Stress Effects Skin Disorders

Scientists have found links between the health of your skin and stress levels. When you’re stressed, you may be more likely to develop stress rashes and other skin conditions. Find out about the effects of stress on skin and if stress causes acne.

The Effects of Stress on Skin

If your eyes are the windows to your soul, perhaps your skin is the window to your state of mind. A few of the possible adverse effects of stress on skin include:

  • Acne
  • Cold sores
  • Dermatitis
  • Eczema
  • Fever blisters
  • Hives
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea
  • Shingles.

Stress may trigger and aggravate these conditions by dehydrating the skin and impairing the skin’s barrier function, making it more vulnerable to allergens, irritants and infection. Stress hormones like adrenaline, cortisol and DHEA can produce increased inflammation and sebaceous gland activity, as well as decrease immune system response.

Stress-related behaviors like scratching or rubbing may also worsen existing stress rashes and skin conditions.

Stress Causes Acne: Fact or Fiction?

A debate over whether stress causes acne has been going on for generations. Recently, however, clinical studies have revealed evidence that stress can indeed worsen acne breakouts.

A 2002 Stanford University School of Medicine study reported by the Acne Resource Center Online, revealed that students who experienced the most stress during exam time also had the greatest worsening of their acne. Some scientists believe that stress causes acne by increasing the production of certain hormones, while also slowing down the body’s healing process.

Another study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2003) and reported by the Acne Resource Center Online, revealed that corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) released during stress leads to sebum production, which eventually worsens acne conditions.

Stress and Rashes: The Role of Hormones

Research published in the American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology (2006) and reported by revealed that a stress-triggered hormone may cause or worsen problems like eczema and psoriasis.

Researchers subjected hairless mice to stress by keeping them in small, constantly lit cages with a radio playing for 48 hours. Researchers found that blocking glucocorticoids–stress-triggered hormones–resulted in much better skin function than in the untreated mice.

Treating Stress and Skin Conditions

Dermatologists have discovered that when they treat both stress and skin health in conjunction, their patients’ skin clears faster than it would have with the skin treatment alone. This is perhaps because stress reduction inhibits the release of pro-inflammatory stress hormones and other chemicals.

When ongoing stress interferes with the treatment of skin conditions, dermatologists may refer patients to mental health professionals for stress management.


American Academy of Dermatology. (2010). Stress and skin. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Bryner, J. (2006). Skin disorders linked to stress. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Eastbay Acne and Skin Care Clinic. (2010). Stress and your skin. Retrieved September 28, 2010, from

Seacra Enterprises. (2010). Does stress cause acne? Retrieved September 28, 2010, from