We all want to have clear skin but can reducing stress really lead to it? Well, it may, according to board-certified dermatologist Richard D. Granstein, MD, FAAD and professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College. In his latest research he discusses the impact of stress on inflammatory skin conditions. He also reveals how this research can change treatment options.
So how does stress play a role in inflammatory skin conditions? Granstein says that research linking the nervous system and the skin has long been understood. He also notes that animal studies have demonstrated that stress can make inflammatory skin conditions worse. In a Japanese study, mice genetically prone to develop a rash similar to the inflammatory skin condition atopic dermatitis did so when stressed.
Nearly everyone has some form of stress in their life so its difficult to determine whether stress can actually make the skins appearance worse, Granstein says. However, its been known for a long time that the nervous system, which processes our stress, has an impact on conditions such as psoriasis. If you interrupt the nerves path to an area of a patients skin affected by psoriasis, the psoriasis improves. In addition, the condition improves if you inject local anesthetic into psoriasis patches. This information strongly suggests that nerves play a role in how psoriasis operates.
Experimental data also supports the idea that the nervous system and stress affect inflammatory skin conditions in humans. Many types of cells in the skin, including immune cells and endothelial cells cells lining blood vessels can be regulated by neuropeptides and neurotransmitters, which are chemicals released by the skins nerve endings.
Stress can result in the skins nerve endings releasing an increased level of these chemicals. When this occurs, it can affect how and at what level our body responds to many important functions, such as sensation and control, of blood flow, and can contribute to the symptoms of stress that we feel. In addition, the release of these chemicals can lead to inflammation of the skin.
If we could block specific steps in certain pathways between the nervous system and the skin without impacting the whole body we would likely have new ways to prevent or treat some skin disorders, Granstein said. Were gaining a greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying many skin conditions, which will help us develop new therapies.
As to how this research impacts how people with inflammatory skin conditions are treated, Granstein says that more research needs to be done to further understand the role of the nervous system and stress on inflammatory skin conditions especially since other factors such as genetics play a role. Granstein encourages people with inflammatory skin conditions to tell their dermatologist if they believe stress is impacting their condition. He recommends that they can experiment with stress reduction techniques such as yoga, tai chi or meditation, but they should continue their treatment plan as prescribed by their dermatologist.