Beauty: Stress and Your Skin, by Kristen Ma

Image credit: Helga Weber

Reasons to Relax: How Manifesting Stress Wreaks Havoc on Our Skin

In my experience of treating skin for over a decade, I know that stress deeply affects our skin. This is a two way relationship: while our skin controls our bodies’ stress response through its receptors, the stress response also affects our skin. This can trigger sensitivity, acne, skin aging, and disease. The relationship between stress and our skin creates a strong argument for serenity now.

Inflammation and Redness

Stress is inflaming for our skin. Those with rosacea and other inflammatory conditions have seen this firsthand as emotional distress is cited to be one of the most common triggers of a rosacea flare-up. This connection has been well-studied. Stress hormones produced while experiencing distress can be detected in our skin cells and the body responds to them by inducing vascular permeability of the skin and inflammation. Along with this, stress upregulates a neuropeptide and neurotransmitter Substance P which leads to more inflammation. Inflammation cytokines of the immune system also become upregulated, enhancing the inflammatory response.


Acne is worsened with stress for a number of reasons. First, increased inflammation influences acne as blemishes are often full of inflammation. But beyond this, antimicrobial peptides in skin have been found to be impeded by stress, making us more vulnerable to bacterial infection that leads to pimple formation. Lastly, stress causes the production of prolactin and this increases sebum production. This means that the more stressed we are, the oilier our skin can become. While oil alone does not cause acne, the increased inflammation and decreased antimicrobial function make for an acne-inducing environment.

Skin Aging

Distress is incredibly aging. A number of physiological responses to stress lead to a variety of signs of aging. Dull skin arises when adrenaline is produced in acute situations of stress. Adrenaline limits blood flow which makes for a colorless complexion and can also cause long term aging. Stress also prompts the body to secrete cortisol. Anxiety and stress have been found to delay wound healing because of cortisol. Aging is just the accumulation of damage in the skin over time, so the ability to repair and heal is very important for keeping our skin vibrant and healthy. Moreover, one study found that stressed-out caregivers of impaired relatives needed 20% more time to repair because of this. Research has also linked insomnia to skin quality, so stress that disrupts our sleep is also damaging.


There has been a lot of research on stress and psoriasis that displays how emotional this skin ailment is. This can be because of the increase in inflammation (especially because it’s an autoimmune disorder) but also because of the links between stress and dehydration. Increased transepidermal water loss was found in mice who were put into overcrowded environments. This exacerbates eczema, psoriasis, as well as contributes to the above discussed skin aging. Makes me want to make sure I repeat a calming mantra while commuting in the morning rush.

There have also been studies on how skin disease causes emotional distress. This is especially true in the case of psoriasis as it leads to discomfort, appearance, and frustration from the skin condition. I remember how stressed out and upset I was during my struggle with acne. While it is difficult, I have found that trying to mitigate this stress can actually help to clear up the skin. This two way relationship also works in de-stressing the body and improving our complexions.

Kristen Ma PhotoKristen Ma is the co-owner of Pure + Simple Inc., a group of Holistic Spas with its own line of Natural Skincare and Mineral Make-up.  She is an Ayurvedic Practitioner who has studied in Canada, the United States and India.  She is also a Certified Esthetician with eight years of practical experience, having worked in Canada as well as Australia.  Most recently, Kristen has authored “Beauty: Pure + Simple” which was published by Mc Arthur and Company.  Kristen has written on the subject of Holistic Beauty for Vitality Magazine, Blink and Jasmine.  She is also a regular contributor to B Magazine, Tonic and Sweat Equity Magazine.

For more information on Kristen, please visit