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Skin Science

5 Surprising skin conditions caused by stress

Woman suffering from skin conditions caused by stress itching her back.
Christina Heiser
Christina Heiser May, 16, 2019

Skincare-obsessed, fitness enthusiast, cat lover 

You've got a major deadline looming at work, your lease is up next month and your bridezilla BFF won't stop hounding you about all the things you have to take care of for her wedding. It's safe to say you're stressed to the max.

Amid all this craziness, it wouldn't be surprising if you also discovered you had red, itchy bumps all over your chest. That's because there are quite a few skin conditions caused by stress! Stress releases hormones like cortisol that can mess with your skin health. It also prompts an immune response that can lead to sensitivity.

But don't worry — relief is on the way! Here are five skin conditions caused by stress, and helpful advice for easing your irritation.

1. Hives

Some days are more stressful than others. One that ends with you being covered in swollen pink welts that itch like crazy? Well, that'd certainly make the top of the list! The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains that while the most common cause of hives is an allergic reaction to foods, medications, insect bites or pollen, everything from stress to exercise can also trigger them.

Luckily, hives typically go away within 24 hours. The AAD notes that oral antihistamines and topical steroid creams are two of the most popular and effective treatments.

2. Dehydration and Dullness

When you're stressed beyond belief, you probably start cutting corners wherever you can — and sleep, hydration, and eating healthy meals are likely the first things you stop prioritizing. You're definitely not the only one who does this, but it can lead to dehydrated, dull skin (a.k.a. skin that's lost its glow and has become dry and cracked).

Research shows that hydration, sleep and a healthy diet play a big part in skin health. For example, one study found that drinking more water improves skin health, while another linked sleep deprivation to increased skin aging. A third report found that diet plays a big role in how your skin looks and feels. The evidence is staggering!

Thankfully, once you've worked through your stress, getting back on track is relatively simple. Aim to drink at least eight glasses of water a day, load your plate with veggies, and slip under your sheets for eight hours of sleep each night.

3. Rosacea

Does a red flush tend to creep across your face after a few glasses of wine? Or when you've spent a little too much time in the heat? It may be rosacea, a chronic skin condition that can be triggered by environmental factors and emotional stress. Experts theorize that rosacea is worsened by inflammation, and we know all too well that stress can lead to inflammation.

If this sounds like you, try wearing mineral sunscreen and avoiding products that could cause any further irritation — the phrase "formulated for sensitive skin" is your new best friend! Your derm might also prescribe you topical creams, oral meds or in-office treatments.

4. Eczema

Eczema is super common in babies, but even some grown-ups don't outgrow it. In fact, about 10 percent of American adults suffer from the skin condition! If you have eczema, you likely have an overreactive immune system that can be triggered by anything from irritating ingredients to — you guessed it — stress. Eczema is a sign of an unhealthy skin microbiome and can weaken the skin barrier (the protective outer layer that keeps irritants out), which can open the door for irritation and dryness.

Your first step is to get your moisturizing routine in order, ASAP. Your skin barrier will need some extra love and attention (aka lots and lots of moisture) to heal. You can also try a DIY eczema treatment: Simply add oatmeal or baking soda to your bath for an oh-so-soothing feeling. If at-home remedies don't work, head to your doctor. Prescription topicals or oral medications may be effective. Just remember: Don't scratch! That'll make your eczema even worse.

5. Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a chronic condition that causes skin to form thick, red patches that appear to be covered in white scales — and stress can make it a whole lot worse. A British study found that people who worried about their psoriasis experienced worse symptoms four weeks later, and those who had more daily stress experienced significantly worse psoriasis outbreaks.

Just like the other skin conditions on this list, there are a few things you can do to relieve your symptoms! Treatments for psoriasis include steroid creams, rich moisturizers, coal tar (for the scalp) and retinoid creams. The bottom line — stress may exacerbate your skin condition, but you don't have to let your skin condition stress you out even more.

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