Stress and hormones adversely affect the state of the skin and body, and are closely intertwined. Initially, when we experience stress, epinephrine and norepinephrine trigger the fight or flight response. This causes a surge in stress hormones (adrenaline, cortisol and testosterone), which increases the heart rate and activates the immune system. It also dampens non-essential biological functions to free up other systems to help us “flee” from danger.
These stress-induced hormonal imbalances, ensuing inflammation and oxidation, hasten aging and the formation of wrinkles and loss of elasticity. The also make skin prone to acne, rosacea and hyperpigmentation.
Adrenaline, Testosterone and the Skin
The increased adrenaline and testosterone cause oil production to surge, which clogs pores and leads to breakouts in those who are predisposed. This excess oil creates an environment that essentially feeds the p. acnes bacteria responsible for acne and the demodex folliculorum mite associated with rosacea.
Adrenaline (epinephrine) is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that regulates blood vessels. Some sources indicate this causes a depletion of the adrenals, which combined with the surge in testosterone, causes an imbalance that contributes to acne. Acne is primarily due to testosterone and cortisol; however, adrenaline and corticotropin releasing hormone also contribute.
Cortisol and the Skin
Cortisol also causes excess oil production and inflammation, root causes of acne. This adrenal steroid hormone normally buffers stress by signaling the immune system to protect and prevent the release of inflammatory substances. However, it’s unable to do so with chronic stress, which causes immune cells to be insensitive to cortisol’s effects and negatively affects the circulatory and nervous systems.
Cortisol raises blood sugar levels, causes glycation (when excess sugars bind with collagen and elastin), and impedes circulation. Over time, this steroid hormone breaks down proteins, weakens the immune system and causes an inflammatory response, resulting in a dull, flaky, haggard complexion or triggering a rosacea flare-up.
CRH and the Skin
Stress also causes the hypothalamus to secrete CRH or corticotropin-releasing hormone, which causes blood vessels to dilate, inflammation and heat in the skin, which sensitizes the skin at best or aggravates existing skin disorders like rosacea or triggers new ones. The hormonal imbalance caused by CRH, cotricotropin-releasing hormone, also factors in with acne.
Obesity, as a result of the corticosteroids, is produced when stress is linked with acne and other skin disorders. Overeating, lack of exercise and other stress responses contribute too. Lastly, the acidic nature of stress hormones causes facial flushing and blushing seen with rosacea, as well as impacts other skin disorders.