How Stress Affects Your Skin

If you ever feel like you’re doing everything right in regards to caring for your skin but you’re still breaking out, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Many factors other than a skincare regimen affect our skin, and a lot of them are out of our control including: genetics, hormones, and our environment.

A big factor in our skin’s health that seems to be out of our control is stress. While stress seems like it’s purely mental and emotional, it can trigger a wide range of physical changes. Keep reading to find out what can happen to our skin when tension is high, and some things that you can do to manage it.


Stress feels like it’s all in your head, but remember, the mind is connected to the body in more ways than we tend to think. When you are tense because of stress, your brain tells your adrenal glands that you are in distress. The main goal of our body becomes protection because it believes we are in danger. At this point skin, hair, and nails become the least of our bodies’ worries, and the effects are made clear.

The adrenal glands react to this perceived danger by releasing a number of hormones: mainly adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine.

Cortisol is the most prevalent in how your skin reacts to stress. It increases sweat and oil production, which clogs pores and causes acne, and it suppresses the immune system so that it can’t adequately fight off inflammation and bacteria, which can lead to flare ups of breakouts, rashes, infections, and irritation. To top it all off, cortisol depletes production of collagen and elastin, so skin cells aren’t renewing and repairing as they should, causing wrinkles and fine lines.

Norepinephrine causes a shift in blood flow to the parts of your body most impacted by stress (in this case your brain), reducing blood flow to the skin. This can cause the skin to appear dull and lifeless.

Stress can also negatively affect women’s menstrual cycles leading to hormonal imbalances that can give you the hormonal acne of a teenager.


The suppression of your immune system from cortisol canne especially triggering if you have preexisting conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis or rosacea, so don’t be surprised if your symptoms flare up during highly stressful periods.


It’s no secret that stress causes some of us to overeat. Food is comforting and when emotions are high it’s natural to turn to sugary, indulgent food for a quick release of dopamine. Don’t get it twisted, indulging every once in a while is fine, but constantly turning to foods that are highly processed and full of refined sugar can increase oil production in your skin, and if you’ve been known to turn to a pint of ice cream, the excessive dairy can affect hormone balance. They also spike blood sugar, and when that spike leads to a crash, it will lead to even more stress.


Built up anxiety can keep you up at night because of the constant adrenaline production. So when you’re stressed you’ll likely be getting less sleep than necessary for ideal bodily function. Lack of “beauty sleep” causes swollen eyes and dark circles, and your skin doesn’t have time to properly rejuvenate. Our brain neurons also won’t have time to properly restore so you’ll be sluggish the next day, and thus: more stress. Noticing a pattern?


There are times when stress is out of our control. Our jobs, families, money, health, and the fact that we’re in the midst of a worldwide pandemic keeping us stuck inside can all take a toll on our emotions, and all of it adds up. Here’s some tips that may not completely get rid of stress, but will help you relax at least a little bit, and make stress seem more manageable.

1. Get a good night’s sleep

Shoot for at least 6-8 hours of sleep so your skin can rejuvenate, and your brain neurons can recharge. Exhaustion throughout the day will only further cause stress, leading to a never ending, negative cycle. So turn off the tv and your phone an hour before bed, and do something calming like reading, yoga, or drinking herbal tea to help ease your body to sleep.

2. Meditation

The calming sensation from meditation and mindfulness practices reduce cortisol levels even if for a short period of time. The more often you make time for meditation, the more you will get a hold of stress.

3. Find time to do things you love

When there’s a lot on your plate it can be difficult to make time for things you enjoy. But even carving out 20 minutes to an hour to engage in your passions will release mood regulating hormones like dopamine and serotonin to counteract stress hormones. Take some time away from mindlessly scrolling on your cell phone, and you can definitely scrape up some time to bake, read, journal, or dance around your house.

4. Clean up

If you thrive in clean spaces then mess = stress, so clear your head while putting away your laundry, doing the dishes, and cleaning out drawers that are full of old knick knacks that are just taking up space. Not everyone finds joy in the process of cleaning and organizing, but tidying up your surroundings can improve your mood drastically, and being organized will help you keep track of things which can be a huge weight off your shoulders. Let’s be honest, we’ve all had a mental breakdown when we can’t find our keys.

Looking for some natural household cleaners? Find out how to make your own natural, non-toxic household cleaners here.

5. Exercise

Exercise stimulates blood flow, reduces stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, and stimulates the production of endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that naturally elevate mood. This combination of factors leads to relaxation once the initial physical exhaustion wears off, and stress is diminished. Just make sure to get a good shower afterwards to get rid of the sweat buildup.

If high intensity workouts aren’t for you, yoga and or going for a walk are also great ways to lower cortisol levels and blood pressure, get your body moving, and focus your mind on something other than whatever you’re stressed about.

6. Give yourself a facial

The spa is the ideal place to relax, but if it’s slightly out of your budget, take a long bath, and then try this at home facial.

You’ll be clearing your head, and giving your skin the extra care it needs, so it’s a two-for-one deal.

7. Take deep breaths

Deep breathing is one of the oldest stress relief tactics in the book, and as trivial as it sounds, it can work wonders. It gives your brain an extra boost of oxygen and slows heart rate providing an all around calming effect.


If you’re overwhelmed, it’s easy to roll into bed at the end of the night without removing your makeup, and making your way through your nighttime skin care routine. Sleeping in makeup clogs pores and further irritates skin, so be sure to at least swipe a makeup wipe over your face or use a cleanser before setting off for your full eight hours of snoozing. Try your hardest to make your way through your whole routine so you can go to bed with thoroughly cleansed skin.


Stress is hard to avoid, and it has more effects than just the mental ones. Once stress starts taking a toll on you physically, that’s when you know it’s time to start focusing on what’s causing your stress, and working towards managing it. Your skin may not clear up ten minutes after meditating, but once you get in the swing of consistently practicing these healthy habits, your stress hormones will balance out, and your skin will rejoice.

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