Many people are familiar with the fact that both acute and chronic stress can negatively affect your skin. Unknown to many, however, is that this is a two-way street. Studies show that your skin and hair follicles contain their stress-inducing signals. These signals can travel to your brain and impact how you react to stress.
How the skin is connected to the brain
This connection between the skin and stress response is nothing foreign. In fact, you might have already experienced it. Have you ever gotten nervous and started sweating profusely? If so, you have already experienced the acute effects of the stress response on your skin.
Scientists suggest that long-term exposure to stressful mental environments can have more permanent effects on your skin. These effects can be so serious that they could go beyond your skin and affect your overall wellness.
The brain-skin axis is a bidirectional path that can communicate psychological stress from the skin to the brain and vice versa. Stress triggers the HPA (hypothalamus- pituitary- adrenal) axis, three glands that are important to the body’s response to stress. This elicits the production of local pro-inflammatory factors like cortisol and important hormones in response to stress.
Since the skin is most exposed to the outside world, it’s more likely than any other organ to be affected by environmental stressors. As a result, the skin produces a hormonal response to ultraviolet rays and temperature and sends the signals back to the brain. Therefore, physical stressors can cause psychological stress through the skin.
Other effects of psychological stress
Psychological stress can also disrupt the epidermal barrier; the layer of the skin that locks in moisture protects the skin from harmful microbes and delays its repair. An unimpaired epidermal barrier is vital for healthy skin. If disrupted, it can cause irritated skin or even chronic skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema. Acne flares have also been linked to psychological stress, although the studies to support this are still inconclusive.
The negative effects of psychological stress have also been seen in hair. A specific hair loss condition, telogen effluvium, can be linked to stress. This condition inhibits the hair growth phase.