For the 21st century women, stress is just a way of life. An annoying email pinging into your inbox at 11pm, a huge traffic jam when you desperately need to get to work, a deadline which you just can’t seem to meet. That rising sense of dread in your stomach and the innate desire to curl up in your duvet with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s is a tell-tale sign of stress. We’ve all been there, but did you know that stress not only gets you emotionally down, but it can also affect your skin?
There are two types of stress; acute and chronic. Acute stress is sadly not as cute as it sounds. It is short term and immediately triggers your fight or flight response. Chronic stress is long term and is the one we are most used to in everyday life. Small stressors can lead to the prolonged activation of the stress response, meaning your body is constantly on edge.
The stress pathway…
Whenever your body perceives a threat, nerve signals rush to message your brain, which triggers the amygdala (the part of your brain regulating emotions and decision making) to alert the hypothalamus (which controls hormone production, no relation to hippopotamus unfortunately). This triggers a cascade of hormones including adrenaline which gives you a boost to stimulate the fight or flight response, and makes you feel invincible. The hypothalamus also initiates a sequence of steps which leads to the production of cortisol – the stress hormone. The cortisol and adrenaline enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body. Cortisol fits into proteins called glucocorticoid receptors in organs and tissues which leads to a boost in blood sugar, and adrenaline makes your heart pound, sending oxygen whizzing around in the blood flow. You’re ready to fight or flight; this is your body’s decision to either run away as fast as you can or stay and put those kickboxing lessons into practice.
Enough of the sciency bit, how does stress actually affect your skin?
- Acne – High levels of cortisol can actually increase production of sebum from your sebaceous glands. This can lead to those dreaded clogged pores and the formation of comedones. That’s pesky little spots, to you and me.
- Skin conditions – Stress can magnify skin disorders such as eczema, psoriasis and rosacea. Many people find that their skin conditions are enhanced through periods of high stress so it’s a never ending cycle of increasing stress levels. Not ideal.
- Dry skin – Chronic stress can reduce the lipid content in the upper layers of your skin, increasing trans epidermal water loss (dehydration). This can diminish the skin’s protective barrier, leaving it unprotected against any nasties on the attack.
- Slows down the natural cycle of the skin – In normal skin, the cells are formed in the basal layer of the epidermis and slowly migrate up to the surface where they are sloughed off in exfoliation as dead skin. In stressed skin this whole process is slowed down leaving skin looking and feeling dull and tired. Think of it as a prolonged hangover for your skin which you just can’t kick.
- Healing – Stress can even slow down your skin’s recovery process in dealing with cuts and scrapes. This, in combination with the skin’s reduced barrier function, can mean skin takes much longer to heal.
- Wrinkles – Stress can trigger a decrease in the production of fibroblasts, which are important precursors to collagen production. You know what that means? The formation of fine lines and wrinkles alongside a reduction in skin elasticity.
- Ageing – Stress has even been linked to the shortening of telomeres; which are DNA fragments at the end of chromosomes which shorten each time a cell divides. A shorter telomere leads to quicker cell death, and premature ageing. No thanks.
Let’s be honest, trying to remove the stresses from your life is just never going to happen. We need something to help combat the evil signs of stress on our skin. So let’s just say, the answer to your stressed skin may be just around the corner… Keep your eyes peeled.