Stress and the skin

The skin and the nervous system are linked long before birth as they form from the same embryonic tissue in the uterus. This explains why they remain closely linked throughout our lives, and why there is a clear link between our mental state and our possible skin problems.

The effects of stress, anxiety, emotions, and anything that affects the nervous system can also have an impact on the skin, from simple temporary redness to skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis.

From words to the skin, the effects of stress are expressed and visible on the skin

  • A visual language

Being "on edge" when we are on the verge of a breakdown because emotions and stress are overwhelming us; being "uncomfortable in one's skin " when one's psychological state is disturbed, when one is in pain… So much imagery shows the extent to which the emotional state, the nervous state, and the skin are correlated. These expressions reveal both the extent to which the skin reflects our emotions and our nervous state, how it demonstrates to the world how we feel inside, but also how we feel within the world, from a physiological point of view, the brain and the skin are intimately connected through the nervous system in particular.

  • Visible Emotions

The skin is an organ that can be seen, that reveals and expresses, at times to our detriment, our emotions, and any form of stress, positive or negative. Sometimes all it takes is one moment of fear or stress (job interview, important speech, romantic date), so that, all of a sudden, the skin reacts - and betrays us - by becoming red, pale, and sometimes by sweating excessively. This temporary redness, which appears under the influence of emotion and disappears immediately, is called a "flush".


The skin and the nervous system have a close relationship


  • A common origin

During the first three months in the womb, the skin and nervous system are one. These are developed from one of the three tissues that make up the body: the ectoderm. This explains why they remain in close contact throughout the course of one's life, communicating non-stop. But the skin, unlike the intestine, does not act as a 'second brain', as it does not contain any neurons, but a large number of nerve endings.


  • The neuro-immuno-cutaneous system

In the skin, the nervous system is controlled by the brain. It regulates and influences all skin functions: repair, cell renewal, healing capacity, hair growth, sebum production, UV response, and skin immunity. Skin cells have receptors for neurotransmitters, the chemicals that carry information. About 40 neurotransmitters are found in the skin: adrenaline, acetylcholine, GABA receptors… Certain hormones also play the role of messengers, such as melatonin, oestrogen, and cortisol.

The relationship between skin, immunity, and the nervous system is so close together that Professor Laurent Misery, Head of Dermatology and Director of the Neuroscience Laboratory at the Brest University Hospital Centre, has even developed the concept of a "neuro-immuno-cutaneous system".


Cortisol: a key hormone

As Professor Misery points out, the word stress refers to both the cause (an event: mourning, a job interview, an accident, etc.), its effects on the person and the body, and the response to this threat. Stress can be either short-term or chronic.

When we are under stress, the body responds with a cascade of reactions that activate areas of the brain (hypothalamus, pituitary gland) and the nervous system, leading to the release of hormones and neurotransmitters. Adrenaline, which primes us to react in case of danger, and cortisol, which is considered the stress hormone by definition, are the most significant. But there are more: ACTH (corticotropic hormone), oxytocin (positive hormone responding to stress), and vasopressin. Adrenalin and cortisol lead to a state of hypervigilance, delivering surplus nutrients and oxygen to the brain and muscles so that you react quickly (e.g., running away during an attack).

Cortisol in particular, which normally regulates carbohydrates, fats, proteins, ions, and water in our body, releases a burst of glucose into the bloodstream to boost the heart, lungs, and muscles in times of stress. When stress is short-term and acute, no need to worry, but if it becomes chronic, this results in excessive levels of cortisol in the blood, which leads to sleep disturbances, excess weight, and poor concentration On the skin, the effects of stress cause rashes, the overproduction of sebum, and skin inflammation …


The effects of stress on skin quality

Stress puts us in 'survival' mode: the body concentrates its resources on the vital organs and muscles, to the detriment of the rest … and therefore of the peripheral area that is the skin. When stress is punctual (running after your bus, looking for your phone), it's no problem. But if the stress becomes chronic, a daily pattern, because of a young child, pressure at work, a loss, or a break-up … it affects the proper functioning of the skin, and it ends up being visible.


  • Dehydration

Stressed skin changes and becomes fragile. It is less well-nourished and hydrated, and the skin barrier is affected. Stress can therefore lead to dehydration, and even the appearance of spots, redness, and tightness.


  • Lack of radiance

Adrenaline released during stress causes vasoconstriction and oxytocin - which is normally the bonding hormone but is also boosted under stress to improve the response - des vasodilatations. As a result, the nutrients carried by the blood are no longer distributed evenly and optimally and the complexion becomes dull. Lack of radiance is added on top of dehydration.


  • Oxidative stress

The immune system responds to stress by producing free radicals to neutralise possible pathogens related to injury, or infection. In addition, cortisol also leads to a higher production of free radicals. This overload of free radicals means that the natural antioxidant defence system is overwhelmed. Result: oxidative stress sets in and skin cells age before their time.


  • Premature wrinkling

In addition to aggravating oxidative stress, cortisol alters collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, which are essential for the skin's firmness and flexibility. Thus, it accelerates the ageing process with the early appearance of wrinkles and a loss of firmness in the skin which becomes loose.

In addition, the muscles of the face contract, the features become tense and the eyebrows frown. These effects of stress lead to the appearance of facial lines.


The effects of stress on skin health

Stress is not the cause of chronic skin conditions, which are caused by several factors, often including a genetic factor, but it can cause flare-ups as a trigger or aggravation.  And because these skin conditions, which are difficult to live with because they undermine self-confidence and self-esteem, also generate stress, we enter a vicious circle of self-sustaining the condition.


  • Itching, especially during night-time

There is a myriad of causes of itching (medication, mycosis, eczema, etc.) but there also exists a "psychogenic pruritus", directly related to stress with no other cause and increased in the evening and at night, as well as during periods of inactivity and rest. Psychotherapy can improve this itch.


  • Stress acne and pimples

Acne is also caused by stress. Indeed, cortisol - again - boosts the production of androgens, which stimulate the production of sebum. The result: pores become clogged, acne bacteria (c.acnes) grow on the surface of the skin, and pimples and blackheads appear. And, as with other skin conditions, stress and acne are self-perpetuating, as the cortisol, which intervenes again, maintains the inflammation and prevents quick healing. Treatment: according to the progression, it goes from benzoyl peroxide associated with retinoids locally, to isotretinoin orally.


  • Hives outbreaks

Long considered a psychosomatic disease, urticaria, characterised by a rash, often pruritic, of papules, is not. On the other hand, stress can trigger or aggravate certain hives.

Treatment: antihistamines, and in some cases, omalizumab, an anti-IgE monoclonal antibody.


  • Eczema 

Studies of people with atopic dermatitis under stress (after an earthquake in Japan) showed an exacerbation of the condition in the following month in up to 40% of the affected people. In cases of minor stress, a flare-up may also occur in the following days. These patients appear to be more sensitive to adrenaline than the majority. Yet here once again, eczema and stress are a vicious circle, as eczema is highly debilitating and causes stress. The treatment combines the use of local corticoids during attacks and emollients.


  • Psoriasis

Psoriasis, which causes red, flaky patches of skin due to keratinocyte overgrowth, is a typical example of a chronic condition that is aggravated by the effects of stress. Because in the case of psoriasis, immunity and the overproduction of substance P are strongly involved, as during stress. And stress is the cause of most outbreaks. The most effective treatment is still phototherapy (UV).


  • Alopecia

Dermatologists often find that alopecia - hair loss in patches - occurs after a period of deep stress: grief, separation, or illness... It is described as an autoimmune disease because in alopecia the hair follicles are destroyed by immunological mechanisms (lymphocytes). Topical corticosteroids are usually prescribed, which calm the inflammation and act as an immunosuppressant.


  • Herpes 

It is also known as "cold sores”. However, herpes appears in the case of physical stress (fever) or psychological stress (frustration, intense pressure...). It is treated with a specific drug (acyclovir).


  • Seborrheic dermatitis

Among the many stress-related dermatoses, dermatologists often mention seborrheic dermatitis, marked by white or yellowish peeling patches on the T-zone of the face, the scalp, and the chest. This condition is caused by the overgrowth of a commensal yeast (Malassezia) that feeds on the excess sebum produced by the sebaceous glands. As in the case of stress where the production of sebum increases, this notorious yeast develops. Dermatologists prescribe antifungals, and in some cases combined with corticosteroids.


How to reduce the effects of stress on the skin?

The trio of cosmetics, diet, and stress relief is still the best solution against the effects of stress on the skin.   

  • An adjusted cosmetic routine

Whether it is dryness and dullness, or genuine dermatosis, once again, the right routine starts with proper cleansing, with a mild, soap-free face and body cleanser, with non-aggressive surfactants that respect the skin's pH, microbiota, and hydrolipidic film, and water that is not too hot (and showers rather than baths).

In BLUE SKINCARE’s NACRE ÉCLAT range, we advise you to adopt the following routine during any season:

  • Remove make-up and cleanse the face with the Metamorphosis Balm. A real delight for skin that feels tight, as it is a gel-like oil that removes make-up! After rinsing in clear water, the skin is clean, soft, and comfortable. For those who prefer a waterier texture, the Milky Micellar Water will delight combination skin looking for freshness. An ultra-concentrated half-milk, half-water cleanser to be used with a massage to remove make-up and clean effortlessly.
  • Restore the skin's pH balance with Isotonic Nacre Water

In BLUE SKINCARE’s XÉRO•NACRE range, to take care of your body, we advise you to use, in addition to your usual care products:

The Lipid-Replenishing Cleansing Oil gently cleanses the body. Enriched with organic vegetable oils, its smooth and enveloping texture cleanses, nourishes, and soothes the most uncomfortable skin prone to itchiness.

On the skincare side, choose products with a short INCI list (the list of ingredients), with hydrating (hyaluronic acid, glycerine), anti-inflammatory (niacinamide, panthenol), and antioxidant (vitamin C, vitamin E, polyphenols) active ingredients. And we cover the body with emollients (moisturising products). All of this does not prevent the occurrence of skin pathologies, but it does reduce dehydration and premature ageing, and helps to reduce the frequency of flare-ups.

In BLUE SKINCARE’s NACRE ÉCLAT range, we recommend that you use in the morning and evening: the Skin Renewal Serum to lastingly rehydrate the epidermis (24h hydration), then the Moisturising Regenerating Cream for nourishment, hydration (48h), and protection against external aggression.

BLUE SKINCARE products are rich in NACR-45® mother-of-pearl powder (the brand's patented active ingredient) whose "shielding" effectiveness has been scientifically proven. Day after day, the skin barrier is restored. The skin is stronger.


  • A controlled diet

To boost oneself or, on the contrary, to calm down, in case of stress, one may be tempted to have more coffee, a glass of alcohol, or a cigarette. This is a mistake. On the contrary, you should avoid all stimulants (alcohol, coffee, etc.) and soft drinks, which dry out the skin. Instead, hydrate as much as possible with water. And adopt a diet rich in antioxidants (red, yellow, orange, and green fruits and vegetables) and fatty acids (salmon, sardines).

In addition to your beauty routine, we recommend incorporating the Skin Perfector Food Supplement from BLUE SKINCARE’s NACRE ÉCLAT range, for glowing and more resilient skin. Highly concentrated in active Nacre, it also contains a pre-and probiotic mix to rebalance the intestinal microbiota, and hyaluronic acid to maintain the skin's hydration and flexibility. Rich in vitamin C and zinc, it is antioxidant and supports natural collagen formation for plumper skin.


  • Relaxation for stress management

In this anxiety-inducing world where everything moves too fast, and where stress is becoming a way of life, it is essential to set aside time once or twice a week for relaxation. Yoga, meditation, hypnotherapy, and physical activity of choice are the best ways to succeed in keeping stress at bay. They are also becoming increasingly included in the treatment of chronic illnesses of all kinds. Massages also offer stress relief.

A consultation with a psychiatrist or psychologist - in addition to a dermatologist - can also help in understanding the cause of your stress. There even exists a medical field dealing with the relationship between dermatology and psychiatry: psycho-dermatology. The aim is to work towards treating skin disorders using a psychosomatic approach.

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  • How does stress attack the skin?

    Stress has a strong influence on the skin through the sympathetic nervous system and its neuromediators (adrenaline, noradrenaline), hormones triggered by stress (cortisol, oxytocin), and the immune system overwhelmed by stress.

  • What are the effects of stress on the skin?

    Occasional stress can cause an increase in redness (a flush), paleness, or even excessive sweating. Chronic - long-lasting - stress leads to a weakening of the skin barrier and oxidative stress, in particular due to the production of the stress hormone (cortisol), which causes dehydration, loss of radiance, premature aging and flare-ups. of acne. Finally, acute stress can cause and aggravate outbreaks in the case of a real dermatosis, whether it is psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, herpes or alopecia areata.

  • Can stress cause itchiness?

    Whether it is a "psychogenic pruritus", eczema, urticaria, or seborrheic dermatitis, many outbreaks of dermatoses with itching are linked to stress. Because stress maintains inflammation, but also skin dehydration and dryness, which can also cause itching.