Monday 22 February 2010

Stressing out your skin!

The role stress plays in our lives can be both good and bad.
The role it plays in how we look is however, not good.
Stress affects not only how we feel but how our skin looks.
A growing body of research points to stress as being a
significant causative factor in the development of many skin
conditions from psoriasis, to acne, to sensitive and
dehydrated skin. The worse thing is, the more we stress
about it, the worse it tends to get.

From acne to eczema research shows us that during times of
acute stress, rashes and breakouts become worse, sometimes
significantly so. It also points to the potential role of
chronic low-grade stress as a causative factor in persistent
skin conditions.

Stress can affect our appearance in a number of ways
including increased perspiration, brittle nails, dry,
thinning hair and sensitive more reactive skin. In existing
skin conditions, stress can worsen symptoms by:

Acne lesions and breakouts become more inflamed, last longer
and take longer to heal.

Worsening of the inflammation (redness) and dryness in
eczema and rosacea

Increased tendency to flushing and blushing

Increased incidence of congestion and oily skin due to sebum

Increased sensitivity to irritants and infections agents

These effects are primarily caused by the impact of stress
on skin permeability. In most chronic skin conditions there
is an abnormality in the skin's permeability barrier. The
body responds by trying to repair the barrier and in the
process initiates an inflammatory process in the deeper
layers of the skin with the result of worsening skin
symptoms. Even in people without existing skin conditions,
stress has the ability to reduce skin permeability and
increase dehydration and sensitivity. This may go some way
to explaining why some people react to certain topical agent
only some of the time; generally skin permeability is normal
however during times of stress it is affected leaving skin
more vulnerable to irritation.

When exposed to stress, hormonal and chemical levels
increase. The classic flight or fight response is triggered
by the release of adrenaline and norepinephrine - our body's
are readying for an emergency, which most of the time doesn't
occur. Glucocorticoids are also released from the adrenal
glands, and when stress is ongoing it leads to the decrease
in skin barrier function. Interestingly, while a decreased
barrier function often causes water loss, increased oil
production can also occur due to the role of stress in the
disruption of normal hormonal balance and an increase in
substance P. So yes it is possible to have moisture
dehydrated skin and be oily (usually through the T-zone) at
the same time.

In addition to stress directly affecting skin permeability,
chronic stress can also affect the functioning of the immune
system. Stress down regulates the immune system making us
more susceptible to infection. It also plays havoc with skin
conditions that have immune involvement such as psoriasis,
eczema, cold sores and shingles, most commonly causing
worsening skin condition. Stressed individuals are also more
likely to eat and sleep less healthily or be more likely to
drink more alcohol further suppressing the immune system.

So how does stress reduction help with the treatment of skin
conditions? Firstly, it helps by decreasing the release of
pro-inflammatory hormones, which results in less
inflammation, redness and rash like symptoms. It also
reduces blood vessel hyper-activity resulting in less
frequent skin flushing, which is particularly important in
rosacea. Time will see an improvement in skin permeability,
which means greater hydration and less sensitivity. Oiliness
will improve as hormones settle back to normal. This may take
up to 3 months. Reducing stress will result overall in better
condition both for those with existing skin disorders as well
as those with normal skin.

Taking the time to incorporate some simple stress reducing
techniques into your daily routine will help improve the
condition of your skin:

Avoid excessive consumption of stimulants such as coffee and
soft drink. One caffeine-containing drink per day is ample.
Drink green tea instead of coffee if you are sensitive.

Exercise can significantly reduce stress levels. The release
of endorphins following exercise increases feelings of
happiness and wellbeing. It also results in increased
circulation and nutrition to your skin.

Meditation or breathing techniques. Meditation reduces
cortisol release and increases immune function - ideal if
you are suffering from a skin condition. If you are a
beginner, take a class in Buteko breathing or follow a
guided meditation.

Alcohol and smoking suppress the immune system. Smoking has
many detrimental effects on the skin and so is best avoided
completely. In moderation, alcohol consumption may help
reduce stress however it is a fine and individual line, so
stick to physician guidelines - one standard drink per day
for women and two for men. In addition, try to go without
at least 2 days per week.

About the Author:

Ananda Mahony ND is a naturopath and holistic skin
specialist. Her practice focuses on the treatment of skin
conditions. Ananda also owns Vitale Natural Skin & Body
Care, a natural & organic skin care store in Paddington.

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