7 Ways Stress Can Mess With Your Looks

Dr. Amy Wechsler
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Photo: © Luca Cannionieri

Did you know stress can cause a host of beauty problems? Read on to find out how chronic stress can affect your looks and what you can do to stop it.

When you live in a chronic state of stress, you are constantly producing the hormone cortisol, which is responsible for weight gain, high blood pressure and collagen breakdown, among other things. This makes it harder for the skin to repair itself naturally, continue to form healthy collagen and elastin, and deal with damage. You can decrease your levels of cortisol and reverse this damage by getting lots of restful sleep and exercise.

Hair Loss
Stress can cause sudden hair loss by literally flipping the switch on the hair follicle’s growth stage from an active to a resting phase. Once the follicle enters this resting phase prematurely, it stays there for about three months, after which time a large amount of hair will be shed. When you experience an overall shedding of hair, you must cast back a few months to find the trigger. Rest assured that in most women, this hair will grow back.

Adult Acne
Acne isn’t just for hormonally crazed teenagers. Many adults can’t seem to outgrow it because of stress hormones. What makes it worse is that tense people often can’t leave pimples alone. Squeezing, poking and picking at them becomes an almost obsessive way to release tension, but it also makes breakouts worse, exacerbating the inflammatory response, and you’re left feeling a bit more stressed. So no picking!

Irritation and Allergies
Your skin has mast cells, which release histamines in response to biochemicals like stress hormones. Histamines are key players in allergies and inflammations; they can trigger ailments like hay fever and asthma, and they can wreak havoc on skin disorders and disease. Once triggered, mast cells can stir up a soup of chemical pests, which can set off a range of skin conditions or simply aggravate existing ones, from dermatitis and hives to psoriasis.

Hormonal Mood Swings
There is a lot of interaction between hormone physiology and mood that works both ways. Our mood can impact our physiology, and our physiology can influence the balance of our hormones. If stress can sit at the top of a cascade of events that lead to undesirable hormonal changes in the body (like those that trigger insomnia, insatiable hunger and weight gain, and collagen breakdown), then what we want to do is find ways to gain the upper hand on our stress level and ensure that we keep all those hormones in check.

Puffy, Tired Eyes
Stress ages eyes by robbing us of the deep, restorative sleep that’s essential to the youth and health of our whole body. Getting too little shuteye sets off a series of skin problems–inflammation, leaky capillaries, and poor waste removal. Fluids that should be carted away while you sleep never get picked up. In your face, the excess liquid has to go somewhere, so it pools in the delicate tissue under the eyes. The result? Dark, puffy, under-eye circles.

The jury is still out on exactly how or if this is possible, but it appears that the constant flow of cortisol that goes along with chronic stress causes a dip in estrogen, one that mimics, on a smaller scale, the dip that occurs during menopause. Less estrogen means less collagen and less moisture. So, while estrogen levels may not drop enough to shut down your period, stress may make them dip enough to make your skin look dull and dry.

What Can You Do About All This?
First, don’t feel overwhelmed. You may be feeling like you can’t get control of your body because so much of what goes on happens naturally. But hopefully, once you begin to establish better coping skills for handling stress, and begin to employ these techniques to nourish and treat your body optimally both inside and out, you will discover a path to wellness and beauty. You can shift the balance of power into your hands and support a healthy balance in your body simply by changing the way you strategize through life.



Did you know that great skin isn’t just the result of good genes? There are actually many factors, including lifestyle and stress that all add up to a glowing complexion. Dermatologist and guest editor Amy Wechsler has the scoop on how you can achieve the complexion of your dreams, no expensive treatments required. Board-certified in both dermatology and psychiatry, Dr. Wechsler treats the effects that state of mind and physical behaviors have on the skin. She is also the author of Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Reverse Stress Aging and Reveal More Youthful, Beautiful Skin. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter for more tips!