From Acne to Eczema Flare Ups, This Is Why Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Skin

Ever wondered why your skin or hair worsened during times of stress? Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ramya Garlapati spoke to E! News about the many reasons it affects our appearances.

By Alyssa Morin Apr 16, 2023 10:00 AMTags
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It turns out that stress does get under your skin.

And while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, you'll most likely feel at ease once you understand why stress can affect us so much.

Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Ramya Garlapati offered exclusive insight with E! News about how our outer appearance is directly impacted by what's happening inside of our bodies with both acute stress (which is typically related to a specific event or traumatic experience) or the more chronic kind (a consistent feeling one has for a long period of time).

So, the next time you wake up with pimples in areas you normally don't get blemishes or notice your hair falling out a little more than usual, well, you aren't alone. These skin and hair issues could be a result of feeling anxious, worried, overwhelmed—or all of the above. 

But, fret not, Dr. Garlapati is here with some solutions.

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What skin issues are caused by stress?

"There's a clear link between stress and skin conditions," Dr. Garlapati revealed. "Studies have shown that both acute and chronic stress can exacerbate common skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema and hair loss to name a few."

In fact, a 2021 Harvard report revealed that telogen effluvium (a common type of alopecia) can be triggered by psychosocial stress and prevent future hair growth. Moreover, research from a 2020 study conducted on mice showed that stress can also cause hair graying.

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Why does stress affect the skin?

While there's not a one-size-fits-all reason as to why stress impacts the skin, Dr. Garlapati shared details on how the body tends to respond to it.

"When you experience stress, whether physical or psychological, your body releases hormones such as cortisol," the dermatologist explained. "Cortisol is a pro-inflammatory substance that causes immune cells to move from the bloodstream into the skin or stimulates pro-inflammatory skin cells to become active."

This, in turn, she said, "leads to inflammatory mediators within the skin being released, which worsens eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions."

Dr. Garlapati also pointed out that cortisol can cause your oil glands to create more sebum—an oily substance your body naturally produces to keep the skin moisturized—which results in more clogged pores and acne breakouts during times of stress.

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How can you combat skin issues triggered by stress?

There's no denying that when your skin is out of whack due to stress that it could actually lead to, uh, more stress. But there are a couple of techniques to help you end the vicious cycle.

"The best thing that you can do is try to remain calm, as stressing yourself out can further exacerbate the condition," the skincare expert suggested. And because she acknowledges that's an easier-said-than-done situation, she added, "Consult your local dermatologist to have your skin evaluated and appropriately managed."

Once you know what is triggering your skin issues, she said, you can tackle it head-on. As she put it, "Knowing what is going on with your skin and how to properly treat it can help reduce the stress that you may be experiencing."

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