What stress really does to your skin


You’ve probably heard things like how the best thing you can do for your skin is get a good night’s sleep and buzz words like “inflamm-aging.” So let’s take a look at how it all works and why stress is your skin’s worst enemy.

Stress and your nervous system
We have an incredibly powerful nervous system. The central nervous system is particularly important in triggering stress responses, as it regulates the autonomic nervous system and plays a central role in interpreting situations as potentially threatening.

When our nervous system recognizes a threat it sends out a series of responses that affect all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, and reproductive systems. This is what is known as the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. The body shifts its energy resources toward fighting off a life threat, fleeing from an enemy, or going into complete shutdown in order to save itself.

One problem is that our bodies haven’t adapted to our modern life. Our nervous system is designed to react to stresses like being attacked by a saber-tooth tiger. In our modern life, it has a hard time telling the difference between that attack and a looming work deadline, or a fight with your teenager, or busy city traffic. In fact, it has been shown that our bodies respond to imagined threats as if they are real, so you don’t even have to be in a stressful situation for your body to go into a stress response.

Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on your body. Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a wear-and-tear on the body. It’s not so much what chronic stress does to the nervous system, but what continuous activation of the nervous system does to other bodily systems that become problematic.

The biggest aspect of this problem is that our body cannot heal if it is in a stress response. When our body is busy trying to keep us fueled for an adrenaline fueled fight or flight it can’t also be building collagen and elastin fibres, breaking down ingredients in our skincare or food to nourish our body and skin, or even fight the free radical cascade that stress causes.

Stress and your gut health
The gut has hundreds of millions of neurons which are in constant communication with the brain. Stress can affect this brain-gut communication, and may trigger pain, bloating, and other gut discomfort to be felt more easily. The gut’s nerves and bacteria strongly influence the brain and through the nervous system it affects the whole body.

Stress can also affect how quickly food moves through the body, which can cause either diarrhea or constipation and affects what nutrients the intestines absorb. This can lead to mild or even severe malnutrition which can contribute to dark circles under the eyes, a sallow or dull complexion, and a thinning of the skin as there are less bio-available nutrients to utilize in building collagen, hyaluronic acid, and skin healthy barrier oils.

Chronic stress may result in the gut nerves becoming more sensitive to stress, changes in gut microbiota, changes in how quickly food moves through the gut, and/or changes in gut immune responses.

The intestines have a tight barrier to protect the body from (most) food related bacteria. Stress can make the intestinal barrier weaker and allow gut bacteria to enter the body. Although most of these bacteria are easily taken care of by the immune system and do not make us sick, the constant low need for inflammatory action can lead to chronic mild symptoms.

Stress, acne, and skin sensitivity
Acne has been researched and linked to a number of different factors and stress hormones are a common thread through them all. When our body experiences a stress response our endocrine system releases testosterone to help prepare our body to fight off the attacker. As our system returns to a non-stressed state this extra testosterone gets broken down so it can be filtered out of our body. One of these bi-products of testosterone leads to an increase in breakouts, especially along the jawline and neck.

As we experience more of this stress-breakout cycle our body becomes more and more sensitive. Soon, even small amounts of stress trigger a large release of testosterone resulting in the cascade leading to more breakouts.

These pimples, pustules, and deeper nodules trigger an immune response to help clean out the excess bacteria and resulting pus. Macrophages carve away the collagen to allow white blood cells to flood the area and begin the healing process. This constant state of inflammation leads to an increase in skin sensitivity.

We’ve talked in previous blog posts about how inflammation can cause skin sensitivity. The effects of a long term reduction in the production of collagen in combination with the increase in immune responses degradation of collagen and elastin leads to an increase in the signs of aging in the skin. This is commonly termed “inflamm-aging” or inflammation induced aging.

This is why we encourage deep relaxation at Santosha Wellness & Beauty. By creating self-care moments at home or at the spa you are allowing your body to switch out of the fight or flight nervous system response and begin the self-healing processing. We’ve created spa experiences that will improve the quality of your skin and help to restore your nervous system and improve your whole body health.

Try the best of holistic self-care with luxurious local organic products throughout our newest 1.5 hour spa service, Relaxation Looks Good on You. This experience includes a moment to get grounded with a soothing foot soak to start. Next, ease into relaxation with a back and neck massage, followed by our signature acupressure facial. Finish your luxury experience with a natural brow tint and complimentary makeup touch-up so your look and feel your best! Book your self-care time now!