Skin, Lip and Body Care

5 Ways Stress Shows Up on Skin—and How to Alleviate It

+ CV Skinlabs Team

You know that stress isn’t good for you, but it’s hard to avoid. As long as it comes and goes quickly and you’re able to relax again, everything is usually fine, but if it goes on for several weeks or months, it could negatively affect your health.

In fact, scientists have linked chronic stress to an increased risk of infections, digestion problems, overweight, type 2 diabetes, and even heart disease.

Compared to that, an extra pimple may not seem like a big deal, but here at CV Skinlabs, it is! We know that stress can negatively affect the skin, too, which is just one more reason to try to manage it as best you can.

The Brain-Skin Connection

You probably already suspected that stress could cause your acne breakouts or rosacea flare-ups, but for the longest time, we had no proof of that. More recent scientific studies, though, have shown that you were probably right.

In 2014, researchers looked at the available scientific literature, and noted that recent clinical observations “link psychological stress to the onset or aggravation of multiple skin diseases.” They went on to say that research has confirmed that skin perceives when we’re under stress and is also a target of the body’s stress responses, including inflammation.

More specifically, stress—because of how it can create inflammation on the skin—can trigger or aggravate skin conditions like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, acne, contact dermatitis, alopecia (hair loss), itching, and swelling. Several studies have shown that stress makes all of these conditions worse, so don’t worry—it’s not all in your head.

That means if you’re going through a stressful period in your life—or if you expect one is coming up (wedding, job interview, birth of baby, family illness)—it may be wise to put into place some preventative measures that will help limit the effects on your skin.

5 Ways Stress Shows Up on Your Skin—and What To Do When It Does

1. Acne Flare-Ups

Though other things can trigger acne breakouts too, stress is definitely one of them. When you’re stressed, your body releases more of the stress hormone “cortisol,” which increases inflammation. When the skin is inflamed, acne is more likely. If you change your daily habits because of stress—eat a poor diet or fail to get enough sleep, for example—acne is more likely.

Solution: Be aware that your skin is going to react with inflammation. Try our Rescue + Relief Spray at regular intervals throughout the day. Its cooling properties will help calm that inflammation and may keep acne at bay. Then make sure you stick with your regular cleansing and moisturizing routine. You may want to make sure you’re using an oil-balancing moisturizer (like our Calming Moisture), and if you notice excess oil, step up your clay masks.

Then work on dealing with the stress through increased deep breathing sessions, daily walks, and yoga or meditation.

2. Inflammation/Rashes/Hives

In addition to acne, inflammation can also cause skin irritation, redness, rashes, hives, and general reactivity. Products you weren’t allergic to before may suddenly cause a reaction on your skin. If you have rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, or other similar skin conditions, stress is likely to make them worse. You may notice new flare-ups or that your old ones take longer to heal.

Solution: Do everything you can to pamper and baby your skin. Don’t use any new products on it. Keep up with your daily care—just be sure the products are gentle with natural and safe ingredients. Eat more anti-inflammatory foods, particularly fruits and vegetables. (Check out our post, “7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods that Improve the Appearance of Your Skin.”)

Consider using moisturizing masks on areas that are irritated and inflamed. As mentioned above, our Rescue + Relief Spray makes an easy, on-the-go soother. Don’t get overheated—that can exacerbate the problem—so stay cool. Then try to get 7-8 hours of sleep per night, as while you’re sleeping, wounds are more likely to heal.

3. Dryness/Flakiness/Dullness

High periods of stress and anxiety deplete your skin of moisture. It can also suppress the production of hyaluronic acid—one of your skin’s natural hydrators. The result is dry, flaky, dull skin. If you have dry skin already, the increased water loss can make your skin look irritated and chapped.

Solution: It’s time to step up the moisture, and be extra careful of losing it. That means no hot baths or showers—keep them lukewarm. Pat dry and apply moisturizer immediately. Reapply lotion throughout the day to help replenish what you’re losing. Then at night, step it up with a thicker, restorative cream. Our Restorative Skin Balm is perfect for dry, flaky, chapped areas. It has natural oils and beeswax to resurrect your struggling skin.

4. Swelling/Puffiness

Bags under the eyes, puffy cheeks, or extra swelling around wounds and inflamed areas are likely when you’re under stress, particularly if that stress is interfering with your sleep. (Check out our post, “Why a Poor Night’s Sleep Could Make You Look Older.”)

Solution: First of all, do everything you can to get a good night’s sleep. Make sure you’re not taking your cellphone or computer into the bedroom—they emit blue light and will disturb your sleep. If you’re still waking up puffy, start with a nice warm shower and turn the water directly on your eyes. It will help stimulate circulation and dissipate that swelling. Then try a cold spoon, some cold cucumber slices, cool tea bags, a bag of peas, or beaten egg whites on the puffy areas for about 5-10 minutes.

5. Increased Sagging/Bagging

The cortisol your body releases when you’re stressed attacks the collagen and elastin in your skin, and these nutrients are what gives you strength, structure, and snap-back. That can increase the appearance of sagging and bagging, and may make fine lines and wrinkles more visible.

Solution: Try eating more collagen-boosting foods, including bone broth, salmon, leafy greens, citrus fruits, eggs, seeds, and lean proteins. Then step up your anti-aging regimen. Use your serums and weekly masks, and look for products with copper, glycolic acid, retinol (be careful if you have sensitive skin), and niacinimide to help post collagen production. Finally, try to exercise more to shed some of that stress.

Have you noticed that stress shows up on your skin?

SourcesYing Chen, John Lyga, “Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging,” Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets, June 2014; 13(3):177-190,

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