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THE BRAIN-SKIN CONNECTION: UNDERSTANDING SKIN CONDITIONS CAUSED BY STRESS AND ANXIETY

THE BRAIN-SKIN CONNECTION: UNDERSTANDING SKIN CONDITIONS CAUSED BY STRESS AND ANXIETY

In society’s never-ending quest for radiant and healthy skin, the focus is oftentimes on creams, serums, and treatments as representing the tools to unlocking these treasures. However, there is an incredibly effective and often overlooked aspect of skincare that should be taken seriously – the connection between our brain and our skin. Let’s jump into the science behind this hugely important connection and explore how it profoundly influences our skincare journey.

Have you ever experienced that moment when your teacher called on you to answer a question for which you were unprepared, and you could feel your face turning red. Or perhaps that time when you were grappling with multiple work deadlines and suddenly your eczema started to act up? These are tangible examples of the brain-skin connection at work.

During these instances, our skin becomes a visible mirror of our inner emotions and sensations. Your skin is both a canvas for beauty and a dynamic organ intricately linked to your brain. Understanding this connection is the key to unlocking your skincare routine’s true potential. In order to truly comprehend the significance of this connection, we must realize how it affects the health and appearance of our skin. Stress, emotions, neurotransmitters all play a pivotal role in the story of our skin’s health and appearance. [1]

Brain Illustration showing stress

Brain-Skin Axis: The Basics of the Brain-skin Connection

  • Skin as the Body’s Largest Organ: Think of your skin as a protective outer covering, like a raincoat worn on rainy days. But unlike a raincoat whose only function is to protect us from raindrops, your skin, in addition to protecting your body from external environmental enemies like bacteria and viruses, also serves a communication function. Think of your skin as being a raincoat from the future worn by your favorite Star Wars character, able to BOTH protect and communicate! As the body’s largest organ covering about 20 square feet, your skin plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health.
  • The Brain-Skin Dialogue: Imagine your brain and skin as a dynamic duo that is constantly exchanging information. This communication is facilitated through a network of nerves, hormones, and chemicals like friends engaged in a group chat.

How Does the Brain Affect Skin?

Communication between the skin and the brain is a multifaceted and intricate process that involves various chemical and biological mechanisms. This dialogue has a profound effect on skin health and appearance. The various ways in which the skin and brain communicate, and the effects of this communication include:

  1. Sensory Nerves: Transmitting Sensations

 

Communication Channel: Think of sensory nerves as messengers. They transmit sensations such as pain, temperature, and touch from your skin to your brain.

 

Impact on Skin: When you touch something hot your skin sends a quick message to your brain which prompts you to pull your hand away. This reflex protects your skin from being burned, i.e., damaged.

 

  1. Emotional Impact on Skin [2]

 

Communication Channel: Emotions trigger the release of chemicals such as stress hormones (e.g., cortisol) and neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin) in the brain.

 

Impact on Skin: Your emotional state can directly affect your skin’s condition. Stress, for example, can lead to increased production of oil which can trigger acne breakouts. Conversely, positive emotions like happiness can promote a healthy, radiant complexion.

 

  1. Hormonal Signaling

 

Communication Chanel: Hormones act as messengers between the skin and the brain, traveling through the body via the bloodstream.

 

Impact on Skin: Hormones play a significant role in skin health. For example, hormonal changes experienced during puberty can lead to increased oil production which can trigger acne formation. In addition, hormonal imbalances can affect skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

 

  1. Immune Response

 

Communication Channel: When skin detects invaders like bacteria and viruses, it signals the brain to initiate an immune response.

 

Impact on Skin: This communication enables the body to defend itself against such threats. The brain causes immune cells to be sent to the affected area leading to inflammation and redness which are signs that the body’s immune system is fighting off the invaders.

 

  1. Neurotransmitters and Neuromodulators

 

Communication Channel: These are chemicals (e.g., dopamine, serotonin, endorphins) in the brain that can influence skin function.

 

Impact on Skin: Neurotransmitters like acetylcholine can stimulate sweat glands that can trigger perspiration. Neuromodulators like the well-known botulinum toxin (i.e., Botox) can temporarily block nerve signals to muscles, resulting in a reduction in the appearance of wrinkles.

 

  1. The Microbiome Connection

 

Communication Channel: The skin, just like the gut, has its own microbiome community of trillions of diverse microorganisms that co-habit the skin surface.

 

Impact on Skin: The brain, believe it or not, communicates with the skin (and gut) microbiome. When the microbiome is balanced and in harmony, it contributes to healthy skin. On the other hand, disruptions in skin (and gut) microbiome balance and diversity can trigger the occurrence of harmful skin conditions such as acne, atopic dermatitis, and eczema.

 

  1. Skin Conditions Caused by Stress and Anxiety [3]

 

Communication Channel: Chronic stress can lead to the persistent release of skin damage-causing stress hormones like cortisol.

 

Impact on Skin: This continuous stress response can trigger various skin problems such as:

 

  • Acne: Stress can trigger an acne breakout or make an existing one worse due to an increase in oil production by the skin and resultant inflammation. The excess oil mixes with dead skin cells to clog pores resulting in stress and anxiety breakouts.
  • Eczema and Psoriasis: Stress can also trigger or worsen symptoms associated with eczema and psoriasis. This is because stress and anxiety activate the body’s immune system leading to symptom-worsening inflammation. The body’s immune system and its kissing cousin inflammation can also trigger a psoriasis flare-up and further exacerbate its symptoms. [2] [4]
  • Premature Aging: Chronic stress can lead to a breakdown of collagen which can contribute to the development of fine lines and wrinkles.
  • Skin Barrier Damage: Here too, the inflammation brought on by stress and anxiety can lead to a compromised skin barrier resulting in dry, flaky, itchy skin. Oh, and by the way, a compromised skin barrier also makes skin more susceptible to penetration by unwanted environmental bad guys like air pollutants and UV rays.
  • Itching: Stress can also stimulate the release of chemicals called histamines which are known to cause itching and inflammation. For those already suffering from eczema and psoriasis, increased itching and scratching makes the symptoms associated with these conditions much worse!
  1. The Mind-Body Connection

 

Communication Channel: The brain can influence your behavior and lifestyle choices which can impact skin health and appearance.

 

Impact on Skin: For example, poor sleep quality due to stress or anxiety can result in puffy eyes and dull skin. In addition, unhealthy dietary habits influenced by emotional stress like alcohol and junk food consumption can also have a profound impact on skin health and appearance.

 

  1. Skincare Products and the Brain

 

Communication Channel: Skincare products oftentimes contain ingredients which affect communication between the skin and the brain.

 

Impact on Skin: Certain types of ingredients present in skincare products can either directly or indirectly impact sensory perceptions, emotions, and overall skin health. Examples of such ingredients include:

 

  • Fragrances: Fragrances in skincare products can stimulate emotional responses. Pleasant scents can have a calming effect, positively influencing your emotional state.
  • Active Ingredients: Certain active ingredients like antioxidants (e.g., Vitamin C) and soothing agents (e.g., aloe vera) can directly benefit skin health. When the skin feels good and healthy, it can send positive signals to the brain letting it know all is well with the skin.
  • Irritants: Conversely, ingredients that irritate the skin such as certain types of acids and harsh exfoliants can send signals of discomfort to the brain. This can lead to a heightened stress response causing the brain to trigger and inflammatory response.
  • Balancing Ingredients: Some ingredients can bring balance to skin. One such ingredient is hyaluronic acid which brings hydrating balance to dry skin. These ingredients can help maintain a balanced and healthy skin environment, thereby influencing the brain-skin relationship in a positive manner.
  1. Tips On How to Establish Positive Brain-Skin Communication
  2. Adopt a Mindful Skincare Routine:
  • Create a consistent skincare routine for gently cleansing, moisturizing, and protecting your skin.
  • Consider using products grounded in the scientific principle of “Integrative Dermatology” which focuses on simultaneously treating BOTH the mind and skin. Codex Labs’ SOAPS are a collection of handmade cold-processed soap bars with natural moisturizers like shea butter that have been specifically formulated to gently cleanse skin while supporting its natural microbiome. The SOAKS COLLECTION is packed with the power of natural minerals (e.g., Epsom and sea salts) that purify skin in a microbiome-supporting fashion, emollient oils (e.g., jojoba oil) that gently moisturize skin, and aromatherapeutic oils that stabilize mood and help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s like a day at the spa, but at a fraction of the cost!
  • Another solid cleansing choice worth mentioning is SHAANT® BALANCING FOAMING CLEANSER which, in addition to having the patented ShaantComplex®, also contains the active ingredient patchouli whose scent has been found to stimulate a calming effect in the brain.
  1. Practice Stress Management:
  • Practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness exercises.
  • Set aside time for relaxation to reduce stress and if you, like most people, need a little boost in this department, consider trying a stress-reducing dietary supplement like SHAANT® SKIN DE-STRESS DIETARY SUPPLEMENT with plant-based actives that both manage inflammation and support stress/metabolism/hormonal balance (e.g., L-theanine.
  1. Eat a Healthy Diet:
  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains.
  • Include foods high in antioxidants like berries and leafy greens that help promote skin health.
  1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate:
  • Stay well hydrated by ensuring that you drink enough water throughout the day.
  • Proper hydration helps skin maintain its elasticity and suppleness while keeping your skin barrier intact and functioning properly.
  1. Get Quality Sleep
  • Prioritize adequate, restful sleep aiming for 7-9 hours per night.
  • Sleep is essential for skin repair and regeneration.
  1. Exercise Regularly
  • Engage in regular physical activity to improve blood circulation and reduce stress.
  • Exercise promotes healthy skin and a positive mood.
  1. Wear Sun Protection Daily
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 daily, even on cloudy days.
  • Protecting your skin from harmful UV radiation helps prevent premature aging and skin damage.
  1. Develop Gentle Skincare Practices
  • Be gentle when cleansing and exfoliating to avoid irritating your skin.
  • Choose skincare products that are not only gentle, but that also help your skin microbiome stay balanced to promote positive communication between your skin and brain.
  1. Limit Harmful Habits:
  • For example, avoid smoking and limit alcohol and junk food consumption as these habits can negatively affect skin health.
  • Smoking, in particular, can wreak havoc on your skin, leading to premature aging and skin damage.
  1. Adopt a Positive Mindset:
  • Cultivate a positive attitude towards life in general, and your skin’s appearance and imperfections, in particular.
  • Self-confidence and self-acceptance positively influence the brain-skin connection.

Conclusion.

Understanding the numerous ways in which the skin and brain communicate highlights the importance of holistic skincare. By managing stress, making healthy lifestyle choices, and selecting skincare products thoughtfully, you can positively influence the brain-skin connection to achieve healthier and more radiant skin. Remember that your skin is not just a surface or outer covering but a dynamic organ that reflects your overall well-being and the intricate interplay between your body and mind.

 

References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4082169/#:~:text=The%20cutaneous%20sensory%20fibers%20also,stress%20responses%20in%20the%20skin.
  2. Skin Symptoms Caused By Anxiety - AnxietyCentre.com
  3. Stress may be getting to your skin, but it’s not a one-way street - Harvard Health
  4. Stress: Is it a common eczema trigger? (aad.org)
  5. Psychoneuroimmunology of Psychological Stress and Atopic Dermatitis: Pathophysiologic and Therapeutic Updates - PMC (nih.gov)
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