We’ve had a stressful go for the last little while, and most of us can see it when we look in the mirror. The skin is just as vulnerable to the ill effects of stress as any other part of the body.
As we savour the last warm rays of sunshine and brace ourselves for cold weather, getting a hold on stress and hormones now can help you reap the benefits of healthy skin over the coming months.
Whether we’re seeing changes in our reflection or just under the microscope, stress-induced skin changes can shake self-esteem and impair the skin’s proper physiological functioning. And once the skin’s functions are compromised, a vicious cycle of stress and hormonal imbalance ensues, aggravating the body’s overall well-being.
Stress-induced skin damage can present as worsened acne, changes in skin texture, flares of eczema, or pronounced wrinkles. Stress also drives hormonal imbalance, which, in turn, aggravates skin conditions.
SKINDICATIONS OF OVERALL HEALTH Like a multitasking parent, the skin juggles protecting the body from environmental stressors such as UV light; producing neurotransmitters and hormones, including cortisol; synthesizing vitamin D; and regulating electrolytes, fluids, and body temperature.
The skin also moonlights as a crystal ball to reflect how the body is doing internally. Your skin may be dry, itchy, flushed, yellowish, pimply, or wrinkled because of inadequate nutrition or underlying dysfunctions in your hormonal, digestive, and immune systems. And these body systems are heavily influenced by stress. STRESS MESSENGER The skin responds to emotional stress by producing the stress hormone cortisol, and excess cortisol can impair wound healing, increase inflammation, and decrease the production of the skin-building protein called collagen.
Emotional stress and poor sleep encourage a pro-inflammatory state in the body, which impairs the structure of collagen. Stress may also damage the skin’s permeability and antimicrobial barrier, paving the way for skin sensitivity and secondary infections from scratching.
Inflammatory skin disorders such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and atopic dermatitis are associated with emotional stress, hormone dysregulation, and insufficient nutrition. THE SKINNY ON HORMONES Thyroid hormone and reproductive hormones such as estrogen are impacted by chronic stress. One of the best examples of this is having a painful or irregular period after a particularly stressful time.
Not only are these hormones impacted by stress, but they also directly influence skin health. Estrogen is protective for the skin and is associated with increased skin thickness and hydration, proper barrier function, and wound healing. Estrogen deficiency impairs wound healing and promotes inflammation.
For cycling women, the drop in estrogen during menstruation can exacerbate acne, eczema, and psoriasis. At menopause, the body doesn’t make nearly as much estrogen as in previous years, so the skin tends to lose its structure, and aging picks up the pace. People with thyroid disease (where the thyroid is unable to make the right amount of hormones) have higher rates of skin xerosis (dryness), yellowness, flushing, and psoriasis than those with normal thyroid function.
Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin and actually functions as a hormone in the body. Low vitamin D is commonly seen in those with psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and acne.
KEEP IT SIMPLE Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day (regardless of whether it’s the weekend!) is key for regulating hormones, since they’re affected by the circadian rhythm. The same thing goes for mealtimes; if you keep them as consistent as possible, your stress levels and hormones will be happy.
Pair movement with stress relief for a double whammy of health benefits. Whether that’s dancing, kickboxing, or walking, choose your bliss and do it often! Exercise encourages blood flow and lymphatic drainage, both of which help tonify and detoxify the skin.
GET THE SKINNY ON YOUR SKIN Look under the surface with blood work and other diagnostic testing to identify the contributing causes of your skin health woes. Keeping tabs on your thyroid hormones, vitamin D status, estrogen, and cortisol values in the blood can be helpful indicators of how your skin’s doing on a microscopic level.
Working with a natural health practitioner takes out the guesswork and puts you miles ahead, with an individualized treatment plan for cultivating a happy reflection in the mirror.