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Stress and your skin

By | February 23rd 2011

By Janice Wacuka

Like termites destroying a structure, stress undermines the body, mind and emotions and the effects can be obvious on your skin.

While dermatologists are still debating whether stress actually causes skin disorders, they seem to agree that stress definitely triggers or aggravates skin conditions such as acne, hives, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, warts, cold sores and blisters.

Did you know that one of the first places stress shows is on your skin? The skin is the largest organ and is also a busy immune part with direct and indirect connections to the brain.

The science of stress

Whenever we feel anxious or overwhelmed, our bodies produce cortisol, a major stress hormone and when pumped into our system, it communicates with all our organs and causes inflammation as a reaction to stress. Inflammation produces oxidants that damage the cells.

What does that mean to the skin? When a pore is inflamed, it becomes thick and swollen and is more likely to become clogged. When collagen becomes inflamed, the matrix breaks down and results in a wrinkle. Acne, wrinkles, dryness and itchiness appear with inflammation — they’re telltale indicators of what’s really going on inside.

The emotional effect

All too often, we try to blame external influences such as eating too much chocolate, dust, even the weather for the state of our skin. But the real cause of a so-called "bad skin day" is often emotional.

That’s the thing about the skin: You have to deal not only with how you feel, but also with how others react to you. The flip side is that once your skin starts to mend, people notice immediately and tell you that you look great.

How to handle stress

• Find an ally — a friend, relative, counsellor or member of the clergy — and talk about what is going on in your life rather than isolating yourself.

• You may feel like binging or eating junk food, but doing what you can to counter these impulses pays off in the end.

• Exercise. Walking for as little as 15 minutes a day helps raise your level of endorphins, the mood boosting chemicals in your brain.

• Find a healthy way to relax. It could be massage, soft music or meditationt.

• Sleep! Sleep is a time when cortisol levels are at their lowest.

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