The Real Way Cortisol Affects Your Skin

Do you have dry skin, acne, or inflammation? According to esthetician Alana Mitchell, there's one pesky hormone that could be responsible: cortisol. The Society for Endocrinology explains that cortisol is a steroid hormone made in our adrenal glands which can spike when we're feeling stress. This stress hormone is essentially our body's alarm system that can affect mood, motivation, fear, and fuels our fight or flight system (via WebMD). 

Because of this, the effects of high cortisol levels can wreak havoc on our skin. It can also contribute to weight gain, thinning skin, bruising, muscle weakness, fatigue, high blood pressure, headaches, and much more (via Healthline). Naturally, our cortisol levels are the highest in the morning, but when we are emotionally, physically, or mentally stressed they drastically increase and the hormone may actually reveal itself in the face (via Well+Good). 

Stress can cause all kinds of skin problems

Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told HuffPost, "Stress is not our friend, neither for our mind nor for our skin." It can cause dryness, acne, inflammation, oily skin, and trigger existing skin conditions to worsen. Because the hormone can make the body think it's under attack, it releases inflammatory cells to fight back which result in flare-ups on the skin. We experience a spike in adrenaline during fight or flight which causes our body to sweat more and lead to dehydration of the skin. Cortisol is also the reason your skin produces more sebum which clogs pores and can lead to acne (via West Lake Dermatology). 

Dermatologist Dr. Ellen Marmur told Well+Good, "Your skin reads stress in the environment based on the temperature, or pollution, or the sun, or all kinds of things," in addition to your stressors at home or at work. The sensory nervous system on our skin is triggered and our complexion is affected as a result. The cyclical state of stress from the skin affecting the brain and the stress in the brain affecting the skin can make it difficult for the body to find a balance. A study confirmed that the skin is a target for stress and as the largest organ of the body, it works as a barrier between the external environment and the internal.

Small Biz Genius found in 2019 that 55 percent of Americans are stressed and 83 percent have work related stress. While your skin may getting beat up as a result, so is the rest of your body. Keep an eye out for signs that your stress levels are out of controlWebMD recommends that getting enough sleep, practicing breathing exercises, having enough physical activity, and keeping up with a regular skin care routine are all ways to combat the effects of high stress on the skin.