Have you ever felt your skin looked more dull during stressful times? That's because our skin is a reflection of what's going on inside our bodies.
Feeling stress is a natural response from our bodies to let us know something isn't right. Our adrenal glands start producing cortisol, also known as the stress hormone. While the stress hormone does help us in times of need - it can take a toll on our skin.
How stress works
Our adrenal glands release cortisol into the bloodstream where it affects almost every organ in the body. The skin is the largest organ on our body. Here, cortisol affects cells, nerve endings, and response mechanisms.
Stress is often thought of as a one-way street: something stressful happens and our bodies react.
According to Harvard, our skin and hair also have its own signals for inducing stress. This means our skin can also send stress hormones to our brain.
Flushing or turning red is an immediate and temporary skin response to stress. This won't affect your skin much. This is an example of your brain sending stress signals to your skin.
Scratching at skin is an example of your skin sending stress signals back to the brain.
When we are stressed, our brains send out pro-inflammatory signals. This may make our skin feel itchy. When you scratch that itch, it can also send stress signals back to the brain. This can result in a loop of stress signals!
Though stress is a normal part of life, prolonged or repeated exposure to stress can start taking a permanent toll on skin.
Signs of stress
Besides causing breakouts or dull skin, long-term stress can:
- cause inflammation and itching
- impair skin barrier function
- impair wound healing
- cause eczema or psoriasis to flair up
- break down collagen and elastin
- cause hair loss
From the list above, you can see why long-term stress is always associated with premature aging. The stress hormones breakdown collagen while also slowing the skin repair process.
By the way - stress can tell your glands to produce more oil. This is why we tend to breakout during times of stress.
Remember scratching those itches also causes a never-ending loop of stress on the skin.
On top of that, psychological studies show being stressed makes us likely to skip our skincare routines.
One thing to note is that stress-induced hair loss is temporary and can be reversed by being proactive early on. If left untreated, the hair loss become irreversible.
Steps to take
Professionals suggest taking these steps to protect your skin in times of extreme stress:
- Be vigilant about doing your skincare routine
- Focus on nourishing and hydrating skin
- Remove harsh ingredients from your routine in the meantime
- Use soothing and anti-inflammatory ingredients
- Avoid scratching or picking at skin
- Be mindful of diet and sleeping patterns
Remember stress hormones are used by our bodies for survival (especially back in the day!).
We need a balanced amount of stress hormones for emotional regulation and a flight or fight response. For instance, cortisol tells the brain use more glucose for tissue repair. Having too little cortisol can also cause health problems.
It is always best to be proactive and take steps early on to nourish your skin. And remember stress is a part of life - everyone experiences stress at some point.
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