun: It’s hard to be upset about anything when you’re lost in a great book or movie, splashing with your kids in the pool, or dancing at a great nightspot. Try to work at least a few minutes of something fun into every day.


  • Smiling: Many studies have confirmed that smiling reduces heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol output. And here’s the best part: Your body can’t tell the difference between a real smile and a fake smile, so heed the old saying—fake it till you make it.


  • Checking: Checking means asking yourself when you’re upset about the world situation or the idiot with 30 items in the 15-or-less line: “Is this worth getting upset about, damaging my body and ruining my skin, or can I let it go?” Often, if it’s something out of your control, the latter is preferable.
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