Noticing skin flare-ups? Stress may be the culprit.

When you’re under stress, the level of cortisol (the body’s stress hormone) rises. This causes an increase in oil production, which can lead to oily skin, acne and related dermatological problems. Even if you’ve never suffered from these conditions in the past, stress-related acne may develop.

A January 2001 Archives of Dermatology study (“Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis”) found stress has a negative effect on the skin’s barrier function, resulting in water loss. This inhibits the skin’s ability to repair itself after an injury.

The Archives study involved 27 medical, dental and pharmacy students. Researchers repeatedly applied and stripped off cellophane tape on the subjects’ forearms during periods of higher stress (final exams) and  lower stress (returning from winter vacation).

The results? It took longer for the skin to recover from this minimally invasive tape-stripping during periods of perceived higher stress.

“This study was the first of its kind to suggest what dermatologists anecdotally have known for years: that psychological stress adversely affects the normal functions of the skin,” says Flor A. Mayoral, MD, a clinical instructor in the Departments of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine in Florida.

“While the subjects in this study did not have any preexisting skin conditions,” she adds, “I would suspect that people with skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis would have been even more adversely affected by this experiment.”

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