Does Stress Affect the Skin? The Connection Between Mental Health and Skin Care

Stress is the body's response to external pressures, causing physiological changes aimed at preparing for perceived threats. While essential for survival, chronic stress harms various our bodily systems, including the skin.

The relationship between stress and skin is complex and bidirectional, with stress worsening skin conditions and vice versa.

Keep reading to learn more about the complex connection between stress and skin health.

The Physiology of Stress

The stress response, often called ‘fight or flight,’ readies the body for action when faced with threats. It releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which boost heart rate, alertness, and focus resources on vital functions.

This stress response can significantly affect the skin.

Cortisol, a primary stress hormone, harms the skin by increasing oil production, clogging pores, and potentially causing acne. It also disrupts the skin's natural protective barrier, making it more prone to irritation and inflammation.

Given the close connection between the skin and the nervous and endocrine systems, it's no surprise that stress can physically affect the skin, often worsening or triggering common skin conditions. In such instances, it’s advisable to seek professional care by visiting a skin care clinic.

4 Common Skin Conditions Linked to Stress

1. Acne

Acne, a prevalent skin condition, is characterized by the formation of pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads. While genetics and hormonal fluctuations significantly affect its development, stress can exacerbate existing acne or trigger its onset.

Some studies have demonstrated a correlation between stress and the severity of acne. Stress-induced hormonal fluctuations, increased sebum production, and inflammatory responses all worsen acne symptoms.

Cortisol can disrupt the skin barrier by impairing the function of proteins like filaggrin, which play a crucial role in maintaining the skin's integrity. A weakened skin barrier is more susceptible to irritation, dryness, and inflammation, aggravating acne.

2. Eczema

Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition characterized by redness, itching, and inflammation. Stress has been identified as a common trigger for eczema flare-ups, leading to increased itching and discomfort.

Stress can weaken the skin's natural barrier function, making it more susceptible to allergens and irritants. Additionally, stress-induced inflammation can exacerbate existing eczema symptoms, creating a vicious cycle of discomfort.

3. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is an autoimmune skin condition that results in the rapid growth of skin cells. This can lead to the development of red, scaly patches on the skin. While genetics play a significant role in psoriasis, stress is recognized as a contributing factor to its exacerbation.

Stress can trigger immune responses that worsen psoriasis symptoms. Furthermore, the emotional toll of living with psoriasis can lead to heightened stress levels, creating a bidirectional relationship between the condition and stress.

4. Rosacea

Rosacea is a persistent skin condition characterized by facial redness and the visibility of blood vessels. While the precise cause of rosacea remains the subject of ongoing research, stress has been recognized as a frequent catalyst for the onset of rosacea symptoms.

Stress can lead to the dilation of blood vessels, exacerbating the redness and flushing associated with rosacea. Additionally, stress-induced inflammation can worsen the condition, making stress management an essential aspect of rosacea treatment.

Understanding the relationship between stress and these common skin conditions is crucial for effective management and treatment.

The Mind-Body Connection

There’s growing evidence that behavioural treatments may be effective in the management of chronic skin disorders.

Psychodermatology is a specialized field that has arisen in response to this. It explores how emotions, stress, and mental wellbeing affect the skin. It aims to connect dermatology and psychology, providing valuable insights for managing skin issues by addressing physical and emotional aspects of skin health.

The nervous system plays a key role in regulating skin functions like sensation, temperature control, and blood vessel function. This knowledge enables the development of strategies to counteract the negative effects of stress on skin health.

Stress can trigger or worsen these conditions through hormonal shifts and immune system responses. Recognizing emotional factors in skincare is essential for a holistic approach to skin health and wellbeing.

Coping Mechanisms and Skin Care

Adopting a holistic approach that combines coping mechanisms and skincare practices is essential to manage stress-related skin issues effectively. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Meditation and mindfulness practices promote relaxation and reduce stress. These techniques benefit skin health by lowering cortisol levels and minimizing stress-related skin issues.
  • Regular movement boosts overall health and reduces stress. Exercise improves blood circulation, enhances skin health, and releases mood-improving endorphins, reducing stress.
  • Good sleep is vital for skin repair and regeneration. Sufficient rest allows the skin to recover and plays a major role in stress management. Lack of sleep can worsen skin conditions, emphasizing the importance of quality sleep for healthy skin.
  • Picking skincare products suitable for your skin type and addressing specific stress-related concerns is crucial. Ingredients like antioxidants and soothing agents can be beneficial additions to your skincare routine.
  • A well-rounded diet with nutrients and staying hydrated promotes healthy skin from the inside out. Antioxidant-rich foods and proper hydration support the skin's ability to cope with stress.
  • Smoking and excessive alcohol can heighten stress and harm skin health. Reducing or quitting these habits contributes to better mental wellbeing and healthier skin.

Incorporating these practices into your daily routine can make a significant difference in managing stress-related skin issues and maintaining healthy, radiant skin.


There’s growing evidence that stress can significantly impact skin health, worsening or triggering various skin conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis and rosacea.

Therefore, prioritizing stress management and mental wellbeing can support your quest for healthy, radiant skin.

Self-Guided Support for Stress, Anxiety and Low Mood

Research shows that self-help materials are often enough for people to overcome mild to moderate mental health difficulties without professional support.

If you’re interested in a self-guided program that includes tools from CBT, DBT, ACT and more, be sure to check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit. It's "like 10 therapy sessions in one."

The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit


About Rebecca

Rebecca is the founder of The Wellness Society and author of two fluff-free books, The Framework and Understanding and Healing Trauma.

She's passionate about creating concise and compassionate mental health and wellbeing tools that address the root causes of distress.

Read more about her views on our About page.