Stress and The Skin

by Vida Glow's resident nutritionist Brittany Darling.

A stress or 'fight or flight" response is a natural and vital homeostatic function in the body. Two hormones are mostly involved, adrenaline and cortisol. Both are made and secreted by the adrenal glands. Adrenaline's function is to increase heart rate, blood pressure and availability of energy (glucose) in acute stages of stress. Cortisol increases blood glucose levels and enhances the brains ability to use glucose. All these functions are essential if by chance you need to run away from a bear or fight for your life. But chronic stress is very harmful to health. Cortisol also reduces digestion, immune and reproductive function because let's face it, if you are eaten by a bear you aren't going to need any of these systems! One of the first places you might notice the effects of chronic stress is your skin.

How Does Stress Effect My Skin? 

Increased Oil Production 

Hormones secreted during a stress response, increases your skins production of oil. Excess oil production can lead to blockages in hair follicles and pores, resulting to break outs.


Psoriasis, eczema, rosacea and even allergic conditions such as hives are made worse because stress is a major driver of inflammation. For people suffering from psoriasis, stress is a common trigger. The over proliferation of keratinocytes (skin cells) is induced by stress as well as alcohol. Facial flushing, a common problem for people with rosacea can be significantly worse in times of stress. Recurrent facial flushing can lead to permanent capillary damage and sustained redness.

Poor Sleep

Reduced quality and lack of sleep can be an issue during times of stress. Lack of sleep leaves your skin looking tired and dull. Puffiness under the eyes is often evident as well as redness of the eyes.

Reduced Digestive Function

Stress reduces digestive function which can lead to inadequate absorption of essential nutrients and sometimes constipation. Reduced breakdown of foods means your skin won't be getting the nutrients it needs to repair and maintain health. Constipation is also an effect of reduced digestive function. Constipation allows toxins to sit in the colon and if not excreted in the faeces, toxins are reabsorbing back into our systemic circulation and have to be detoxified by the liver again. This often means old hormones and toxins are recirculated into our body, which can effect the appearance of the skin.

Blood Sugar Irregularities 

Long term stress can also lead to blood sugar irregularities as cortisol inhibits actions of insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps regulate blood glucose levels. Blood sugar irregularities have a huge impact on skin health. I see this particularly in people with acne vulgaris, PCOS and psoriasis.

5 Ways to Stress Less

  1. Exercise 3 times weekly
  2. Practise meditation and/or yoga
  3. Ensure 8 hours of sleep per night, when possible.
  4. Practise good "sleep hygiene" by ensuring your room is dark, quiet and cool. Phones, iPads, computers and televisions should not be kept in bedrooms over night.
  5. Herbal medicines to support adrenal glands. Withania, Rehmannia, Rhodiola and Liquorice root are all a good start. Try as teas or in tincture from a herbalist.