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    Skin conditions caused by stress and anxiety

    On this page
    1. How does stress affect the skin?
    2. Can stress cause eczema?
    3. Can stress cause acne?
    4. Can stress cause psoriasis?
    5. Can stress cause rosacea?
    6. Other skin conditions triggered by stress
    7. How to manage stress-related skin conditions
    8. Coping with stress
    9. Managing skin symptoms
    10. Get help with acne from Online Doctor

    Reviewed by our clinical team

    Lady scratching rash on her arm

    In situations where we’re under a lot of pressure, it’s natural for our bodies to respond with a stress reaction. We might feel very overwhelmed, irritable, and worried, and have trouble focusing, sleeping or eating.

    For some people, stress can cause symptoms affecting the skin. If you have a condition like acne or eczema, you might’ve noticed that in periods of high stress your symptoms get worse. The opposite may also be also true: when your skin symptoms get worse, you feel more stressed, leading to a negative spiral of symptoms.

    If you’re struggling to manage your skin condition and the stress surrounding it, read on. We’ve put together a simple skincare advice, mental health advice, and information on the impact how you’re feeling can have on your skin and how to treat these flareups. 

    How does stress affect the skin?

    It’s widely agreed that stress can affect your physical health, and your skin is definitely part of this. In a recent survey quoted by Patient, 90% of healthcare professionals agreed that feeling very stressed can exacerbate skin conditions.

    It’s believed that stress can impact our physical health and affect our skin in a couple of ways: 

    • By regularly releasing the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol 
    • By disrupting our sleep and our diet (e.g. we eat too little or too much, or have an unhealthy diet)

    Studies have also shown that ongoing stress can interfere with the permeability of the skin, making it more vulnerable to harmful substances.

    Can stress cause eczema?

    Stress isn’t generally considered a root cause of eczema, but it can cause a flare up. Often people scratch their skin when they’re stressed. This scratching can make the itch of any existing patches of eczema worse, this is known as the ‘itch-scratch’ cycle and this make the eczema itself worse. 

    There is also some evidence, although more research is needed, that stress can impact the messages that are sent to our sensory nerves and this can impact our bodies’ inflammatory and immune responses. Meaning feelings of stress alone could trigger a flareup, irrelevant of the itch-scratch cycle mentioned above. 

    Can stress cause acne?

    It’s not thought that stress can cause acne, but if you already have acne/are prone to acne, then a stressful period can cause a flareup. 

    According to the British Association of Dermatologists, this is thought to be because stress causes an uptick in the amount of cortisol in the body. Cortisol can then cause an increase in the amount of testosterone in the body. In turn testosterone is one of the main causes of blockages in the sebaceous glands in the skin, and this is what causes a spot to appear. 

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    Can stress cause psoriasis?

    Like with acne and eczema, it’s thought that stress can cause psoriasis to flare up. Stress can cause the body to release chemicals that boost the body’s response to inflammation. And it’s suspected that is what can cause a psoriasis flareup when you’re stressed. 

    Can stress cause rosacea?

    It is thought that stress can cause a flareup of rosacea. In a survey by the National Rosacea Society found that as many as 91% of people with rosacea found it flared up or sometimes flared up when they were experiencing emotional stress.  

    It’s also worth noticing, that sometimes when we’re stressed the face becomes flushed or we feel hot/clammy. These symptoms can also make the appearance and symptoms of rosacea worse, so there’s a bit of a vicious cycle. 

    Other skin conditions triggered by stress

    Stress can also cause a short-term skin reaction. If you’re feeling very stressed you might get hot and bothered, and you might temporarily develop a red, raised, itchy rash known as hives.

    Additionally, stress can be a trigger in certain types of hair loss, such as telogen effluvium or alopecia areata. There is small amount of evidence that stressful events can also cause the condition vitiligo, where pale patches develop on the skin.

    How to manage stress-related skin conditions

    Generally speaking there isn’t anyway to stop stress impacting your skin or any part of your body for that matter. But what you can do is get better at dealing with your stress, and managing the symptoms of your skin condition. 

    Coping with stress

    Mind recommends tackling stress in two ways

    • By managing external pressures 
    • By developing emotional resilience

    Wherever possible, try to identify external pressures, and find ways to manage them. If you’re struggling with work commitments, you could talk to your manager about reducing your workload. If you’re worried about money, you could schedule an appointment with a financial advisor or a debt management charity.

    Developing emotional resilience involves making more time for yourself and learning to be assertive and honest about your needs. Coping with stress can also involve getting therapy or counselling, and using these stress-relieving techniques.

    Managing skin symptoms

    Managing a skin condition isn’t just about treating the physical symptoms, it’s about finding ways to cope emotionally. Conditions like acne, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, and vitiligo can cause emotional stress – which, as we know, can end up making symptoms worse.

    • If you haven’t been to the doctor about your skin, make an appointment with your GP and talk to them about your symptoms, especially if they’re causing emotional distress – they may be able to offer some effective prescription treatment or refer you to a specialist.
    • Be prepared to try a few different treatments – it can take time to find something that works for your skin.
    • Talk to your friends and family about what you’re going through – don’t just pretend everything is OK!
    • Find a community where you can talk to other people who live with skin conditions and understand what you’ve been through– the charity Changing Faces is a good resource for this.
    • Cut out unhealthy habits – quit smoking, take up regular exercise, and try to stick to a healthy, balanced diet.

    Get help with acne from Online Doctor

    At Online Doctor we can prescribe safe, routine treatment for a number of conditions, including acne. If you have acne and you’re having trouble managing your symptoms, click here to visit our clinic and browse available treatments.

    You can also visit our skincare advice hub to learn more about your condition and discover some techniques for managing it. 

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    References

    https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/stress/
    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/what-is-stress/
    https://patient.info/news-and-features/does-stress-make-skin-problems-worse
    https://www.skinhealthinfo.org.uk/condition/rosacea/
    https://www.alopecia.org.uk/telogen-effluvium
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vitiligo/
    https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hives/
    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/dealing-with-pressure/
    https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/stress/developing-resilience/
    http://www.nottinghameczema.org.uk/documents/stress-and-eczema-clinic-version.pdf 
    https://patient.info/skin-conditions/atopic-eczema/eczema-triggers-and-irritants 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3704139/ 
    https://www.facebook.com/BritishAssociationOfDermatologists/videos/2559747434259619/ 
    https://www.rosacea.org/tags/stress 

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