The Stress and Skin Connection: 5 Ways Stress Impacts Your Skin! 

August 6, 2020

I have a secret to tell you—something you may be surprised to learn. There is a clear and direct link between your stress and skin.

We’ve been so conditioned to think of skin problems as just that, so whenever you have a skin concern, you like reach for a topical treatment, right? But that’s simply like placing a homemade bandage over a gaping wound.

What if your skin is trying to tell you something? What if your skin is actually showing you that there’s something more going on inside your body—something your body is trying to get rid of?

Take a moment and think about the last time you had a problem with your skin. Whether it was a mysterious rash, bout of acne, welts, sallow skin, or even just dry and itchy skin, you can likely recall an exact moment from a specific flare up. Now, can you recall a stressful event or concern around that same time?

Most likely, you can. Whether it was a form of psychological stress from a looming deadline or demanding boss at work, a relationship concern, a financial worry, or even an illness (which causes both psychological and physiological stress), the truth is that stress is all around us. And it directly impacts the health of your skin!

But how and why does this happen? How does the stress and skin connection work? Let’s look at the physiological connection between them and discuss some of the specific ways stress impacts your skin—and what you can do to get some relief!



The Stress and Skin Connection

For many years, science has shown that the stress and skin connection is a strong one. But before we review the ways stress can affect your skin, let’s take a look behind the curtain and discover how it happens.

1. Stress, Liver, and Your Skin

One of the first organs that’s impacted by chronic stress is your liver. As you may recall, your liver is part of your gastrointestinal system, but it plays a role in almost all of the systems in your body.

Stress actually stimulates your sympathetic nervous system (the system that prepares your body for the fight-or-flight mode). But because your liver performs many of its typical tasks when your body is in the calm, steady parasympathetic mode, it’s hindered in its ability to continue on with its everyday responsibilities.

Instead of helping your body rid itself of toxins, your liver then begins to convert your stored sugar into energy so that you can react to your stressor. (If you having trouble following, check out my “bear scenario” for more detail on the fight-or-flight process.)

If you find that you’re constantly stressed, those everyday tasks that your liver typically handles is put on the sidelines. The problem is that if these tasks are never handled, it causes symptoms that are hard to miss.

One symptom? Skin problems—namely acne—due to the lack of detoxification happening in your body! Basically, the toxins in your liver can actually come out on your skin, resulting in acne.

2. Stress, Digestion, and Your Skin

As I’ve mentioned before, when you’re in a heightened state of stress (such as if you’re running from a bear in the woods), your body is solely focused on handling the urgent stressor. You’re not going to stop to realize you have to use the bathroom.

So, what happens? Well, stress slows your digestion—and this often results in some of the most common digestive complaints we see today: constipation, malabsorption, and even leaky gut. And you may be surprised to learn that these conditions are all linked to skin problems!

Want an example of how your digestion can impact your skin? According to one study, people who drink milk are 20 percent more likely to have acne than those who don’t! [1] Here’s why this is relevant: Dairy products are notoriously hard to digest, with 75 percent of the world’s population being lactose intolerant! [2]

Additionally, the gut microbiome is known to be an important regulator for skin regeneration. In fact, certain gut microbes help facilitate anti-inflammatory responses throughout your body, including your skin.

As a result, having a poor microbiome has been linked to the development of acne, atopic dermatitis (AD), and psoriasis! [3]

3. Stress, Your Skin, and Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

Finally, experiencing stress immediately puts you into the fight-or-flight mode, which pulls you away from your parasympathetic (or calm) mode. Here’s the problem: Your body heals during parasympathetic mode.

As you experience more and more stress, your body spends less time in quality parasympathetic mode, resulting in slower healing and skin regeneration. When your skin doesn’t regenerate, your dead skin cells aren’t naturally sloughed away and build up over time.

This not only makes you more prone to acne, but it also can cause you to break out in hives or welts. How? Well, acute stress has been shown to increase histamine in the body. [4] In fact, it’s well-known that your body releases histamine anytime you’re in a heightened state of stress. [5]

It’s crazy how much stress can affect your skin, isn’t? Now that you know more about the stress and skin connection, let’s take a look at some specific ways stress impacts your skin.

5 Ways Stress Impacts Your Skin

Here are five ways stress affects your skin.

1. Increases wound healing time by 20 percent 

We’ve discussed before how stressful caregiving can be, with studies linking caregiving to fatigue, exhaustion, depression, and more. But now studies are also linking the stress that comes along with caregiving and other high-stress situations with slower wound healing.

So, how does the stress and skin connection work here? Well, according to one study, women caring for relatives with dementia experienced increased wound healing time by 20 percent. [6]

Meanwhile, another study on 53 adults confirmed that those who scored higher for anxiety and depression according to the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale were four times more likely to have delayed healing than those who scored lower. [7]

As you can see, there’s a clear link between stress and skin health when it comes to wound healing.

2. Can significantly accelerate the development of UV-induced skin cancer

Due to its ability to break down your skin’s defenses, chronic stress has actually been shown to accelerate the development of skin cancer.

According to one animal study, chronically stressed mice were not only more susceptible to UV-induced tumors, but they also developed the tumors faster than those who weren’t stressed. [8]

Another study, published in 2014, revealed that recent stress coupled with childhood-related stress and trauma impacted patients ability to heal from skin cancer.

The researchers found that patients with basal cell carcinoma (the most common type of skin cancer) who had experienced a “severe life event” in the past 12 months and also were emotionally mistreated by their parents as children had poorer immune responses to basal cell carcinoma tumors. [9]

So, what does this mean? These findings show that chronic stress can actually hinder your ability to prevent and/or fight skin cancer. That’s quite a powerful connection between stress and skin health, isn’t it?

3. Weakens your skin's protective barrier

Due to its effect on skin regeneration, stress also impacts your skin by breaking down your skin’s protective barrier. This can be quite troublesome, considering that your skin is your body’s first line of defense against infection.

In fact, according to one animal study, psychological stress actually worsened a group A Streptococcus skin infection. It happened due to the fact that psychological stress decreases the levels of two key antimicrobial peptides in the outer layer of the skin. [10]

4. Puts you at greater risk of experiencing acne, rashes, sores, and more

As we discussed above, stress and skin health are closely related due to stress’s role in hindering your liver’s detoxifying abilities. And this often results in acne and other undesirable skin concerns.

Numerous studies have confirmed that stress and acne are linked. In a 2017 study on 144 female medical students, researchers discovered that those with higher stress levels had more severe acne than those who were less stressed. [11]

Meanwhile, another study on teenagers found that there was a “significant association” between stress levels of teens and the severity of their acne. [12]

So, if you find that you’re having unusual breakouts, consider that stress could be the source of your skin concerns and address that root cause first!

5. Can accelerate premature aging by breaking down the skin’s collagen and elastin

Finally, the stress and skin connection has one more major consequence: It can accelerate premature aging!

But how does this happen? Well, research has shown that stress shortens your telomeres, which are the protective endcaps on the ends of your chromosomes.

Interestingly, when you’re young, you have longer telomeres. However, telomeres are known to shorten with age. As a result, scientists often measure cellular aging with telomere length

Accordingly, in a 2012 study, researchers followed 50 women, half of whom experienced daily stress as caretakers. The women were told they would be engaging in either public speaking or math problems. Those who experienced the most stress about the task at hand had shorter telomeres. [13]

Additionally, according to a 2009 review, stress impairs the quality of collagen (the structural protein that keeps your skin plump and wrinkle-free). The authors of the review state that stress affects collagen synthesis through glucocorticoid-mediated processes. [14]


Stress and skin - Dr. Pingel


Luckily, there’s also good news about the stress and skin connection! By supporting your body’s stress response, you can help to strengthen and repair the health of your skin.

Click here for more information on how to get started. And if you’re looking for more specific step-by-step instructions, check out my highly successful program, which teaches you how to support your body’s stress response for better skin health, mental focus, and overall health!


Key Takeaways

  • For many years, science has shown that the stress and skin connection is a strong one. Stress impacts your liver, digestion, and parasympathetic nervous system—which all have links to skin health.
  • Some of the biggest ways stress impacts your skin are: increasing wound healing time, accelerating the development of skin cancer, weakening your skin's natural barrier, increasing your risk of acne and rashes, and accelerating the aging process.
  • By supporting your body’s stress response, you can help to strengthen and repair the health of your skin.
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