The Many Ways Stress Can Affect Your Skin
A dermatologist explains the mind-skin connection.
Last week Anne Hathaway was apparently so stressed out by an upcoming appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show that she broke out in hives. "Proof that nerves are real," she posted with a photo of the angry rash on Instagram.
And a few days ago actress Kirsten Storms announced she was taking a leave from her role as "Maxie" on daytime's General Hospital due to skin issues linked to stress.
With so many celebrities succumbing to stress-related skin problems, we started to wonder which skin conditions are aggravated by stress.
The answer, it turns out, is pretty much all of them.
"Any skin condition can be made worse from stress," says Natalie Semchyshyn, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Saint Louis University. "Stress, especially chronic stress, changes levels of certain hormones in your body, like cortisol, which can affect your immune system."
And that can wreak havoc with your skin.
Hives, like those proudly displayed on Anne Hathaway's chest, can happen to anyone, even if you're not prone to skin problems.
"One of the major jobs of our skin is to block things out that we don't want to come in. It's the protective wrapper of the body," explains Dr. Semchyshyn.
Acne is probably the most well-known example of a skin condition exacerbated by stress: Think of a teen who has a terrible acne flare right before final exams.
Rosacea is another skin condition closely related to your mental state: Flushing, swelling, and uneven skin are hallmarks of rosacea. "One of the triggers [of flushing] is stress, if you feel embarrassed, or even good stress like working really hard on something," says Dr. Semchyshyn. "It's a visible response to stress going on inside your body."
Psychological stress can also trigger a psoriasis flare-up—red, scaly patches of skin that are itchy and sometimes painful—as well as an eczema flare (an itchy rash).
The silver lining in the skin-stress connection? Managing your stress can often provide the solution, or part of the solution, says Dr. Semchyshyn. She points to a growing body of research that suggests stress-relief techniques—including hypnosis, guided-imagery meditation, and mindfulness meditation—may also help calm your complexion.