Is Stress More Likely To Age You Or Make You Break Out?

New research is clearing up myths about how stress does and doesn’t affect your skin.
Publish date:
August 21, 2014
stress, aging, inflammation, acne, skin care, break outs, psoriasis

I’ve blamed stress for almost everything that impacts my health and beauty. If my nails are short, it’s because I’ve picked them out of stress. The weight I’ve gained over the last decade? Proportional to my stress level. Breakouts and new fine lines? Stressity-stress-stress.

But is it really fair to blame my skin woes on something as seemingly vague as nervous tension?

Turns out: yes and no.

“Nearly everyone has some form of stress in their life, so it’s difficult to determine whether stress can actually make the skin’s appearance worse,” board-certified dermatologist Richard D. Granstein, MD, FAAD, says in recent statement by the American Academy of Dermatology. “However, it’s been known for a long time that the nervous system, which processes our stress, has an impact on conditions such as psoriasis.”

Psoriasis is an inflammatory skin condition, and Dr. Granstein has been doing research on how stress affects other inflammatory skin conditions, one of which is acne.

Studies--Dr. Granstein’s and others’--show that there’s a clear link between the nervous system and the skin: stress causes nerve endings in the skin to release chemicals that can cause inflammation. In some of us, that means breakouts.

“If we could block specific steps in certain pathways between the nervous system and the skin--without impacting the whole body--we would likely have new ways to prevent or treat some skin disorders,” he says.

Lines and wrinkles, however, are not an inflammatory response. While you may get worry lines from stressed-out expressions, Dr. Granstein says there’s no direct link between the internal effects of stress and the external signs of aging.

But wait! There’s more!

Interestingly--and, quite frankly, terrifyingly--there may be a link between stress and the development of skin cancer.

“When exposed to ultraviolet radiation, stressed mice developed skin cancers more quickly than mice that were not exposed to stress,” he said. I can’t imagine any mice wouldn’t be stressed in that situation, but I’ll take the doc’s word for it.

When it comes to fighting stress-induced skin inflammation, Dr. Granstein says meditation and yoga can help reduce stress (am I the only one now picturing mice doing yoga?); but in addition to finding the activity that reduces your unique brand of stress, he suggests seeing a dermatologist for a full treatment plan.

Do you have acne, rosacea, or psoriasis that you feel directly responds to your stress levels? Have you found anything that helps?