There’s no question that mental health issues – stress, depression, anxiety, and the like – can take a significant toll on your physical health. Your skin is your body’s largest organ, so it makes sense that mental health can impact your skin health as well.
Think about it: simply feeling embarrassed or self-conscious can make you blush – and chronic stress can do far worse. “When I’m stressed out, I break out” is a complaint that dermatologists always hear. Common skin conditions that worsen with stress include acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and many others.
The skin care experts at The Derm are here to explain how mental health affects your skin and how we treat these problems when they arise. We’ll also include some ways to handle stress that can help keep you – and your skin – glowing.
How does mental health impact your skin? It begins in the brain
Your brain and body’s response to your mental state often manifest in your skin, causing flare-ups of existing skin conditions or creating new ones altogether. This connection is so strong that researchers have created a new field of study – psychodermatology – to explore it further.
The American Psychological Association confirms that many skin-related issues are exacerbated by stress, and it begins with the neurotransmitters in the brain.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that allow communication between your nerve cells. Stress, depression, and other mental health issues often cause neurotransmitter imbalances, such as low levels of dopamine and serotonin (which both influence your mood and well-being).
The result: negative changes in your overall health, including your skin.
Hormones play a role in mental health and skin health, too
Hormones can heavily influence your skin health as well, resulting in increased redness, excessive itchiness, moisture loss, decreased sebum production, and more. Like neurotransmitter imbalances, hormonal imbalances can aggravate existing skin conditions or cause new ones to emerge.
Feeling stressed? Your body releases a hormone called cortisol, which triggers a fight-or-flight response to unsettling situations. Extra cortisol increases inflammation and worsens your immune system, exacerbating skin issues like acne, eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and even alopecia (hair loss). The fight-or-flight response also releases histamines, which can sometimes cause hives.
When you face chronic stress, your brain also increases production of CRH (corticotropin-release hormone). This hormone binds to your oil glands, increasing oil production that can contribute to acne breakouts or worse.
How skin health concerns worsen mental health: a vicious cycle
Here’s where things get really complicated – your skin is one of the first things that others see, and many people with visible skin conditions or scars experience low self-esteem. Their risk of anxiety or depression also increases.
Take eczema, which causes a visible rash, excessive itchiness, and more. These unpleasant symptoms may create higher stress and anxiety levels which, in turn, aggravates the person’s eczema – making their mental state even worse. Continued anxiety may also trigger skin-picking, increasing the risk of scars.
People with depression often do not drink enough water, get enough sleep, or follow a regular skin care routine – all of which can wreak havoc on your skin. It’s a cycle that can be difficult to break without help.
At The Derm, we understand how strong the connection between mental health and skin health can be. You can count on our board-certified dermatologists and staff to provide you with expert care and compassion every step of the way.
Ways to handle stress
Everyone experiences stress, and there’s no way to avoid it entirely. However, you can learn how to handle stress in more helpful and productive ways, such as:
- Getting enough sleep – The National Sleep Foundation recommends getting at least seven hours of sleep every night. Avoid using electronics for at least an hour before bedtime. Taking a warm bath or shower (and then moisturizing, of course!) can also help you get into sleep mode.
- Eating a healthy diet – Avoid sugary snacks, fried foods, processed meats, and high-fat dairy products, which can all make your mental health worse – and don’t do any favors for your skin either.
- Exercising – Exercise is a highly effective way to combat stress, depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week (that’s just under 30 minutes a day).
- Taking time to relax – Meditate, take deep breaths, listen to calming music, or curl up with a favorite book – whatever helps put you into a relaxed state. Then use this time to distance yourself from negative thoughts.
Start treating the impact of stress on your skin
A regular skin care routine is essential to keeping your skin as healthy (and stress-free) as possible – and we can help you start. In addition to head-to-toe examinations and personalized treatment plans, The Derm offers a full line of skin care products to treat various skin concerns.
To learn more, schedule an appointment today at one of our three convenient locations in Glenview, Park Ridge, and Wilmette. During your consultation, a board-certified dermatologist will examine your skin and create a customized plan that’s ideal for you.