Written by Stephanie Sutton, M.D. –

A few articles have been published recently discussing the connection between our brain and our skin and specifically the connection that mental stress has on our skin. Stress can be either acute or chronic. Many people have been experiencing chronic stress over the past one year due to the pandemic. People can experience acute stress on top of chronic stress.

Some skin conditions have a very high relation to emotional triggers. For example hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) is nearly 100% linked to an emotional trigger. Whereas moles and basal cell carcinomas have no relation to emotional triggers. Other conditions can have a partial relation such as psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.

According to a recent article in Dermatology World, “Stress impairs the barrier function of skin, increases inflammation, and induces or worsens the course of various skin disorders.” Your skin can also affect your mind, so the skin-mind connection can go both ways.

Stress can increase the release of cortisol, adrenaline, and free radicals. This leads to inflammation including the release of substances like histamine which in turn causes itchiness. Urticaria (hives) can be linked to emotional triggers such as stress. Cortisol can also lead to the decrease of beneficial oils and the overproduction of other oils. This can cause both a breakdown of the skin barrier and an increase in acne.

Not everyone responds the same to stress. Some people respond more than others. How you deal with stress is an important factor in how it affects your body.

Ways to address stress and help prevent “stress skin”:
Deep breathing
Stay hydrated
Healthy diet
Good social support
Good sleep habits
Positive thinking
Keep things in perspective

DeFino, J. “This Is Your Skin on Stress.” New York Times. 8 Dec 2020.
Evans, A. “The Skin and Stress Connection.” Dermatology World. Dec 2020. 16-21.

Stephanie Sutton, MD, is a contributing author to the Sutton Dermatology Blog. Stephanie Sutton is a psychiatrist and she focuses on wellness.


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