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How Stress Affects Your Skin

Everyone has stress—there’s no way around it. From driving in traffic to managing your work-life balance to current events and politics, we all experience stress every day. The Cleveland Clinic defines stress as “the body's reaction to ANY change that requires an adjustment or response.“ Your response to a stressor can vary: a moody disposition, exhaustion, sleep disturbances, and a slew of symptoms for the largest organ in the body, your skin! Stress can cause perioral dermatitis, stress can cause acne, and stress can even cause dry skin! Let's learn a little more about the undeniable link between stress and reactive skin.


When the body is under stress, neurons in the hypothalamus produce corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). From the hypothalamus, the fight-or-flight headquarters of the brain, CRH travels through the bloodstream to the pituitary gland, stimulating the production of cortisol. Neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez explains that “cortisol is a stress hormone with many functions. It is critical for the regulation of our metabolism, and the body's use of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as regulation of blood pressure and cardiovascular function." So, cortisol isn’t all bad. We need it for lots of normal bodily processes. Following a stressful event, however, cortisol can spike and linger longer than we would like. Hafeez continues, saying that cortisol reacts “different(ly) from adrenaline in that it remains elevated over a longer period of time after said event, while adrenaline, which you can feel, returns to normal levels.” This lingering cortisol triggers the immune system to prepare for the worst, releasing chemicals that initiate a fight-or-flight status in our protective barrier—our skin. This epic effort to protect your body from harm can produce an array of inflammatory skin symptoms, and with an average 22 square feet of skin per person, that can mean big trouble.  


You can thank cortisol for that pesky pimple that pops up right before your first blind date. Dermatologist Patricia Wexler, MD, notes that the increased production of cortisol can lead “to an increase of oil production in the hair follicles, which are attached to sebaceous glands where oil is produced - this is what causes acne.” Stress and cortisol are also known to unsettle the body’s microbiome, the vast ecosystem of bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract. New York City dermatologist Sumayah Jamal, MD, suggests that this disturbed microbiome “can have far-ranging effects [and when the] internal system is thrown off, acne-related bacteria may be more likely to flourish and worsen the effects you see in the mirror. 


You get a zit, then you take matters into your own hands, try to pop the zit, and you’re left only with a crater of regret and skin that won’t heal. Sound familiar? Josie Howard, MD, a psychiatrist with a specialty in the mind-skin connection, explains that stress “delays the skin's healing process by impairing the barrier function, or protective outer layer.”  A 2001 study involving medical students “examined how periods of higher stress (in this case, final examinations) impacted the skin’s response to repeated stripping of cellophane tape on the subjects’ forearms vs. periods of lower stress (such as returning from winter vacation). Researchers found that it took longer for the skin to recover from the minimally invasive tape stripping during periods of perceived higher stress than during less stressful periods.” The moral of this story? You shouldn’t be picking at your skin anytime, but when you’re stressed, you're more prone to dry skin and slower healing.


Richard Fried, M.D. Ph.D., a dermatologist and clinical psychologist, considers stress “a general trigger that can make the skin misbehave in whatever way it’s prone to misbehaving.” Think of your skin like a tired toddler on the brink of a tantrum: add stress to the situation and your skin will undoubtedly kick and scream all the way home. If you’re inclined to break out in rough, scaly eczema patches or irritating perioral dermatitis around the nose and mouth, stress may be what triggers your symptoms, even if they’re under control most of the time. So, if you're wondering if stress can cause perioral dermatitis, eczema, and acne, the answer is absolutely yes.

As irritating as these outbreaks can be, Osmia can help you find some relief. Read more about what we recommend for eczema and perioral dermatitis.


Cortisol slows the production of hyaluronic acid and diminishes your body's ability to retain water, so your skin can become dull and dehydrated when under constant stress,” says Sanam Hafeez. Besides appearing lackluster, this can cause more side effects on a cellular level. Chronic stress can speed up our natural aging process and contribute to a breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin. Need more hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine? Osmia can help!


We can’t stop you from stressing, but we have some suggestions about how to reduce your stress load, and how to support your body when stress is unavoidable. 


  • Your body listens to everything your mind says. Meditation can help.
  • Treat your body to real foods. Need some suggestions? We have a few.
  • Caffeine can make stress and anxiety worse. Turn down the coffee and sip on herbal tea instead. Or switch to half-caff!
  • Listen to uplifting mood music.
  • Soak and send your worries down the drain.
  • Ground yourself with aromatherapy. Try our Water Body Oil, Night Body Oil, or Lavender Body Mousse to send a calming message to your brain!


  • Read more about managing acne naturally here if your skin is misbehaving.
  • Try skipping the wine and treating yourself to this golden latte before bed. Wine may be an easy escape, but this warming elixir feels a lot more like tender self care.
  • Step away from the magnifying mirror and have faith that your skin will settle down when your stress settles down, and staring at your breakouts won’t speed the process.
  • If you feel you need to help your skin through its stressful time, you can try our beloved Detox Exfoliating Mask, but be gentle with your tender skin!
  • Spend time with friends, family, pets, and trees. (Another reason we love planting a tree for every order!)
  • Shift your mood with uplifting scents: drop essential oils of orange and grapefruit on the floor of your shower and inhale, or try a little Posso.
  • Whatever you do, and wherever you go, make sure you have a little blemish genie in your pocket, just in case your skin decides to have a stressful moment! Spotless Blemish Oil is such a little miracle worker!

Take care out there, folks. Stress is all around us, but with some simple steps and self-care, you can keep your cortisol steady and your skin happy!

With love and lots less stress from us to you,






The information contained in this post is for educational interest only. This information is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any physical or mental illness, disease, or skin conditions.