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Consoling Stressed Skin

By: Rebecca James Gadberry
Posted: June 29, 2009, from the July 2009 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
woman with painful neck

Research conducted under a grant from the National Rosacea Society shows stress is more likely to trigger an episode of rosacea than just about any other event. Long-term stress—the kind so many are tortured by these days—has been shown to lower the immune system while elevating inflammation, shortening chromosomes, damaging genes and devouring proteins in muscles, organs and, most significant to estheticians, skin.

In fact, stress is insidious, affecting every cell in the body, not just those on the surface of the skin. According to a report on ScienceDaily.com, “Stress causes deterioration in everything from your gums to your heart and can make you more susceptible to everything from the common cold to cancer.”1 Stress, of course, shows up in the skin; dermatologists and estheticians tell me that more than 80% of their clients now seek help for conditions linked to stress. These conditions range from well-known stress-related diseases, such as psoriasis, eczema, seborrheic dermatitis or acne, to more subtly linked disorders, including hair loss, ridged or brittle nails, hives, fever blisters, shingles, increased allergies and excessively dry, itchy skin.

Most important to esthetic practices, stress appears to be the second greatest factor in skin aging. After numerous studies examining the stress-skin connection, researchers now believe the actions of hormones, neuropeptides and other signaling molecules released during stress may be second only to ultraviolet (UV) light when it comes to tearing down the skin and speeding up the aging process.2 Because, similar to UV light, stress takes its toll on the epidermis and the dermis, their proteins and even the DNA inside individual skin cells, quickening the aging cycle by as many as six years. To make things worse, for some reason still unknown to researchers, women are much more likely to show signs of aging under the influence of chronic stress than men.

Stress and appearance

Unwanted skin changes have a profoundly negative impact on stress levels. Feeling bad about appearance only detracts from the ability to cope and care for yourself and the people in your life, piling on more stress and making disappointing or disastrous events even harder to tolerate. The stress that can be felt undermines your looks, adding more stress, which further undermines your appearance. It’s a vicious cycle; one to which every person is susceptible.

As those who have practiced esthetics for years can attest, rather than an effort at vanity, keeping a pleasing appearance is vital to a person’s well-being. It’s linked to self-esteem and self-worth, helps you feel included in society and “touchable” by those with whom you come in contact. As humans, how you look is key to identifying yourself from others, and stress can shake you to the very core when it takes a toll on your skin.