When stress hurts your skin...

Manifestations of stress on the skin can lead to flare-ups, hives and eczema. Here’s how to break-out and reverse it, writes Dr Shireen Furtado
Last Updated 19 December 2020, 19:30 IST

You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside, is a famous quote by author Wayne Dyer. Stress and anxiety have become the plague of modern-day life and this has got escalated during these uncertain and tumultuous times of Covid-19 pandemic.

The skin is the mirror which reflects our body’s health but with nearly every aspect of our lives having been affected, the well-being of people has taken a severe beating and stress has become both a cause and a consequence.

A common perception with stress is that it affects only the mental health of an individual but there is a greater manifestation of stress in physical ways. One such major area that gets affected is the skin.

When a person is stressed the level of the body’s stress hormone (cortisol) rises initially to combat this acute stress while other inflammatory mediators and histamine also increase. Gradually the cortisol levels dip but inflammatory mediators remain high and thus we see the manifestations of stress on the skin.

Here are a few skin conditions typically aggravated by stress:

Hives (urticaria)

It is a fairly common skin condition primarily triggered by allergy-inducing foods, medication, and stress. The most common symptoms of hives include itchiness and red or skin-coloured wheals that appear on the skin’s surface. These skin lesions are typically evanescent and do not last more than 24 hours. Urticaria also tends to get chronic with flare-ups.

Dehydration & dullness

While working from home during the pandemic, many individuals are finding it difficult to maintain a balance between work and life. Long working hours and erratic sleep cycles have left many stressed and poorly groomed.

People have started cutting corners in their sleep, hydration, and meals and have stopped prioritising them. Such individuals are currently facing issues such as dehydration and dull skin.

It has been found in numerous researches that hydration, sleep and a healthy diet play a big part in skin health due to the natural release of anti-inflammatory mediators. Drinking more water and eating whole foods can certainly improve skin health.

Adopting a balanced diet can help one overcome skin ageing further thus changing the way the skin looks and feels.

For healthy skin, one must aim to drink at least eight-ten glasses of water in a day, load your plate with antioxidants, carotene-rich veggies, and proactively seek time to sleep for eight hours each night to avoid dehydration and dullness of skin.


Rosacea is a chronic skin condition on the face, mistaken by many for acne vulgaris/ pimples. This can be easily triggered by environmental factors and emotional stress. This condition is worsened by inflammation, and we know all too well that stress can lead to inflammation.

This condition can be avoided by sun protection, avoiding caffeinated drinks and spicy meals.


Eczema is a blanket term given for a skin disease which involves inflammation, with or without oozing pus. The first step to overcome eczema is to start moisturising the skin and thus improving the skin’s barrier function. Simply adding oatmeal to the bathing water and having quick and short lukewarm baths can help reduce dryness. Cold-pressed coconut oil applied generously all over the body after bath further enhances the skin’s ability to lock in moisture and ward off allergens. Scratching an itch triggers a cascade of events that further exacerbates the condition. A quick visit to your dermatologist should keep you symptom-free and help soothe the skin.

Psoriasis & seborrheic dermatitis

Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune skin disorder that often leads to the formation of thick, red patches on the skin and appears to be covered in white silvery scales. Due to stress, this condition
can become a whole lot worse. Just like the other skin conditions, there are a few treatments one can follow to relieve their symptoms.

Though this pandemic has seen aggravation of many skin conditions, don’t let it stress you out further. Healthy habits and clean eating go a long way in keeping stress under control and thus improving your skin.

(The author is a dermatologist.)

(Published 19 December 2020, 19:18 IST)

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