How Stress Affects the Hair and Skin

Stress is a natural and common response to life events and challenges. It’s our brain’s way of keeping us alert, focused, and out of danger.1 Think back to a time when you may have missed a step while walking upstairs, or had to speak in front of a large crowd of onlookers. For a moment you might have felt your heart beating wildly fast! When we experience stress, our body releases cortisol and adrenaline hormones.1,2 These hormones prepare our body for fight-or-flight responses and cause some symptoms that are typically associated with feelings of stress. In small doses, stress may be a productive and motivating force, but if prolonged it can take a serious toll on our mental and physical well-being. 
For example, acute stressors may include situations such as misplacing your car keys, an impending work deadline, running late for an appointment, or an argument with a loved one.1,2 While these types of stressors are annoying and inconvenient, they are short-term. The stress that results is usually resolved relatively quickly.1
However, there is another type of stress that can take a more serious toll on your mental and physical well-being.  Chronic, or long-lasting, stressors may include unhealthy relationships at work or home, periods of grief after losing a loved one, significant changes in life such as a big move, newborn baby, a major career change, or even illness.1,2 Because these kinds of stressors extend over longer periods of time, some people may require more time to adjust and change.1
Stress is inevitable, though at times it may manifest itself in pesky ways. Typically, the more stressful the situation, the larger toll it exacts on your body – especially on the health of your hair and skin. Let’s take a look at the impact that these stress hormones may have on your body and how to help manage them. 

Stress and Skin

The skin is the body’s largest organ and is responsible for protecting us from infection and injury.3 As we’ve heard before, the mind-body connection is strong. We notice that connection in the skin, as the skin often reflects what is happening on the inside of our bodies. For example, stress may exacerbate skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, dermatitis, and aging.4
As acne is a common skin condition that affects about 85% of people at some point in their lives, we’ll use this as an example.5 When the brain experiences stress, it kicks into overdrive releasing cortisol – the fight-or-flight hormone - and androgens inside the body.5,7 These hormones can cause inflammation within the body as well as stimulate overproduction of oil glands in the skin.7 This makes our pores more likely to become irritated and clogged, which may result in new acne flare ups.5,6  
Stress-related acne is likely to appear in the same areas you would normally notice breakouts on your skin.6 You may notice an increased number of blemishes leading up to a stressful situation that quickly heal after the situation passes, or stress-related breakouts may appear weeks or months after you’ve experienced high levels of stress.7 Stress is also known to interfere with the body’s ability to heal and fight infection, which can slow down clearing of acne and cause other skin conditions to flare up.3,7 
Stress may also lower the body’s immune responses, slow down healing time of wounds, and increase inflammation in the body – all of which can take a serious toll on the epidermal barrier.9 The epidermal barrier is the top layer of the skin, responsible for locking in moisture and protecting the skin from damage. It’s essential for healthy skin functioning, and when disrupted becomes more susceptible to irritation.8 Skin conditions such as rosacea, psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis may be triggered by symptoms associated with stress.6,8 
Another undesirable effect that stress commonly has on our skin is increasing the appearance of aging. Collagen proteins are the main building block for the skin, muscles, bones, and other bodily tissues. Elastin is a vital protein that is responsible for stretch and elasticity of the skin.11 Both collagen and elastin proteins are major components of the skin’s dermal layer, the middle most layer that makes up the majority of the skin’s structure. 
When the body releases cortisol and adrenaline in response to stress, collagen and elastin proteins may break down over time and hinder the body’s collagen production.3,10 Inflammation associated with stress can also negatively impact the flexibility of collagen proteins. As symptoms of stress begin to affect our skin’s natural production cycle, the dermal layer of our skin becomes less resistant to showing sagging, fine lines, wrinkles and other signs of aging.

Stress and Hair

Not only does stress play a role in the health of your skin, but it can also have a major impact on your scalp and hair. Hormonal changes associated with stress may cause scalp inflammation and even lead to hair loss.8
Shedding is a natural part of the hair growth cycle; it is normal to shed anywhere around 50-100 strands of hairs per day.12 More than this, and you may be experiencing telogen effluvium – or excessive hair shedding. 
Telogen Effluvium is the most common type of excessive hair loss. It occurs when high levels of cortisol cause existing growing hairs to prematurely enter the resting phase (telogen) until it sheds.8,12 This is usually caused by major life events and stressors, and shedding may not be noticed until months after the event occurs. Excessive hair shedding usually resolves on its own as the stressor passes, but the effects can be extremely disheartening. 

Managing Symptoms of Stress

If you find yourself dealing with unnerving levels of stress, or experiencing the pesky symptoms that may come along with it, you may want to try some of these tips to remedy. 
First, try to eliminate stressors wherever possible. We know, it’s much easier said than done, but incorporating some relaxing and stress-relieving practices that blend into your lifestyle may equip your body to better respond to stressful life events. 
This will look different for everyone. Some people like practicing mindfulness through breath work, meditation, or connecting with nature. You may feel better after releasing endorphins during an exercise class, or simply taking a walk in the park. Maybe you’d benefit from reading a few pages of a good book, or trying a new recipe. Whatever the outlet may be, try to find a little something to look forward to throughout your busy days. 

Personally, we enjoy peaceful evening strolls along the Charleston, SC Battery to help put our minds at ease. 
Getting a good night of sleep and drinking plenty of water throughout your day is also a good way to ensure your body is healthy and strong while combatting life’s stressors. 
Some bouts of stress may be inevitable, and you may still experience some of the not-so-desirable effects that come with it. Creating a stress-free clean beauty routine, with clean products you can use in good conscience, may be an easy way to give yourself a little TLC and reduce stress symptoms. 
When experiencing stress-related breakouts, it’s important to make sure your skin is thoroughly cleansed both day and night to encourage the skin’s healing process. The Great Cleanse – Nourishing Supercritical Cleansing Oil dissolves impurities from deep within the pores and effortlessly removes stubborn makeup. 
Vitamin C is known to increase collagen production, even the skin tone, and protect the skin from UV exposure. The Super Lift Concentrated Vitamin C - More Serum deploys three types of shelf-stable Vitamin C to brighten the skin tone and smooth the appearance of fine lines. Plus, it doubles as a primer, eliminating an extra step in your routine! 
To combat signs of stress and aging, we expressly created The Advanced Response Complex – Rapid Regenerating Firming Face & Neck Moisture Cream. As skin ages, collagen proteins may start to break down as production naturally slows, leading to visible signs of aging. The Advanced Response Complex encourages the skin's own response mechanisms to help regenerate collagen production in the skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles on the skin's surface.
You may also opt to try The Straight A – Advanced Gentle Retinol Serum to target signs of aging, uneven texture, and blemishes. Additionally, this serum was designed to help promote plumper, smoother, and more radiant looking skin. Using the gold standard in combatting signs of aging, this formula utilizes encapsulated retinol that delivers the same results of Vitamin A without the associated irritation. The Straight A Retinol Serum assists cellular turnover that may need an extra boost during times of stress. You can also mix a pump of the Straight A Retinol Serum with a pump of the Advanced Response Complex for an augmented approach in combatting the appearance of aging. 
The Refresh Mint – Exfoliating Moisture Mask deploys a combination of acids, enzymes, and hydrators to improve the skin’s texture appearance, minimize the appearance of pores, and brighten and even your complexion while hydrating the skin. It can even be used as a spot treatment on pesky blemishes, and it smells like a spa in a jar! 
To combat hair loss associated with stress, try the Power Fol Advanced Multi – Correctional Scalp & Hair Treatment to address thinning of the hair, encourage the appearance of dense hair growth, and promote overall scalp and hair wellness. The Power Fol is a lightweight, leave-in treatment that can be applied quickly and effortlessly. 
While you’re focusing on hair health, check out The Mane Agent | Advanced Molecular Bond Repair to encourage the appearance of stronger, healthier, and more volumized hair. The Mane Agent is an innovative hair repair treatment that actually repairs broken hair bonds in an easy-to-use and no-rinse formulation. 
We know that stress is inevitable at times, and keeping your overall health at the top of your mind during stressful periods can be really tough. Our hope is that by explaining some of the effects stress can have on our physical appearance and offering some guidance on how to effortlessly incorporate clean beauty products into your routine, we can help you find a clean beauty routine that you can look forward to, feel excited about, and will help you feel and look your best! Now excuse us, we need to go de-compress after writing this blog post with a glass of wine and our daily beauty routine!
1. Acute vs. Chronic Stress. (n.d.). UCF Health.
2. Office on Women’s Health. (2019, January 31). Stress and mental health |; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. (2022, July 21). Feeling stressed? It can show in your skin, hair, and nails. AAD; American Academy of Dermatology Association.
4. Jović, A., Marinović, B., Kostović, K., Čeović, R., Basta-Juzbašić, A., & Mokos, Z. (2017). The Impact of Pyschological Stress on Acne (pp. 133–141). Acta Dermatovenerol Croatica.
5. Chiu, A., Chon, S. Y., & Kimball, A. B. (2003). The response of skin disease to stress: changes in the severity of acne vulgaris as affected by examination stress. Archives of Dermatology, 139(7), 897–900.
6. Evans, A. (2020, December 9). Stress and the Skin: Mechanisms Underlying the Brain-Skin Connection.; American Academy of Dermatology.
7. Murphy, C., & Gallager, MD, C. (2022, November 26). What Is Stress Acne—And How Do You Get Rid of It? Health.
8. Nathan, MD, MSHS, N. (2021, April 14). Stress may be getting to your skin, but it’s not a one-way street. Harvard Health; Harvard Medical School.
9. Orion, E., & Wolf, R. (2012). Psychological stress and epidermal barrier function. Clinics in Dermatology, 30(3), 280–285.
10. Barczy, A. (2022, April 5). Stress and Aging: What Millennials Should Know. MI Blues Perspectives; Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
11. Baumann, L., Bernstein, E. F., Weiss, A. S., Bates, D., Humphrey, S., Silberberg, M., & Daniels, R. (2021). Clinical Relevance of Elastin in the Structure and Function of Skin. Aesthetic Surgery Journal Open Forum, 3(3).
12. Hughes, E. C., & Saleh, D. (2019, July 3). Telogen Effluvium.; StatPearls Publishing.