Stress is something that people deal with every day. This is an unfortunate side effect of engaging in important human endeavors such as raising a family and pursuing a career. However, when stress becomes too much, one can pay the price. The most obvious of these problems are mental and emotional, but there are also physical problems that can arise.
One particular area that can be negatively affected by consistently high levels of stress, also known as chronic stress, is the skin. dr. Ilya Reyter, a Los Angeles-based dermatologistsee the effects of stress manifest as a common skin condition in many patients.
The part of the body that is most commonly referred to as the skin is more accurately described epidermis. It is made up of dead skin cells that are constantly being sloughed off and replaced by new layers. If there is tremendous stress, there may be hormonal changes taking place in the body that make or worsen existing skin conditions.
The most common skin condition people encounter is acne. Acne and breakouts associated with acne are facilitated, in part, by oily skin. When a person experiences high levels of stress, his body begins to produce more of a hormone known as cortisol. Cortisol prompts the glands located just under the skin to increase their oil production and then people who are stressed start experiencing higher rates of acne.
Psoriasis is characterized by thick, red skin with flaky, silvery-white patches called scales, and although the mechanism is unknown, scientists have established a link between stress and the condition. The strongest theory is that the two phenomena are linked through the immune system because psoriasis has a lot in common with autoimmune diseases. Many doctors believe that inflammation is the body’s way of coping with stress, and just as the immune system responds to injury and infection by sending chemicals that cause inflammation, the immune system responds to mental stress in a similar way. This effect is compounded in someone with psoriasis who already has immune system problems.
Preliminary studies in mice have shown that stress can be a factor in eczema, a disorder that produces red, itchy skin. When the mice were exposed to consistently stressful conditions, those exposed to therapies that blocked hormones called glucocorticoids, which increase in times of stress, ended up with significantly higher levels of healthy skin at the end of the study period.
According to the National Rosacea Society, no one knows exactly what causes rosacea, a disease that causes facial skin redness, because there are many reasons why the blood vessels on the face can dilate and cause redness. Among these theories, there are those that relate conditions to stress. Dr. Richard Granstein, a Cornell University professor, proposed that stress produces neuropeptides. These neuropeptides then interfere with the body causing blood vessels to dilate and skin to redden.
The tragedy of each of these conditions is that once they present themselves, it is likely that the host will experience stress from the conditions themselves. This can create a cycle of further skin problems and further stress. Conversely, working on relaxation techniques that reduce stress may not only improve a person’s mental health. There’s a good chance they’ll find themselves with cleaner skin, too.