Stress Wreaks Havoc on Your Skin   By Leslie Baumann, M.D.  May 23, 2012


These days, it’s hard to avoid stress. Between work, family and our overall busy lives, we’re all being pulled in a million directions. But have you ever stopped to think about the effect that stress is having on your skin? If you’re experiencing dryness, dullness or breakouts, stress may be to blame.

The Stress Hormone

When we are stressed, a hormone called cortisol is released and wreaks havoc on our bodies. Research has found that it leads to a dangerous accumulation of fat around our organs, and too much cortisol has an effect on our skin as well. Caused by lack of sleep and other stress, here’s the lowdown on the connection between cortisol and our skin.

Lines and Wrinkles

As soon as cortisol is released by the body, sugar levels in the blood increase. We know that sugar spikes are especially bad for diabetics, but increased blood sugar also promotes a process called glycation in our skin. Glycation damages our skin’s collagen, causing it to become rigid, which increases lines and wrinkles.

Dry & Damaged Skin

In addition to causing glycation, cortisol also decreases our skin’s natural production of hyaluronic acid, which serves as a natural moisturizer for our skin. Even more, cortisol compromises the skin’s barrier, which allows even more hydration to seep out. And when skin is dehydrated, the enzymes in our skin that work to repair the damage done every day don’t work as well.  

Poor Complexion

As if the effects of stress-induced cortisol weren’t enough, another byproduct of stress, epinephrine (or adrenaline) also works against our complexions. The result of our natural “fight or flight” response, epinephrine certainly helps us our when we’re in a dire situation, but it does no favors for our skin. When epinephrine is present, blood flow to the skin is decreased, which robs it of vital nutrients, including oxygen. Less oxygen and sluggish circulation in general leads to a dull, sallow complexion, and good circulation is essential for a rosy glow.


When blood flow is decreased, toxins begin to build up in the skin as well. These toxins can contribute to a lackluster complexion, and many doctors and scientists believe toxins also play a role in cellulite development, which causes loose, dimpled skin.

Reduce Stress, Save Your Skin

Although stress is unavoidable, there are ways to manage it better. The good news is that the steps are pretty simple, and they provide other benefits to your overall health.


First and foremost, get some sleep! Adequate sleep will keep cortisol to a minimum and fight off lines, wrinkles, and dry skin. To help you catch more Zs, avoid eating late at night and try to establish a nightly routine that allows you to wind down before bedtime. And don’t take your cell phone to bed with you. (The light of the screen can disrupt your body’s sleep cycle.)

Physical Activity

Second to sleep, get some exercise. Not only does physical activity help you “blow off steam,” it also boosts circulation, which helps your complexion (rosy glow). Bonus effect: Exercise keeps you fit and wards off cellulite.


It sounds obvious, but people who lead stressful lives have to make a concerted effort to slow down and relax. Deep breathing, meditating, and other forms of “quiet time” will help.