Stress & Your Skin

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Stress & Your Skin By Lisa S. Jenks, MD

Many of us know that stress can be difficult on our health and our relationships, but not all of us are aware that it also takes a toll on our skin.  The effects of stress on our skin are due to a multitude of factors.  It is not a myth that stress ages us!

Hyaluronic acid is a protein in our skin which is highly moisturizing because of its ability to bind with water.  Anxiety increases our body’s production of cortisol and one effect of cortisol is a decreased amount of hyaluronic acid, which leads to dehydrated skin.

 Increased cortisol also causes increased blood sugar levels.  As our blood sugar rises, a process called “glycation” increases.  Glycation is the breakdown of proteins which hold our collagen together.  So, stress causes increased cortisol, which leads to higher blood sugars, which breaks down our collagen.  The result?  Wrinkles!

Increased production of testosterone is another byproduct of stress.  Testosterone can cause increased sebum production, leading to clogged pores.  If these clogged pores become infected, they appear as pimples or even cysts.  If they do not become infected, they appear as whiteheads or blackheads.  Either way, the effect of testosterone on the skin is not a welcome one.

Stress also leads to a rise in epinephrine (which is the basis for our “fight or flight” feeling).  Epinephrine causes our peripheral blood vessels to constrict, leaving more blood for our muscles to either flee or stay and fight.  But, that constriction of blood vessels on the periphery means less blood flow to our skin cells.  Our skin relies on blood to bring the nutrients it needs in order to stay healthy and strong.  Extended periods of less blood flow mean poor nutrition to those cells.  

Lastly, when many of us are tense and worried, we ignore our healthy regiments.  We don’t eat well, we don’t exercise as much and we skimp on our skin’s care.

Most of us who read this paper have stress in our lives.  So, what can be done to minimize its effect on our skin?

First, don’t skimp on your skin’s regiment.  Use a topical Vitamin C, which neutralizes free radicals and is one of the most important products for your skin.  Never ignore your skin’s need to be protected from the sun.  Here in Colorado we are very close to the sun (relatively speaking, of course) and the damage the sun is able to do to our skin happens quickly, happens on cloudy days and happens all year round.    Don’t be fooled: sun damage occurs through office windows and car windows.  Therefore, we all need to apply sunblock each morning and reapply throughout the day. 

Drink plenty of water.  Not only will that help you feel less tired in times of stress, but it will help to counteract the effects of less hyaluronic acid on your skin. 

Exercise decreases cortisol and increases blood flow to the skin, leading to less glycation and better nourished skin.  During times of increased strain and anxiety, it’s more important to stay on your exercise routine than during times of less stress.  I find that if I actually put “exercise” on my to-do list, I feel less guilty about taking the time to get on my bike or take a hike.

Lastly, don’t forget your right to say “No”.  Setting limits and delegating tasks is extremely important to our overall health and wellness.  Chances are that somebody else can do the task just as well as you.

Here’s to beautiful skin for all this year!!

Article by
Colorado Springs Physician