Skin health, stress and depression: what is the connection?

For many, it may come as a surprise that there is a connection between the health of one’s own skin and the psyche, the brain. Some people suffer from redness and skin rashes when they are stressed, while others get red spots if they are worried. But in recent years, studies have shown that the mental and emotional state of a person can have a profound effect on the largest organ in the body. Stress, depression, anxiety and other psychological conditions can contribute to the development of many skin diseases such as acne, rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, alopecia and vitiligo. 

The work of the skin, communication with the brain

The skin, as the largest organ on the body, and the central nervous system are closely intertwined, and actively influence each other. Therefore, it is not surprising that almost all skin diseases can be affected by changes in the nervous system. Especially pronounced marks on the skin can leave stress. Human skin, when the host is under stress, produces more sebum. These are fatty, thick secretions that can contribute to clogging of pores and exacerbation of acne. Stress can also provoke or exacerbate systemic inflammation in the body, which can aggravate the course of eczema (a chronic inflammatory skin disease). In addition, stress is known to provoke vesicular eruptions caused by the herpes simplex virus on the lips and skin around them. 

A study published in 2008 in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venerology & Leprology found that more than a quarter of the 50 patients with psoriasis – a chronic skin disease that causes thick scaly spots – experienced stressful life events such as unemployment, serious personal problems or death of loved ones. A 2012 study by dermatologists found that 45% of the 100 patients with psoriasis experience constant anxiety and anxiety.

Stress Problem in Dermatology

Many psychological conditions that affect the skin are provoked due to increased levels of stress and anxiety. Experts explain that when the body is not prone to anxiety and stress, hormone levels remain relatively balanced. But when the body is faced with psychological or physical stressful reactions, the “run or fight” program is activated in the body. The sympathetic nervous system then sends signals to the adrenal glands to increase the production of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which are the main stress hormones.

Under normal conditions, the parasympathetic nervous system helps restore body balance after the danger has passed. But when the body is faced with ongoing stress or anxiety, the body literally “drowns” in these stress hormones. As a result, the skin suffers from chemical reactions of the body to psychological stressors. Skin – the barrier of the human body from the destructive effects of the outside world – in such situations is almost unable to act like a shield.

The role of the skin in the health of the whole body

Skin serves as the main system of body protection, while maintaining the health and constancy of the internal environment. It provides the first level of protection against infection, not only as a physical barrier, but also as a place of work for white blood cells that begin to attack invading bacteria and viruses. A 2007 study at the University of California – San Francisco showed that mice exposed to psychological stress show a decrease in the expression of antimicrobial peptides in the skin, which makes them more susceptible to skin infections than mice that live under normal conditions. Thus, stress destructively affects the health of the skin and the body as a whole.  

Given that the skin is the most prominent organ, the emotional impact on skin diseases can be huge and devastating. And if the skin ceases to be a reliable shield from external influences, the health of the whole organism as a whole also gradually suffers.

The development of depression and treatment of skin pathologies

Social isolation and a sense of insecurity, the formation of depression only fuel the pathophysiology of skin lesions, often making them even harder. The problem becomes a vicious, perpetual cycle between the skin condition and the nervous system, both exerting a causal effect on each other. That is, depression exacerbates skin problems, and increased skin symptoms, in turn, aggravates the symptoms of depression.

It is important to consult a dermatologist at an early stage in order to begin treatment, alleviate the condition and learn to control chronic recurrent skin diseases. In parallel with this, a psychotherapist is needed, the task of which will be depression, which in latent form is often present in most patients.

Doctors often explain to patients that the condition of the skin is their main problem, which causes them stress and manifestations of depression. A visit to a psychologist or psychotherapist can help deal with stress so as not to aggravate the condition. Such visits can be an additional part of treatment, along with the use of drugs and skin care.

Treatment Plan: Redness, Rash, and Itching

To effectively eliminate any skin problems – rashes, redness, itching, or getting wet, an integrated approach is needed. These are dietary changes, the use of fewer light carbohydrates, an increase in the amount of pure water, complete protein, in combination with rational physical activity. In addition, to eliminate redness and skin irritation, drugs are used both externally and internally.

But the most important thing that patients can do is to change the prevailing focus of their thoughts, to get rid of the influence of stress. It is known that stress hormones suppress the immune system and activate inflammatory reactions, so redness and irritation of the skin can intensify. Often in the treatment of skin diseases include sedatives, and sometimes antidepressants, which work very well, giving pronounced improvements. And this also proves the role of stress in skin problems.

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