We’ve all heard, at one point or another, that beauty starts from within. And for good reason: Your skin is your body’s largest organ. External issues can be a telltale sign of the wars waged within. While this correlation between stress and skin can be traced back to ancient times, formal studies revealing the deeper connection only date back to the last two decades.
And yes, your diet or skin care products can cause skin concerns, but it’s also important to consider stress as a potential culprit — especially if a rash appears out of nowhere or persists long after you’ve tested for everything.
We’ve outlined eight proven ways that mental, physical, and hormonal stress changes your skin. But more importantly, we also tell you what you can do about it.
1. Sun stress and exhausted skin defenses
Even before looking internally, there’s one beaming factor that can physically stress out your skin and weaken its defenses: ultraviolet (UV) radiation. A carcinogen via sun exposure, it can have a negative effect on skin. Whether in the form of natural sunlight or more artificial means such as tanning beds, absorbing ultraviolet rays can signal blood cells to rush to the exposed area in an attempt to repair it. This manifests into sunburns, but it doesn’t end there: Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation may lead to darkened blemishes, moles, and even skin cancer.
2. Inflammation and extra-irritated skin
Hives, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, rosacea… these are often a result of inflammation, but studies also show that when your brain is on overdrive it can actually compromise your skin’s protective abilities.In other words, stress makes it harder for your skin to regulate and stay balanced. It’s no wonder you might have an extra breakout during a sleepless week or after an intense argument.
3. Increased oil production and acne
Whether it’s the impending dread of finals week or spontaneous heartbreak, we’ve all likely suffered at the hands of a stubborn pimple (or two). It’s no surprise science has found that kind of stress to be highly associated with acne, especially for women — and stress can mix up our skin’s nerve signals, causing imbalanced hormones and chemicals that increase oil production.
4. Waxy scalp, hair loss, and peeling nails
There is no one way to experience stress. Ever unconsciously pulled your hair, bitten your fingernails — or picked at both? That could be the stress hormone, cortisol, triggering your body’s fight-or-flight response. Before you assume it’s stress though, you might want to check in with a dermatologist and doctor to rule out other potential. For example, in the case of scaly or waxy skin, it could be eczema. Or in the case of hair loss or peeling nails, it could be insufficient nutrition from skipping meals.
5. Thinner, more sensitive skin
In cases of abnormally high cortisol levels, the skin might get thinner. Cortisol results in the breakdown of dermal proteins, which can cause the skin to appear almost paper-thin, as well as bruising and tearing easily. However, this symptom is most noticeably associated with Cushing syndrome. Also known as hypercortisolism, this hormonal disease includes additional symptoms such as glucose intolerance, muscle weakness, and a weakened immune system (you may experience increased infections).
6. Delayed natural wound healing
n the face of severe stress, your epidermis can quickly become weakened, increasing your risk for infections and environmental pathogens. This also slows down your skin’s natural ability to heal wounds, scars, and acne. To repair your skin barrier, you can use products with glycerin, hyaluronic acid or Aloe Vera. Aura Prestige Serum is a pared-down serum that aims to provide you with exactly what your skin needs, without all of the extra additives found in most products.
7. Exhausted eyes and orbital skin
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a comment regarding the undeniable dark circles around your eyes, then you know just how much sleep deprivation reveals itself physically. And yep, that’s stress talking too. In activated fight-or-flight mode, our bodies keep adrenaline running on a constant cycle, including during those precious, much-needed hours late at night. If you’re already trying meditation and yoga for sleep, ramp up your bedtime routine with essential oil diffusers, white noise machines, or the most easier-said-than-done practice out there — avoiding screens altogether in the two-hour time span before sleep.
8. Fine lines and wrinkles
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves and some wear them all over their face. From the furrow of a brow to a frown that overpowers facial muscles, psychological stress inevitably finds a way to make permanent evidence of our emotions for the whole world to see. Smile lines, eye creases, an “11” in the mid brow… those appear after repeated facial movement.
So what’s one to do about it? Well, face yoga. Arguably safer than Botox, face yoga can lead similar results, although the commitment to doing this every day might not be worth it.
Terminate the stress cycle
Stress does not manifest the same in every person, but every person ultimately does experience stress to some extent. Instead of comparing stress levels with others to gauge whether or not your stress is “all that bad,” choose to care for yourself when you need it. Spray a cooling face mist such as Aura Prestige Serum to soothe your stress heat and to calm your skin,
While we can’t control the myriad ways stress rears its head at us when we’re all too unexpecting, we can control the way that we choose to react to it. Knowing how stress can impact your skin can be freeing if you allow it to be. If that means tackling your acne flare-ups or fine lines (despite them not being entirely awful), do it.