Stress and your Skin

Dr Marianne Nolan|Skin care and sun protection
4 April 2019

Feeling stressed? Most of us do, now and again. But if you’re stressed most of the time, you are probably aware of the toll it takes on your health.

What you might not realise is the toll it takes on your skin. Here are the top 4 ways stress affects  your skin (plus a few related issues).

Stress and your Skin

1. Skin can become drier and flakier

When we are stressed we probably won’t pay much attention to self-care. This includes things like drinking enough water, not eating well and not engaging in a thorough skin care regime. If you are prone to dry skin, try and be diligent with moisturiser after showers (which should not be long and hot). And of course, always make time to apply sunscreen.

2. Skin can become redder

If you’re prone to rosacea then you may be aware that stress can trigger a flare up of the condition, which can include facial flushing and redness. And using alcohol to manage your stress increases likelihood of flushing and redness also. Your dermatologist can help you manage rosacea, but avoiding stress is also advised.

3. Skin can develop cold sores

Approximately 90% of adults carry the virus that causes cold sores. However, most of the time, we don’t actually develop them. But stress, and being run down, weakens our body’s ability to fight the virus, which can lead to the dreaded cold sore. When you experience that familiar tingling feeling in your lips, which indicates a cold sore is coming, your chemist now sells a three tablet antiviral pack, over-the-counter, which is your best defence against the cold sore developing fully. These must be taken very early in the cold sore’s development. So we suggest, if you’re prone to developing them, keep a cold sore tablet pack on hand, for quick use at the first sign of that lip tingle.

Lysine is also helpful in managing cold sores. You can increase lysine in your diet by eating more dairy, meat, chicken and fish. However, lysine is also available in supplement form, without a prescription.

4. Skin can break out in acne

Stress can increase the level of the hormone cortisol, which contributes to acne in those who are acne prone. Compounding this can be poor diet choices which often accompany times of stress. Further still, poor sleep can worsen an acne break out.

If you’re prone to picking pimples more when stressed, this can spread the bacteria that causes acne, which may lead to the breakout spreading over more of your skin.

There are many acne treatments for those who have problem acne. See your doctor or dermatologist for specialist treatments which may include topical applicaitons, oral antibiotics, some oral contraceptives, oral isotretinoin (vitamin A) and the Kleresca biophotonic light treatment.

And here’s a few other effects of stress you may not have thought about

Stretch Marks

Stress induced over-eating can lead to weight gain and stretch-marks (striae). If you’re a person who tends to use food to mitigate stress, and you’re pre-disposed to stretch marks, rapid weight gain could leave a few more of these on your skin.

Stretch marks occur when the dermis is stretched rapidly, due to weight gain, and small tears occur. If possible, learn a few other methods (we’ve listed some below) to help ease your stress. While stretch marks can fade over time, they may not disappear completely. Lasers can be used to reduce their visibility.

Greying Hair

Stress can literally turn your hair grey. We sometimes notice this in high profile people with highly stressful jobs – look at pictures of Obama at his inauguration and then at Trumps! The hormone cortisol increased during times of chronic stress and can interfere with melanin production in the hair follicle, which can speed up the greying process.

Hair Fall

Extreme stress can induce a condition called telogen effluvium, or hair fall. A few weeks after a very stressful event, such as a death in the family or major illness, childbirth or other big life events, some people can find that large amounts of their hair starts to fall out.

While drain blocking is an annoying side effect, significant hair loss does bother most people from a cosmetic perspective. This condition usually corrects itself in the course of a few months, but see your doctor if it is concerning you.

6 Quick Tips for Reducing Stress

How can we help manage and reduce our stress to avoid these affects on our skin? Here’s our quick 6 tips you can start working on today!


Physical activity can burn up some of the stress hormones charging through our body, reducing its impact.

Eat right

Poor diet, and alcohol, add stress to the body, even though it might feel like a stress relief at the time. Ensure you’re giving your body a wide variety of fruit and veg, every day!

Calm the mind

Mind calming techniques like meditation or mindfulness are seriously good stress mitigators. A good deal of our stress comes from a brain that doesn’t stop worrying, so learning to turn it off can significantly reduce stress.

Deep breathing

Slow, deep breathing is one of the primary triggers for our body’s parasympathetic nervous system to turn on – that is the body’s destress system. When it’s turned on, the stress response must turn off – the two work like a toggle switch.

Enjoy loving relationships

Research shows that those with strong social connections have lower stress levels. So don’t neglect your loved ones during stressful time – make time to really connect and enjoy your favourite people.

Step away from the screens

While TV, social media and video games can feel like a fun release, the human brain is stimulated by screen-based activity. Turning off all screens for decent periods of time each day, including your phone, will help your mind calm down. Get out in nature, play an outdoor game with the kids, watch a sunset or hang out at the beach. Just stay sun smart and you’ll be less stressed in no time!

Need more info on any of these stress-related skin conditions?

If you’re concerned about symptoms you’re experiencing on your skin, see your dermatologist. To book an appointment at our clinic, call our receptionists  today on (02) 9953 9522.


Written by Dr Marianne Nolan. Dr Marianne is a Cosmetic Physician and injectables specialist. She loves to help our patients look great for their age.