Many of us have experienced frustrating periods when our skincare efforts seem futile. Despite our diligent use of cleansers, face masks, moisturizers, and herbal remedies, issues like acne and eczema persist. On the other hand, some effortlessly maintain radiant skin with minimal care. And while you may be using the best possible products formulated by scientists (like Gamanity), skincare isn't solely about cosmetics; it's an endless battle where lifestyle choices and approach can influence skin health more than products do.
The most common problem? Stress
Stress is an inherent aspect of human nature, crucial for our response to threats with urgency and readiness. However, its role has become increasingly dysfunctional over time for many. While not everyone experiences frequent stress, for some, it has become a habit. Habitual stress can have severe consequences on the body, including our largest organ, the skin.
I knew someone who owned a cosmetics shop with access to a vast array of skincare products, both natural and synthetic. Despite her extensive knowledge and access to top products, she struggled with her skin throughout her life. She had tried almost every product on the market but her skincare routines seemed ineffective, with temporary improvements followed by setbacks. The consistent factor in her life was stress. Her perpetual busyness and inadequate stress coping mechanisms kept her under constant strain. It was only when her stress levels decreased that her skin showed consistent improvement. But was stress truly the sole culprit behind this perplexing phenomenon?
Well, yes and no. Poor skin can be a result of a multitude of different things relating to hormones, exposure and dieting amongst many others.
Some human studies have demonstrated that stress has a notable impact on skin permeability. Acute psychological stress can impede the recovery of the skin barrier function, disrupting the homeostasis of skin permeability and more. Stress also has implications for the antimicrobial properties of the epidermal barrier, the skin's outermost layer responsible for shielding the body from the external environment. Furthermore, prolonged psychological stress weakens the body's defenses against bacterial and viral infections in both humans and experimental animals.
A little bit of science behind the stress
Stress-related research is extensive and has found that environmental and psychological stressors have a holistic effect on the body, activating physiological systems such as the nervous, endocrine and immune systems. As we mentioned in the beginning, stressors have been altered from their original survival functions. Hence, pathophysiological changes associated with the stress response are misrouted and serve as aggravating or triggering factors in the pathogenesis of many diseases, for example, inflammatory, autoimmune, and allergic diseases. These stress response patterns may be translated into a skin stress response, including the local production of stress hormones, release of inflammatory cytokines and sprouting of SP-positive nerve fibres.
The skin possesses its own neuroendocrine system, intricately connected to the broader systemic neuroendocrine axes. This interconnection likely serves to synchronize peripheral responses to stress and uphold both local and overall homeostasis. Scientific research describes this system as a fully functional peripheral counterpart to the well-known hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which regulates the release of stress hormones.
The human skin contains Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH). When faced with a threat or stress, CRH is released into the bloodstream. This triggers the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which, in turn, signals the release of stress hormones, mainly cortisol.
In patients with contact dermatitis and chronic urticaria, affected skin areas show increased expression of CRH receptor type 1 (CRH-R1) compared to normal skin. Elements of the neuroendocrine skin axis, such as CRH, urocortin, and POMC peptides, can regulate various aspects of the skin, including pigmentary, immune, epidermal, dermal, and adnexal systems.
Moreover, the skin also expresses other neuroendocrine signals related to stress, such as prolactin, melatonin, and catecholamines.
The existence of a neuroendocrine skin axis, functioning similarly to the body's stress response system, suggests that stress affects both the skin and the body in parallel.
Skin mast cells are highly sensitive to stress-triggered factors and play a role in causing neurogenic inflammation in the skin. Interestingly, these cells are one of the main sources of CRH in the body, aside from the brain. This means they can be influenced by classical stress hormones and can even produce important stress hormones themselves. Additionally, mast cells can create over 50 biologically potent substances, including various cytokines. As a result, mast cells have the ability to trigger a wide range of effects in tissues, which are crucial for initiating inflammation.
How exactly does stress impact my skin in practical terms?
The skin has its own HPA axis, with Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) and its receptors studied in relation to acne. In skin affected by acne, there's increased CRH expression, suggesting that this neuropeptide might influence immune and inflammatory processes, potentially affecting acne development.
Other neuropeptides, like SP-positive nerve fibers, also increase around acne lesions. SP promotes sebaceous gland growth, stimulates lipid production, and triggers the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Overall, stress can potentially trigger or worsen acne through various mechanisms.
Stressful life events are often connected to the onset of psoriasis episodes. Stress can trigger physiological responses like increased sympathetic activity, activation of the HPA axis, and the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. These responses can worsen and prolong psoriasis, affecting patients' quality of life.
Studies have looked into the role of cortisol, a stress-related hormone, in psoriasis. While some studies indicate increased cortisol response during stress in psoriasis patients, others provide inconsistent results. Additionally, neuropeptides like Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) have been found in psoriatic lesions, with higher expression of CRH and its receptors in these lesions, implying their involvement in the disease.
Furthermore, Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), associated with brain functions and skin-related processes, tends to decrease in psoriatic patients, possibly due to psychological stress and its effects on the HPA axis and SAM (sympathetic-adrenal-medullary) system.
Stress can significantly worsen and sustain Atopic Dermatitis (AD) by triggering the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis and the Sympathetic-Adrenal-Medullary (SAM) system. This leads to increased release of inflammatory substances. Stress can also disrupt the skin barrier, increase water loss through the skin, and make it more susceptible to irritants. Additionally, Corticotropin-Releasing Hormone (CRH) may increase skin permeability and disrupt the barrier by activating skin mast cells.
The severity of AD often correlates with stress, which can induce immune and inflammatory changes in the skin. Prolonged stress alters cytokine responses, favoring a shift to a Th2-type cytokine profile. Substance P, released during stress, activates keratinocytes and mast cells, provoking neurogenic inflammation.
Patients with AD might display a reduced cortisol response to stress, which may be insufficient to control local inflammation. The impact of stress on AD patients' quality of life has been studied, revealing a particularly notable effect on their emotional well-being.
Chronic stress can have an impact on skin pigmentation by suppressing the production of melanin and elements of the cutaneous HPA (Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis through glucocorticoids.
In the regulation of human epidermal melanogenesis and proliferation, ACTH and α-MSH play key roles via the melanocortin receptor 1 (MC1). In vitiligo, there is a reported reduction in α-MSH, but the precise involvement of HPA axis components in vitiligo development remains unclear.
Some studies propose that vitiligo lesions show decreased expression of POMC and its products, including α-MSH and β-endorphin. This reduction could be influenced by oxidative stress and changes in POMC processing. Additionally, CRH might affect vitiligo pathophysiology by influencing immune responses and the viability of melanocytes through its receptors, specifically CRHR1.
Dealing with stress
We recognize the impact of stress on the skin. Without addressing stress, skincare products alone won't resolve skin issues.
Short term coping mechanisms
Short-term coping mechanisms offer temporary relief from stress, though they typically don't address the root cause of the problem. Nevertheless, they are essential for managing stress in the moment, facilitating clearer thinking. Coping mechanisms are recommended by healthcare professionals, including the NHS.
Healthy coping methods include spending time with loved ones, going on a vacation, taking personal time, or simply changing our surroundings temporarily. These approaches are highly effective, helping us re-center, take a breather, and gain fresh perspectives on the situation.
However, there are also unhealthy coping methods, such as turning to smoking, drugs, alcohol, overeating, or binge-watching TV series. While these may seem appealing and sometimes offer temporary relief, they often can't be easily moderated and shouldn't be considered as sustainable solutions.
Discover a stress-busting solution we can all embrace - skincare routines
Think of skincare as a form of meditation, a serene ritual that washes away the chaos of the day. Whether your routine takes 30 minutes or just 5, it's your chance to escape the hustle and bustle. Dive into the process, let go of your responsibilities, and forget about the past or future. In this moment, all that matters is the pursuit of clean, smooth skin. Through this skincare meditation, you can calm your mind, tune into your thoughts, and detach from the world's noise.
Our skincare products were born from this idea. Take our Lavender and Turmeric face masks, for instance. Lavender, renowned for its soothing qualities, has been a staple in traditional medicine and aromatherapy for centuries. It's a natural stress-reliever, designed to whisk you away from life's tensions. Then there's Turmeric that contains curcumin, a bioactive compound celebrated for its potential health perks. Curcumin's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may help manage stress and soothe inflammation.
Remember, resolving stress should be a personal journey, one that's healthy and sustainable, tailored to you.
Here at Gamanity, we pour love and integrity into crafting all our cosmetics, aiming to make your skincare routine a stress-relieving ritual that every member of our community can embrace.