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Stress can be "the triggering factor" for skin problems. Dermatologists share their advice.

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There are many ways mental health can impact our physical health — but did you know stress can even affect how our skin looks and feels? It's true, dermatologists say.

Dermatologist Dr. Afton Cobb says she sees patients all the time who notice "the triggering factor that made their skin condition worse was stress in their lives."

"It's amazing how much stress affects obviously our entire body but especially our skin," she says. 

How does it happen? It has to do with hormones. 

"When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones that have a tremendous impact on your entire body, including your skin," says dermatologist Dr. Samer Jaber of Washington Square Dermatology in New York.

One of the major hormones released is cortisol, he says, which increases oil gland production and can result in clogged pores and worsening acne.

Stress can also affect your skin barrier.

"When the skin barrier is affected, it can result in dry skin and flares of eczema or psoriasis," he explains.

Studies have shown atopic dermatitis — another name for eczema — can get worse with stress, Cobb adds. It's a chronic condition with symptoms including itchy, dry, red patches on the skin.

Stress hormones can also impact how our skin ages by breaking down collagen and elastin in the skin, leading to decreased skin elasticity.

"This can cause more fine lines and wrinkles and accelerate skin aging," Jaber says. 

Does stress cause hair loss?

It's not just your skin — chronic or severe stress can impact your hair too. 

"Stress can trigger autoimmune patches of hair loss called alopecia areata and cause diffuse hair shedding called telogen effluvium," Jaber says. "There was also a study in mice that showed chronic stress may accelerate the greying of hair."

Scalp itch can also be a manifestation of stress, anxiety or depression, Cobb adds.

How to prevent stress-related skin issues

Jaber says the best way to treat your skin to prevent the damage of stress is to first have a simple, regular skin care routine

"Be consistent," he suggests. "Wash your face with a gentle cleanser, use a sunscreen regularly and make sure to keep your skin moisturized."

The next step is managing the stress itself in order improve skin conditions.

"You can't always remove this stress in your life, but you can certainly influence how you respond to it," Cobb says. "With my patients, we will sometimes talk about having them reach out to a therapist, trying to make sure they have a good support group, trying to remove the stressful etiology, if possible."

This can help in preventing a cycle of stress-induced skin issues like acne flares, for example, which for stressed or anxious people may lead to skin picking, further worsening the situation. 

"A lot of people experience that, it's normal," she says.

Lifestyle changes can also help reduce stress and improve overall health, including skin health. 

"Adequate sleep, regular exercise and good nutrition, meditation, and spending time with friends or loved ones can also help stress," Jaber adds. "Don't hesitate to seek professional treatment by a therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist, if needed."

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