5 Ways Your Face Shows Stress — And What You Can Do About It

stress-related skin conditions

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most overworked of ‘em all?

Sadly, for most people, stress is part of daily life. No matter if your work life is under siege, your apartment is overflowing with chaos or your relationship is on the rocks, it's pretty normal to feel the pressure these days. Though balancing work with life demands is an act everyone defines for themselves, when you are teetering too far one way or the other, the body will react. And no, not just in sleepless nights or the inability to focus — you will actually see the effects when you look in the mirror.

Stress impacts every organ system, including the skin, often compounding any struggles you already have, says Papri Sarkar, MD, a dermatologist in Boston, Mass. “Stress causes many skin diseases to flare, including common ones like acne, psoriasis, and eczema, as well as less common ones like alopecia areata,” she explains. “Chronic sleep deprivation or low-quality sleep is also associated with increased signs of aging, dark under-eye circles, a poor skin barrier function, and generally makes people feel worse about how they look.”

Here, a look at how stress shows — quite literally — on your face. If you've noticed one of these stress-related skin conditions, you may want to consider how you're managing anxiety.

You have darker circles — and puffy eyes

Can’t stop worrying about everything you have to do tomorrow instead of drifting into dreamland? When lack of sleep is due to stress, Dr. Sarkar says many people experience a deeper shade of dark circles under their eyes and increased puffiness. In addition to developing a healthier bedtime routine, she suggests icing your eyes as soon as you wake up with a sleep mask, cold roller or chilled spoon. “If the dark circles are due to more visible blood vessels in that area, I recommend using a cream with caffeine after icing,” she continues. “That plus a concealer usually is enough to let you tackle your day.”

Your wrinkles are more pronounced

Aging is a normal process, but when you’re going through a particularly stressful period, fine lines and wrinkles can become exacerbated. As Dr. Sarkar explains, our sugar levels increase when we’re stressing and cause a chemical reaction known as glycation — aka when those renegade sugars latch onto the skin's proteins. “One of the components of skin that is most susceptible to glycation is collagen,” she says. (As you know, this is the protein that makes you look youthful.) “The process of glycation leads to less plumpness or structure in the skin and causes the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.” Managing anxiety through exercise, meditation or other healthy measures will lower this chemical reaction, and thus, keep you looking both younger and carefree.

stress-related skin conditions

Your acne is problematic

When you’ve been running on overtime from the moment your alarm clock buzzed, it’s tempting to fall asleep without washing your face. You may also be so overworked that your hormones are out of whack. From igniting hormonal acne to clogging up your pores with oil and makeup, all of these stress-related shifts in your day can cause your skin to break out more, says Dr. Sarkar. Make sure you carve out time for your face — after all, a nightly sheet mask could calm your nerves, leading to sounder sleep and prettier skin.

Your skin is super oily

When you can feel stress piling up on your shoulders, it’s also jacking up your cortisol levels, according to Elizabeth Trattner, MD, a doctor of Chinese and integrative medicine. When this happens, you tend to crave carbs and sugar, both of which cause excess sebum to be produced and leave the skin super-oily around the T-zone. What’s more, when you’re stressed, you may also be tempted to touch your face more often, transferring the skin’s natural oils and grime from your hands.

Your psoriasis and/or eczema symptoms are flaring

If you already battle immune issues like psoriasis and eczema, a stressful week can inflame your symptoms. “Stress can cause inflammatory hormones to rise, triggering an outbreak of these two skin disorders,” explain Dr. Trattner, adding that they can flare up immediately or anywhere from two weeks to a month after. Rosacea can also be ignited since stress impacts our gut and digestion system, too, she says. This will leave your skin feeling dull, blotchy, and inflamed.

The best solution if you find yourself with one of these stress-related skin conditions? Get out of town, Dr. Trattner says. “There is a reason we look good after a vacation – our stress levels lower and we enjoy ourselves more, which you can literally see on your face!”

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