Not a Myth: Your Thoughts and Feelings Are Changing Your Skin

Dermatologists assure that stress, anger, and anxiety can age your face far more rapidly than the passage of time.

Blushing when you're embarrassed, breaking out in goosebumps when you hear something chilling—they're common examples that prove we just can't separate how we feel from how our skin looks.

There's no shortage of ways that emotions manifest themselves in physical symptoms: think butterflies in your stomach when you're nervous or a pounding heart when you're scared. It turns out this effect is particularly strong when it comes to your skin.

Psychiatrists say this relationship begins as early as in the womb. The skin and nervous system share a common embryonic origin, meaning the same cells form both the brain and the skin. This creates an inextricable connection, which shows up in a multitude of ways you may not even notice.

Close links with the nervous system make your skin highly sensitive to emotions. It can be more in touch with your innermost needs, wishes, and fears than your conscious mind. In other words, you may not be aware that tomorrow’s conference is causing deep down anxiety, but your skin is expressing that tension in hives or in an outbreak of acne.

Stress, fear, anxiety, and anger are key emotions that affect our skin negatively, albeit in different ways. We can try to suppress these feelings, but they won’t be destroyed. Sooner or later, they will come to the surface, and unlike other internal organs, our skin will show it.

The mechanism behind skin conditions

While your skin can’t articulate how it feels, it will show you in the only way it knows how: from radiating a healthy happy glow to revealing an angry eczema flare up and anything in between.

Research has correlated a troubling mind with troubled skin. According to psychologists, as many as 60 % of people who seek a doctor’s help for skin problems have significant life stress.

Some skin problems have a physiological basis that are exacerbated by stress and emotions. These include, but aren’t limited to, acne, rosacea, hives, profuse sweating, eczema, dermatitis, and other itching skin conditions.

Before now it has been a theory, but recent studies are showing that stress from emotions stagnates intestinal transit time, which results in an overgrowth of bacteria called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

SIBO can lead to both systemic and local inflammation, which, in turn, contributes to skin disease.

In short, the key to understanding how emotions affect the skin is understanding that your body is multiple systems working together in harmony.

Learning to recognize your emotions and how to manage their effects on your skin can help alleviate some of the anxiety and symptoms. Continue reading to find out how your feelings leave their mark on your skin.


Embarrassment can move from your brain to your skin, when neuropeptide receptors in skin receive messages, causing you to blush, dermatologists say.

The sensitivity of the sympathetic nervous system determines why how often and easily one blushes, as well as how hot your skin feels.

Blushing easily and frequently can be a precursor to the chronic swollen blood vessel condition known as rosacea. However, blushing should not be confused with flushing, which shades a more intense red, spreads over the body and not just the face, and is usually caused by an external factor like temperature or spicy food.


When you feel threatened or in danger — whether the cause is real or imagined — the brain's first reaction is to signal the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, better known as adrenaline. As a result, heart rate speed increases, rushing blood to the body's big power muscles, in case you need the burst of energy to run fast.

Adrenaline also commandeers some of that blood from the skin and face, and constricts blood vessels in the skin to control and limit bleeding if wounded. The fear chemicals can cause you to look pale and dull, as if you'd just seen a ghost.


Road rage or arguing with your mother can set the stage for more wrinkles. Anger makes your facial muscles tense, which, over time, gives you lines. So, anger increases the wrinkles on your face. It also decelerates the skin’s healing and produces dark spots.

On the other hand, hiding your anger is not healthy for your skin, either.

Unfortunately, we are often taught to deny anger, because if we feel it or we express it then we “aren’t nice”. But unprocessed, unexpressed anger is the most common psychological mechanism behind troubled skin. If you suppress your anger instead of letting it “flow”, this may disturb your body’s balance and leaving you with acne, eczema, and rashes in some people.


Out of all the emotions, stress is the youth's biggest enemy.

Dermatologists assure that stress can age your face far more rapidly than the passage of time. That's because it's the biggest stimulator of that pesky hormone cortisol, which flows freely through your system in times of stress.

Cortisol taxes every organ, blood vessels become more fragile, new skin cells don't form as quickly, and cell turnover may eventually slow by half — this is the mechanism of skin aging, in a nutshell.

When you're stressed, you may eat different foods than you usually do, and drink less water and more alcohol, which will show in the dehydration. You may also pay less attention to your skincare routine.

While dehydration can make wrinkles and fine lines look more pronounced, the combination of a poor diet and spotty skincare can spell breakout trouble for the acne-prone. In more severe cases, stress can cause eczema or psoriasis flare-up.

Prolonged anxiety

While a certain level of anxiety is normal, prolonged anxiety leads to high levels of adrenaline and cortisol in our bodies. Your sweat glands start overworking, affecting your skin condition.

What’s more, you tend to frown more when you’re anxious, increasing wrinkling from repetitively frowning and furrowing brows.

Long-term anxiety, leading to depression, has disastrous effects on skin, because the chemicals associated with the condition can prevent your body from repairing inflammation in cells.

These hormones affect sleep, which will show on your face in the form of baggy, puffy eyes and a dull or lifeless complexion.

One of the most important things to remember when you’re feeling stressed, sad, anxious, etc., is to let yourself feel this way. By trying to ignore our emotions, we can actually stress ourselves out more.

Instead, try to put a system into place that helps you deal with these feelings, and get yourself back to feeling better. What’s important is to be kind to yourself when you’re feeling these things, so you, and your skin, can cope with it.

To fix most of the skin problems, you also have to look inward. It’s all about activating the ability to liberate your mind: helping your mind help you.

Studies have found that mindfulness-based techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, hypnosis, and more can help bring your stress levels down.

These activities can also help you weather those stressful times more effectively, with fewer complications showing up on your skin. And with that, it’s goodbye to stress, and hello to healthy skin!

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