Stress may be sudden, but it’s not a one-way street: the Harvard Health Blog


Are you stressed? Your skin can show it. Studies show that both acute and chronic stress can have negative effects on the overall well-being of the skin, as well as exacerbate various skin conditions, including psoriasis, eczema, acne and hair loss.

But it’s not just a one-way street. Research has also shown that skin and hair follicles contain complex mechanisms to produce their own stress-causing signals, which can travel to the brain and perpetuate the stress response.

Stress and the two-way path between the brain and the skin

You may have already experienced the connection between the brain and the skin. Have you ever gotten so nervous that you started washing or sweating? If so, you have experienced an acute and temporary response to stress. But science suggests that repeated exposure to psychological or environmental stressors can have lasting effects on the skin that go far beyond washing, and can even negatively affect your overall well-being.

The brain-skin axis is an interconnected element, two-way which can translate psychological stress from the brain to the skin and vice versa. Stress triggers the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a trio of glands that play a key role in the body’s response to stress. This can lead to the production of local proinflammatory factors, such as cortisol and key hormones in the fight or flight stress response called catecholamines, which can direct bloodstream immune cells to the skin or stimulate the skin. proinflammatory skin cells. Mast cells are a key type of proinflammatory skin cells in the brain-skin axis; they respond to the hormone cortisol by signaling receptors and contribute directly to various skin conditions, including itching.

Because the skin is constantly exposed to the outside world, it is more susceptible to environmental stressors than any other organ and can produce stress hormones in response. For example, the skin produces stress hormones in response to ultraviolet light and temperature, and sends these signals to the brain. Therefore, psychological stressors can contribute to stressed skin and environmental stressors, through the skin, can contribute to psychological stress, perpetuating the stress cycle.

How can stress affect your skin?

Psychological stress can also alter the epidermal barrier (the top of the skin layer that sinks into moisture and protects us from harmful microbes) and prolong its repair, according to clinical studies in healthy people. An intact epidermal barrier is essential for healthy skin; when disturbed, it can cause skin irritations as well as chronic skin diseases, including eczema, psoriasis, or sores. Psychosocial stress has been directly related to the exacerbation of these diseases small observational studies. Acne outbreaks have also been linked to stress, although understanding of this relationship continues to evolve.

The negative effects of stress have also been shown on hair. A type of diffuse hair loss, known as telogen effluvium, can be triggered by psychosocial stress, which can they inhibit the hair growth phase. Stress has also been linked to gray hair mouse studies. Research showed that artificial stress stimulated the release of norepinephrine (a type of catecholamine), which depleted pigment-producing stem cells within the hair follicle, resulting in gray.

How can skin be controlled by stress?

While reducing stress levels should theoretically help alleviate the harmful effects on the skin, there are only limited data on the effectiveness of stress reduction interventions. There are a few tests that meditation can reduce global catecholamine levels in people who do it regularly. Similarly, meditation and relaxation techniques have been shown to help psoriasis. Further studies are needed to demonstrate the benefit of these techniques in other skin conditions. Healthy living habits, including a well-balanced diet and exercise, can also help regulate stress hormones in the body, which in turn should have positive effects on the skin and hair.

If you have a stress-related skin condition, consult a dermatologist and try some stress reduction techniques at home.

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