Prolonged stress has a negative impact on your skin

Relationship between brain and skin becoming clearer.

Vague physical complaints or skin rashes? Must be from stress! This is a commonly heard statement. The phenomenon of “skin problems and stress” has been observed since ancient times, but in recent decades more attention has been paid to it.

The recent finding is that there is a relationship between brain and skin

Unlike acute stress, chronic stress suppresses the immune system, resulting in increased susceptibility to infections and allergies. It can also aggravate some forms of dermatitis, such as eczema and psoriasis.

When people are under emotional, physical and mental pressure, psychological stress arises. There is an imbalance between the perceived pressure and the ability to adapt. This is sensed by the brain, causing the release of stress hormones, such as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), glucocorticoids, and adrenaline. This causes behavioral changes and physiological responses to restore balance. Recent studies have shown that the skin is directly involved in stress.

There are 3 different stress mechanisms

In the brain, also called the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Cortex (HAB) axis

The hypothalamus is part of the brain and influences our flight and fight behavior (‘flight or fight’), but also matters such as reproduction, blood pressure, hunger and thirst, sleep-wake rhythm, body temperature. This gland works closely with the pituitary gland, also located in the brain. In addition, the hypothalamus also interacts with the adrenal glands, gonads, and thyroid gland.

Stress causes cells in the hypothalamus to secrete corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). It then travels to the pituitary gland where it binds to the CRH receptor. Several hormones are secreted after binding to the CRH receptor, including adrenocorticotropin (ACTH).

This hormone travels through the bloodstream to the adrenal cortex and stimulates cortisol and corticosterone. Normally there is a fluctuation in cortisol concentration day and night. The concentration is highest in the morning and lowest at night. Stress gives an increased cortisol blood level and mainly has an immune suppressing and weakening effect.

Skin located HHB axis

There is also an HHB system in the skin, in which CRH and ACTH play a role. Mast cells react under the influence of CRH, they play an important part in our skin defense system. There is more skin blood flow and inflammatory substances.

Symphatic Adrenal Medullary (SAM)-axis

This axis is located in the adrenal medulla. Stress causes adrenaline and noradrenaline to be produced in the inner adrenal medullary layer. The physical reactions that follow are dilation of the pupil, increased heart rate, breathing and blood vessel constriction.

Skin diseases and stress

Various skin diseases or skin conditions can be triggered or aggravated by stress. The most famous example is, of course, blushing. Redness due to acute stressful or uncomfortable situations. Skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema and acne can be exacerbated or triggered by chronic stress. Chronic stress can also make skin age faster, plus disrupt your skin barrier, making your skin look drier and duller.


Psoriasis is a chronic skin scaly condition and occurs in 2 to 4% of the Dutch population. In addition to skin problems, joint complaints, diabetes mellitus, overweight, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and Crohn’s disease can also develop..

Psoriasis can be exacerbated by stress or by the skin condition itself, which is also stressful. You could call that a vicious circle. The central HHB axis in particular plays a role in this. The pro-inflammatory substances (pro-inflammatory cytokines) are present in higher quantities in psoriasis patients and they activate the HHB axis.

In psoriasis, the other two axes (cutaneous HHB axis and SAM axis) may also be involved, but the mechanisms of this are unclear.


The fact that stress due to school exams, for example, can aggravate acne has been observed in various observations and researched in studies.

The cutaneous (HHB) axis plays an important role in acne. CRH stimulates lipogenesis (the process by which carbohydrates are converted into fat) in the sebaceous gland cells, stimulating sebum production and increasing pro-inflammatory substances. This can make acne worse.

Read more about: acne and nutrition

Atopic eczema

Stress has a negative impact on the skin’s barrier function. Our barrier protects us against external influences and skin dehydration.

Patients with eczema already have a disrupted skin barrier. Due to the combination with stress, this barrier dysfunction leads to increased water loss through the skin, increased stimuli for allergens and micro-organisms and a lowered itch threshold.

The solution is not always simple

It is obvious to recognize chronic stress and do something about it. However, it is easier said than done because the situations are often complicated. If you notice that your skin is becoming irritated, dull, and more dry. Do not use skin products that overstimulate the skin, such as acids and aggressive cleansers.

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu

Dr. Francis Wu, een vooraanstaande dermatoloog, is de drijvende kracht achter Iconic Elements. Hij heeft sinds 2004 zijn expertise ingezet om een veilige en effectieve huidverzorgingslijn te creëren, geschikt voor zowel gezonde huid als huidproblemen. Iconic Elements, opgericht in 2016, is de eerste brede skincare lijn in Nederland ontwikkeld door een dermatoloog. Als medisch specialist streeft Dr. Wu naar het bevorderen van het welzijn van mensen door hoogwaardige en effectieve huidverzorgingsproducten te bieden. De proefdiervrije en vegan producten vermijden schadelijke chemicaliën en bevatten natuurlijke ingrediënten.
Iconopedia nieuwsbrief


Schrijf je in op onze nieuwsbrief voor meer informatie over huidverzorging en exclusieve voordelen.