Skin problems: what if it was stress?

by Sandra Leal Roussel, Certified Naturopath

Whether chronic or occasional, it is now accepted that stress impacts our skin. The expression “to have nerves on edge” is therefore not insignificant! And if stress weakens our skin, it can also exacerbate more restrictive problems such as acne, eczema or even hives, and become an aggravating factor, even a trigger. 

Stress and skin: an original link

The skin and the nervous system are linked from conception! At the very beginning of our existence, when we are only an embryo, the skin and the nervous system are one before both developing from the same cellular tissue called the ectoderm. No wonder, with such a lineage, that they keep such a close relationship! They will be besides thereafter, and throughout our life, in perpetual relation and will communicate primarily via the hormonal and immune system. Our skin is moreover not just a simple envelope: it is an organ in its own right which forms the boundary between the outside world and our organism. Just as sensitive, the skin can also suffer and react to an imbalance, whether physical or psychological. The skin is thus a true messenger that should then be listened to. 

What is chronic stress and how does it weaken our skin?

Originally, stress is a healthy response of the body to adapt to the danger that presents itself and promote survival. Thus, faced with an alert, the body sends various chemical messengers (cortisol, adrenaline, etc.) to allow us to mobilize all our energy, but also to prioritize vital organs in the event of injury. At this point, the skin is no longer really the priority and takes second place. If these episodes of stress occur on an ad hoc basis, it is not a problem. But when they settle on a continuous basis (constant pressure at work or in studies, transport, financial or family difficulties, etc.) then this can become problematic. For our skin, this means that it will be regularly less well irrigated, less well nourished and that it will become fragile. It will also be less resistant to free radicals, thus promoting skin aging. Not to mention that stress sometimes brings its share of inconveniences such as disturbed sleep, disturbed transit, di ffi cult digestion…all of which can also affect the quality and health of our skin. 

Stress and hormones: what impact for the skin?

Chronic stress leads to a high secretion of cortisol. And this hormone can trigger several reactions. First, it will promote inflammation. Thus, it can accentuate or trigger certain "breakouts" (acne, eczema, etc.). Cortisol will also boost our androgen hormones, which will cause thickening of the skin, stimulate sebum production and therefore promote blemishes. Cortisol alters the production of collagen, a key element for the firmness and tone of the skin. Other stress hormones such as adrenaline and oxytocin will act on the blood vessels and cause vasoconstriction (reduction in the diameter of the vessels blood). Less well nourished, the skin will be marked more quickly: grey, pale complexion, more swollen and marked dark circles... In other cases, it is on the contrary a vasodilatation (increase in the diameter of the vessels blood) which will cause redness or patches. 

Some ways to manage stress

The sport

Sport is the counterweight to the nerve! In addition to its many benefits on the body, sport allows you to let off steam, evacuate and clear your head while channeling your energy. It is also a way to release the famous endorphins, hormones of well-being! If you have a very anxious temperament, do not hesitate to orient yourself towards physical activities which will also play on breathing to work even better on stress, such as Yoga, Qi Gong, Taï-chi, jogging or swimming. 


Walking in nature (a wood, a garden, a park, etc.) helps to reduce stress. Several studies have in fact shown that contact with nature promotes mental health: trees release molecules that soothe the nervous system. Scientists have even found a bacterium in the forest that acts as a natural antidepressant. 


When you suffer from stress or anxiety, you breathe badly, too little and sometimes in an anarchic way. Good breathing brings oxygen to our cells, improves the functioning of our organs and eliminates our toxic waste. It is also a way to better manage the e ff ects of stress on the body and regain control. There are several simple exercises, such as cardiac coherence (inspiration for 5 seconds, expiration for 5 seconds, to be repeated for 5 min.) or ventral breathing. 


There are several plants that can help fight stress. In infusion, powder, capsule or essential oil to diffuse , the solutions are multiple and adaptable to the needs of each one. A first category of plants, rather said to be calming and sedative, will make it possible to soothe states of nervousness, such as passionflower, lavender, hawthorn or valerian. They are also very often used to prepare for sleep thanks to their relaxing action. Another category called adaptogenic plants (but which can also concern a root or a fungus) will instead support the body to help it better withstand the e ff ects of stress. These plants increase the body's resistance to better find an overall balance and regain energy. We will then use Rhodiola (to be found in L'Équilibre et La Résilience ), Eleutherococcus (to be found in La Résilience ), Ashwagandha (to be found in La Sérénité et La Résilience ) or even Schisandra (to be found in La Detox ).

Many other tools exist, such as meditation, sophrology, massage or even reflexology. 


Find Sandra Leal Roussel, Certified Naturopath, on her website .

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