The link between stress and skin conditions has been well documented since ancient times and recently, researchers have discovered that stress is on the rise. Psychological stress arises when your under mental, physical, or emotional pressure, arising when the perceived pressure exceeds ones adaptive power. This perception by the brain causes stress hormones such as cortisol to be released into the bloodstream.
This triggers a wide range of physiological and behavior changes and responses that try to adapt the body to the stress. However, if the stress responses are inadequate or in excess, they may trigger adverse physiological events. It has been shown that stress can trigger and/or exacerbate multiple conditions, including cardiovascular disease, migraine, multiple sclerosis, epileptic seizures, and neurodegeneration.
Recent research has confirmed skin both as an immediate stress perceiver and as a target of stress responses. As the largest organ of the body, skin plays important barrier and immune functions, maintaining balance between external environment and internal tissues (source).
The Hormone Response
So what is cortisol and why is it called the stress hormone? Cortisol is a hormone released by our adrenal glands, which is part of a hormonal response system that operates between our nervous system and the hormonal system known as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In simplistic terms, the HPA axis is a feedback loop by which signals from the brain trigger the release of hormones needed to respond to stress; cortisol, also known as the stress hormone is one of the hormones released along with epinephrine (formerly known as adrenaline) and norepinephrine (formerly known as noradrenaline); all three hormones enable the body to respond to perceived threats and danger, triggering a fight or flight response that sends hormones racing through our blood stream. Once activated, the stress response switches off the hormonal systems regulating growth, reproduction, metabolism, and immunity. In the short term, the response is helpful, allowing us to divert biochemical resources to dealing with the threat, but prolonged periods of stress can lead to a variety of serious health problems with symptoms ranging from breakouts to insomnia, hair loss, loss of labido, weight-gain, depression, anxiety, and even different forms of cancer. (source)
Cortisol and the Skin
First, it’s important to understand how stress actually impacts your system, and why that tends to show up on your skin. “Stress causes a complex series of changes to our bodies. As part of the stress response, cortisol and related hormone levels rise to prepare the body for a stressful experience,” explains New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “As a side effect, these hormones lead to an increase in oil production in our skin promoting breakouts. They can also interfere with wound healing, prevent the skin from repairing itself, and could potentially be associated with premature aging.”
Stop the Cycle of Stress
Stress does not manifest the same in every person, but everyone will ultimately experience stress to varying degrees, at some point. What’s important is to listen to your body, rest and show yourself grace when your body is giving you the signals that it simply needs a break. We all aim to strike that perfect balance between work, home life and self care, but stress can have long term effects on your health and wellness if not addressed. “Persistent, unremitting stress leads to a variety of serious health problems,” Dr. Chrousos, Chief of the Pediatric and Reproductive Endocrinology Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) said. “Anyone who suffers from chronic stress needs to take steps to alleviate it, either by learning simple techniques to relax and calm down, or with the help of qualified therapists. (source)