How is stress harmful to my skin?

Stress is a crazy skin-ager—it can cause you to look three to six years older. Stress causes collagen to break down, which speeds up sagging and wrinkling. Stress can also cause flare-ups of acne, eczema, rosacea and dandruff.

Since stress notoriously causes difficulty sleeping, it’s not uncommon to see a change in the eye area almost immediately. “Sleep deprivation can contribute to dark under eye circles by increasing the blood in the veins that are in and under the skin below the eyes,” says dermatologist Neal Schultz, MD.

Dr. Doris Day, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

A hormone called cortisol floods your system when you’re dealing with stress. When that happens, all of your organs including your skin can be adversely affected. A fascinating study done by Israeli scientists showed that rainbow trout that were fed a single meal containing cortisol displayed signs of accelerated aging in the skin for a full week after ingesting the stress hormone. The researchers concluded that their results demonstrated the role of cortisol in speeding up the aging process in the skin of fish challenged by stressors. Prolonged stress makes people look older than their years. Of course, cortisol is a hormone that is essential for life, and we would not want to eliminate cortisol from our bodies entirely. Cortisol is necessary for getting us through what our bodies perceive as “threatening” situations. However, too much of it too often is analogous to putting your foot hard on the accelerator. When you go really fast, you use up a lot more energy and go through the fuel more quickly. This acceleration may get you out of a “dangerous” situation, but you also wear out the parts more quickly if you do that on a regular basis.

Dr. Jennifer L. Ashton, MD
OBGYN (Obstetrician & Gynecologist)

Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Jennifer Ashton explains why stress is harmful to your skin. Watch Dr. Jennifer Ashton's video for tips and information on women's health.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.