Fight or Flight – Stress, the skin and how to manage both

February 19, 2021

This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.

I think we all know that smoking, sun and stress are the three poisons for one’s skin. I don’t smoke and Covid has ruled out sunny holidays so stress is the one I need to look at and this year has brought us all bucket loads of stress. The Skin Specialist, in her latest skincare post, explains the effects of stress on our skin and how we can manage it. Annabel

Skincare: Fight or Flight - Stress, the skin and how to manage both

Sometimes it feels like we are always dealing with stress. With work, family, kids and now COVID-19, we feel a little more stressed than usual. It might be easy to ignore or normalise stress. Still, those small, ongoing hassles might start building up and leave you feeling chronically stressed. You might be wondering why is this bad? Aren’t we all? To answer this, it is essential to understand how powerful our minds are and exactly what stress does to our bodies.

What does stress trigger?

Minor life stressors such as that pending deadline at work, trigger the biological stress response or, as you may have heard it put, your ‘fight or flight’ response. When you encounter a perceived ‘threat’ (a stressor), your hypothalamus, a small region at your brain’s base, sets off an alarm system in your body.

This signals your adrenal glands to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, leading to physical symptoms such as increased blood pressure, sweating and alertness. This response is an adaptive survival mechanism in life-threatening situations; however, it can contribute to a wide range of health issues including cardiovascular disease, obesity, sexual dysfunction, and skin problems when it becomes chronic. The long-term activation of the stress-response can also lead to overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that can disrupt almost all your body processes, including the immune system. 


When you are stressed, your body produces cortisol, and as a result, your hypothalamus produces a hormone called corticotropin-releasing hormone (CHR). It is thought that CHR can stimulate oil release from the sebaceous glands around your hair follicles, which can lead to acne. Research conducted in 2017 found a  high correlation between higher levels of stress and the severity of acne. Stress is also known to contribute to scarring, and slow wound healing as it leads to inflammation, which impacts the body’s ability to repair itself.

As stress has the potential to weaken your immune system, it can contribute to an imbalance of bacteria in your gut and skin microbiome. When this imbalance occurs on your skin, it can lead to redness and itchy rashes and aggravate several conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, and contact dermatitis. For example, stress can lead to the release of histamine, a compound that causes itchiness.

Additionally, stress can disrupt the normal functions of the outermost layer of the skin ( the skin barrier) and reduce both the epidermis’ innate and adaptive immunity.

Stress can also impact the proteins in your skin and reduce its elasticity, which can contribute to wrinkle formation.

What should we do with our skincare to negate stress effects?

Cortisol contributes to the breakdown of collagen and elastin. If you’re feeling the effects of stress on your skin, a DMK treatment regime can help you restore the skin’s internal functions and structures and calm any stress-induced flare-ups. DMK’s signature Enzyme Therapy is designed to oxygenate, strengthen, nourish and tone the skin to encourage optimal skin functioning. It works to address dysfunctions, including acne, dehydration, congestion, dilated capillaries, redness, pigmentation and uneven skin tone. Customised home skincare treatment kits can be provided upon virtual consultation. 


Encountering stress in life is unavoidable but having a plan to manage it can make a huge difference to your overall well being. Regular exercise is an important step in the fight against stress. There is a neurochemical basis as to why you feel great after going for that afternoon run! Exercise reduces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol and stimulates the production of endorphins, your body’s natural painkillers. It can improve your quality of sleep and give you more confidence. Even a 20 minute walk a day can help clear the mind and reduce stress. Remember to take time for you. Take your supplements and a long hot bath, light some candles and put your feet up with a good book. 

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