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From Skin Rashes To Acne: Stress-Induced Skin Conditions

Stress, a silent yet pervasive companion, often weaves its way into our beauty and well-being, casting subtle, yet profound impacts. As we commemorate National Stress Awareness Day on November 1st, an initiative by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) to spotlight the multifaceted impacts of stress and champion the importance of effective stress management, it’s pivotal to delve deeper into this intricate interplay.

A stressed man working diligently at his desk, showing signs of stress-induced skin rash.

Let's Unwrap the Mystery of Stress

What’s the Real Deal with Stress?

Ah, stress! That sneaky little intruder that tiptoes into our lives, leaving its footprints in the most unexpected places. But what is stress, really? It’s like this invisible backpack we carry. Sometimes it’s light with a few pebbles, and other times it feels like we’re lugging around a boulder.

Stress, in its simplest form, is our body’s way of responding to any kind of demand or threat, acting like an alarm system that influences our mood, our physiological state, and our overall well-being.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines stress as a “state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation”, highlighting that “stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenged and threats in our lives”. In other words, stress is the way we may react when the demands and pressures we face are not aligned with our knowledge and abilities, challenging our ability to manage. It’s a universal dance yet so individually choreographed, impacting each of us uniquely.

Stress in Numbers: A Sneak Peek into the Stats

Let’s dive into a sea of numbers for a moment, shall we? Stress, it seems, is a global companion, quietly threading its way through our collective experiences. According to the American Institute of Stress, the global average of stressed people stands at 35%, showcasing that stress is indeed a widespread and pervasive issue that touches lives across the globe. A whopping 55% of Americans experience stress everyday. The Global Organization for Stress tells us that 75% of adults experienced moderate to high levels of stress in the past month, and over half felt their stress has increased over the past year.

Zooming into Europe, stress continues to weave a significant narrative. A survey by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work found that workplace stress has been on the rise in Europe since COVID-19. It’s not just a personal affair but a societal one, impacting our communities, workplaces, and even our healthcare systems.

Stressed girl touching her face in front of the mirror, finding stress-induced acne and skin rash.

What Skin Conditions Are Caused by Stress?

Stress is (unfortunately) a topic we all encounter, and it doesn’t just reside in our minds. It has a way of showing up on our skin, revealing itself through various conditions and impacting our overall well-being. From those unexpected acne breakouts before a big event to the dry skin on a tough day, stress speaks through our skin in more ways than we might realize.

When stress envelops our being, a biochemical response is initiated, releasing a surge of hormones, notably cortisol, which is often spotlighted as the “stress hormone”. Originating from the adrenal glands, cortisol plays a pivotal role in various skin conditions by increasing oil production, potentially leading to clogged pores and subsequent acne breakouts. Moreover, cortisol can degrade collagen, the protein responsible for maintaining the skin’s elasticity and strength, potentially accelerating the aging process and contributing to the formation of wrinkles. Adrenaline, another hormone released in response to stress, diverts blood flow away from the skin towards the muscles, potentially depriving the skin of essential nutrients and oxygen, which can impact the skin’s overall vitality and appearance (ResearchGate, 2021).

Below some of the most frequent skin conditions caused by stress (Healthline):


Stress, through its buddy cortisol, stimulates sebaceous glands and boosts oil production, potentially leading to clogged pores and, voila, an encore of acne. Empirical studies substantiate the positive correlation between stress levels and acne severity, underscoring the necessity to address stress management in acne mitigation strategies.

Dark circles:

Dry skin:

Redness or skin rashes:

Wrinkles formation:

Gray hair and hair loss:

A stressed and desperate man seated, surrounded by stress-related words on post-its, feeling overloaded.

A Two-way Street: How Our Skins Affects Our Emotional and Mental Wellbeing

But it is not just our mind that impacts our body and skin. It’s a two-way street. An article by Harvard Health Publishing describes the bidirectional relationship between our mental state and skin health, often encapsulated as the "brain-skin axis." This relationship isn't merely a linear pathway where stress impacts the skin.

Rather, it’s a reciprocal dialogue where the skin, once impacted, communicates back to the brain, influencing our emotional and mental well-being in a tangible manner.

The skin, while visibly portraying the impacts of stress, also actively communicates with our brain, sending signals that can pivotally influence our mental state and emotional well-being. This cyclical relationship underscores the importance of recognizing and addressing the multifaceted and bidirectional impact of stress on our physiological and psychological health.

Psychodermatology, an evolving field that intertwines dermatology and psychology, has garnered attention by acknowledging the intricate link between the mind and skin. This field recognizes that skin conditions are not solely physical phenomena but are deeply interwoven with psychological aspects. And the story doesn't stop here: skin conditions often permeate the psychological and emotional well-being of individuals, impacting aspects such as self-esteem, body image, and social interactions. For instance, individuals with psoriasis, a condition characterized by skin redness and irritation, often navigate through a myriad of emotional and social challenges. Psychologists, in this context, are not merely addressing the emotional and psychological impacts but are also instrumental in developing strategies that holistically integrate dermatological and psychological care (APA, 2015; ResearchGate, 2016).

As we traverse through the realms of stress and skin health, understanding this two-way communication becomes pivotal, not merely for developing effective skincare and stress management strategies but also for fostering a holistic approach towards our overall well-being. It invites us to consider skincare and stress management not as isolated domains but as intertwined aspects of our health that communicate and influence each other in a continuous, reciprocal dialogue. Thus, our journey through understanding and managing stress and skin health becomes a holistic endeavor, where caring for one invariably impacts the other, guiding us towards a comprehensive approach to our well-being.

Anti-Stress Skincare: Nurturing Ingredients and Mindful Rituals

Stress, as we’ve explored, can throw our skin into a bit of a frenzy, inviting unwanted guests like acne, skin rashes, itching, and wrinkles to the party. Anti-stress skincare is a response to stress, stepping in like a calm mediator. While it may not do much to attenuate mental stress, it is able to soothe the outward symptoms of it, telling those stress-induced skin issues to take a back seat. The principle is rather straightforward, believes Dr Madhuri Agarwal, founder of Yavana Aesthetics Clinic. “Anti-stress skincare is usually aimed at reducing inflammation caused by stress and repairing the impaired skin barrier function,” she says (Vogue, 2021).

Anti-stress skincare incorporates ingredients and practices that soothe, heal, and rejuvenate the skin while also offering a mindful self-care moment. Let’s dive in.

What Are the Key Ingredients in Anti-stress Skincare?

Anti-stress skincare products often come enriched with ingredients known for their calming and healing properties. Let’s delve deeper into five of them, exploring their benefits and properties.

A grey vase with lavender, known for its stress-mitigating effects, promoting stress management.


A botanical wonder, chamomile is cherished for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, providing a gentle caress to the skin, alleviating redness and irritation (NCBI, 2010). The Body Shop Camomile Sumptuous Cleansing Butter is nightly solace for me, dissolving the day’s makeup and stress with its gentle, calming embrace.


Hyalurinic acid:


Niacinamide (Vitamin B3):

The Skincare Ritual

But hey, it’s not just about what’s in the bottle! The ritual of skincare, that gentle, mindful application, is a stress-reliever in itself. Skincare routines have been recognized as a potent psychological self-care activity, providing not just a moment, but a sanctuary of calm amidst the chaos, a pocket of serenity that we carve out for ourselves each day. It’s a practice that allows us to create a space, a moment where we can step back from the whirlwind of life and simply be with ourselves, nurturing our skin and, by extension, our soul.

Make up artist and Lebubè's brand ambassador Maya is talking about how stress impacts her life as a MUA.

Skincare routines can act as a short-term buffer against stress, providing a small yet significant shield against the daily stressors we encounter. The act of taking care of our skin, of dedicating time to ourselves, is a powerful act of self-love and self-care. It’s a moment where we can connect with ourselves, providing not just physical but emotional nourishment.

Moreover, the ritualistic aspect of skincare, the gentle, repetitive motions of cleansing, applying serums, and moisturizing, can provide mental health benefits and induce a state of mindfulness, a focused, purposeful attention on the present moment, which has been associated with reduced stress levels. It’s a moment where we can disconnect from the external world and dive into a space that is entirely our own, a space where we are nurtured, cared for, and where we can simply be (Everyday Health, 2023; Harper’s Bazaar, 2020).

Beyond Skincare: Lifestyle and Mindful Practices for Stress Mitigation

Two hands of a woman who is wearing a skincare cream product in her skincare routine, deemed as a way to manage stress.

Embarking on an anti-stress skincare journey invites us to explore beyond the skin, to intertwine our physical care with our mental and emotional well-being. It’s an approach that recognizes the intricate connection between our skin and our psyche, acknowledging that as we nurture one, we inherently nurture the other. This holistic approach invites us to explore practices beyond the bottle, incorporating aspects of lifestyle, nutrition, and mental well-being, ensuring that our journey in anti-stress skincare is comprehensive, nurturing every facet of our being.

Engaging in physical activities, sleeping at least 8 hours a day (remember my article on the beauty of sleep?), journaling, going for walks in a natural environment, meditating and breathing. These are not just activities; they’re moments where we gently hold our stress, allowing it to dissolve into peaceful tranquility.

For me, art therapy is a sanctuary, a space where stress gracefully transforms into vibrant splashes of creativity, becoming a medium to explore, express, and exhale. I also cherish the comforting embrace of social connections, where time spent with loved ones becomes a balm, soothing our spirit. Then there’s yoga, my personal serenade to serenity, practiced thrice a week, where each pose is a note, harmonizing to create a melody that gently dissipates stress, leaving in its wake a calm, tranquil spirit. Additionally, tuning into my favorite genres of music, emo, punk, and hard rock, always brings a relaxing escape, the resonating beats and lyrics providing a cathartic release that harmonizes both my mind and emotions – I know, it's weird, but it really works!

In wrapping up, I envision a future where everyone, amidst a skin concern, pauses to ask themselves, “Where can I alleviate stress in my life?” rather than immediately seeking the most potent skincare solution for their wrinkles or blemishes. Let's collectively take a moment to pause, breathe, and thoughtfully reassess the ebbs and flows of our lives, intertwining our external skincare with a nurturing internal touch. Nurturing our mind to nurture our skin has never been so important.



What is Stress Awareness Day, and when is it observed?

Stress Awareness Day, observed on November 1st, is an initiative by the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) to raise awareness about the impact of stress on individuals' physical and mental health. It's a day dedicated to promoting effective stress management strategies and understanding the multifaceted effects of stress.

What is stress, and how does it affect our well-being?

Stress is the body's response to demanding or challenging situations. It activates a series of physiological and psychological responses, such as the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Chronic stress can negatively affect well-being by increasing the risk of various health problems, including cardiovascular issues, mental health disorders, and skin-related conditions.

Can mental stress cause skin problems?

Yes, mental stress can cause or exacerbate skin problems. Stress triggers the release of cortisol, which can lead to increased oil production, clogged pores, and skin conditions like acne. Moreover, stress can disrupt the skin's natural barrier function, leading to dryness and irritation.

Can stress and anxiety cause a skin rash?

Stress and anxiety can indeed lead to skin rashes. These emotional states can impact the immune system, leading to an imbalance of skin bacteria, which may result in redness, rashes, or even trigger conditions like psoriasis or eczema.

How does stress impact our skin?

Stress affects the skin through various mechanisms. Cortisol, the "stress hormone," increases oil production, leading to acne. It can also degrade collagen, causing premature aging and wrinkles. Stress redirects blood flow away from the skin, depriving it of nutrients and oxygen, affecting its overall health and appearance.

What does stressed skin look like?

Stressed skin may exhibit characteristics such as oiliness, redness, dryness, or flakiness. It can also show signs of premature aging, like fine lines and wrinkles, due to cortisol's impact on collagen.

Does high cortisol cause skin problems?

Yes, high levels of cortisol in the body, often associated with chronic stress, can contribute to skin problems like acne, decreased skin elasticity, and accelerated aging.

What are 5 common skin-related conditions related to stress?

Common skin conditions linked to stress include acne, dark circles under the eyes, dry skin, redness or skin rashes, and the formation of wrinkles.

What is the "brain-skin axis," and why is it important?

The "brain-skin axis" refers to the bidirectional relationship between our mental state and skin health. It's important because it highlights how our emotional well-being can influence our skin and vice versa. Recognizing this connection is crucial for comprehensive skin and mental health care.

What is the psychodermatology approach?

Psychodermatology is an interdisciplinary field that combines dermatology and psychology. It acknowledges the psychological aspects of skin conditions and seeks to provide holistic care that addresses both the emotional and physical aspects of skin health.

What is anti-stress skincare?

Anti-stress skincare in a skincare approach that involves using products with ingredients known for their calming and healing properties, such as chamomile, lavender, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and niacinamide. These ingredients help soothe the skin and restore its balance. The skincare routine itself can also be a stress-relieving ritual.

What are some key ingredients in anti-stress skincare?

Key ingredients in anti-stress skincare include:

  • Chamomile: Known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

  • Lavender: Offers both calming aromatherapy and skin-soothing benefits.

  • Hyaluronic acid: Helps maintain skin hydration.

  • Ceramides: Essential for maintaining the skin's barrier function.

  • Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): Addresses various skin concerns, including blemishes and pore appearance.

How can the skincare ritual help with stress relief?

Engaging in a skincare routine can be a form of self-care and relaxation. The ritualistic nature of the routine, with its repetitive motions and focus on the present moment, can induce a state of mindfulness, reducing stress levels and promoting overall well-being.

What activities can help reduce stress?

Activities to reduce stress include physical activities, getting enough sleep, journaling, meditation, spending time in nature, and yoga. These activities can help reduce stress and contribute to both skin and mental health.

Why is it important to address stress as part of skincare?

Addressing stress as part of skincare is crucial because stress has a significant impact on skin health. Managing stress is not only about skincare products but also about adopting a holistic approach to ensure both physical and mental well-being. This approach can lead to healthier and more vibrant skin.

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