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Study Shows Care of Skin, Hair Affects Emotional Health

Posted: February 20, 2009

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Stress can manifest itself on one’s appearance in many ways, primarily by making the skin more sensitive and more reactive. For example, Dr. Fried noted that stress can make rosacea more red, result in acne lesions that are more inflamed and more persistent, cause brittle nails and ridging of the nails, cause hair loss, cause or worsen hives, and cause excessive perspiration. In addition, stress also is a known trigger or can be a worsening factor for fever blisters, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and has even been shown to impair skin barrier function and dehydrate the skin, allowing more irritants, allergens, and infectious agents to penetrate the skin and cause problems. Stressed skin often appears stressed, distressed and older.

“When it comes to treating patients who we suspect may be experiencing skin, hair or nail problems as a result of stress or other emotional factors, it is helpful to ask them whether their skin seems to look or feel worse when they are stressed,” said Dr. Fried. “Beyond the direct physiological effects of stress, patients under stress also tend to neglect or abuse their skin, lacking the energy and motivation to adhere to their skin care regimens. There also might be signs of stress-related behaviors—such as scratching, pulling or rubbing—that can exacerbate problems.”

To successfully treat stress-related dermatologic conditions, Dr. Fried recommends that traditional dermatologic therapies should be used in conjunction with appropriate stress management strategies. For example, Dr. Fried discussed how stress reduction interventions and techniques can reduce the culmination of negative events that can worsen many of these problems. To illustrate the seriousness of living with skin problems, Dr. Fried points to studies showing that people tend to be more distressed by skin, hair or nail problems since they are so visible and uncomfortable, than by other serious medical conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes.

"When dermatologists treat both the skin and stress, the skin often clears more quickly and completely as the native influences of stress are diminished,” said Dr. Fried. “Consequently, their overall anxiety level can decrease and they may start to feel better about how they look and how they’re feeling emotionally.”

Moving to the microscopic level, Dr. Fried added that stress reduction can decrease the release of pro-inflammatory stress hormones and chemicals. For example, release of neuropeptides, stress chemicals released from the nerve endings, can be reduced with stress management techniques. This often results in skin that looks and functions better. These interventions can reduce blood vessel overactivity, resulting in less blushing or flushing. Decreasing stress allows the patient to focus more positive energy on good skin care rather than negative behaviors.