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Stress, Skin & the Mind/Body Connection

August 23, 2021


When you study the mind/body connection, you'll understand how stress affects skin and that can change how you think about everything! The connection between body and mind is so undeniable that even the science community now acknowledges it.

Stress is the body's reaction to a real or perceived danger, and the physical reaction can include: increased cortisol, adrenaline, inflammation, sleep deprivation, skin problems, thinning hair, weight gain, high blood pressure, etc.

You can’t avoid stress. There will always be bills, jobs, personal and professional responsibilities, so the best thing to do is learn to manage the stress. If you don’t, it may show on your skin as blotchiness, redness, puffiness, acne, dullness, and more.

There’s also a crossover effect that can likely occur, where one distressing factor triggers others. For instance, if you stress over a deadline at work, that anxiety  triggers cortisol which may trigger adrenaline. Adrenaline keeps you alert and awake, which means you may have a restless night.

That lack of sleep can lead to a lack of will-power and since you're so tired, you reach for sugary, high-fat comfort foods, and those choices will affect the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. The skin barrier is already damaged by the cortisol affect and now the imbalance of your bacteria will add to it, so your face might become puffy, blotchy, and dry, or could breakout or become excessively oily.


Acne is a skin disorder characterized by bumps and lesions, oily skin, and clogged pores. For many, flare-ups can be tied to stress. When you have excess cortisol, you might also notice your skin becoming thinner and bruising more easily. Cortisol can also affect hair; hair loss is a common outcome or hair growth, and often where you don’t want it, like on your chin.

Cortisol magnifies other skin disorders, such as eczema, psoriasis, or rosacea. In fact, many who suffer from chronic skin disorders notice that their symptoms flare up when their stress levels are increased.

Cortisol speeds up the skin’s aging process in two major ways: first, it promotes glycation, a process where blood sugar attaches to a protein, resulting in damaged collagen. It hardens and that results in an increased appearance of lines and wrinkles. Second, cortisol also decreases the body’s production of hyaluronic acid, a natural moisturizer.

It all becomes a vicious cycle: cortisol is caused by stress, you stress over your skin, so that creates more cortisol, and that increase of cortisol creates more skin damage. 


Stress makes our bodies produce adrenaline which decreases blood flow to the skin, so oxygen and other important nutrients can’t flow there. Without sufficient blood flow, toxins build up, resulting in all kinds of skin challenges and even more stress.


Fear not, there is plenty you can do if your skin has already felt the effects of stress. Here’s a breakdown of problems with specific ingredients that can help.

As a general rule, you want plenty of antioxidants to heal, anti-inflammatory properties to calm and soothe; antibacterial and anti-fungal properties to fight infection and lots of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Skin loves botanicals because they're gentle, often mimic our own skin sebum, and are loaded with nutrients. Avoid harsh chemicals, parabens, and sulfates. And keep this list handy for problem-solving as needed: 

    Puffy eyes & dark circles

    Tomorrow’s meetings, deadlines, and other responsibilities have you tossing and turning? A lack of restful sleep can lead to puffiness and a "tired" appearance particularly around the eyes. When fluid accumulates under the lower lid, it can get so puffy and discolored that it almost looks like your eye area is bruised. 

      Helpful ingredients: aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, green tea extract, mango butter, vitamin K, cucumber seed oil, and vitamin C.

      Tips: Use a cooling, soothing gel eye mask to instantly depuff (store in the fridge for best results). Follow up with a soothing eye cream containing extracts like tea, cucumber and caffeine.

        Dry, flaky skin

        Number one rule for dry skin: Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration!

          Helpful ingredients: vitamin A and vitamin E, magnesium, plant-based butters and oils, such as: shea, mango, mowrah or cocoa butter, or kiwi seed, cucumber seed, prickly pear seed or sweet almond oil, resurrection plant extract, hyaluronic acid, and avocado oil.  

          Tips: This is a time when you may want to try oil cleansing, even if your dry skin also has acne or excessive oiliness. Botanical oils can help dissolve the already existing oils in pores, and oils such as tea tree, argan or jojoba, offer both antibacterial and hydrating properties. Try using moisturizing masks overnight to restore your skin's moisture barrier and prevent water loss.


            Stress causes skin issues to flare up regardless of what you're prone to, whether it’s acne, eczema, rosacea, or psoriasis.

              Helpful ingredients: argan oil, tea tree oil, jojoba oil, salicylic acid, allantoin, aloe vera. Aloe vera is also a natural painkiller.

              Tips: Wash your face gently morning and evening. Apply a gentle toner -- witch hazel is a great choice (but look for little to no alcohol in the ingredients). When you have breakouts it can be tempting to want to dry the skin out, but this typically only makes things worse. Do use a lightweight hydrating serum and gel moisturizer to keep skin healthy and protected. If you feel oily in between, mist with a hydrosol or toner with ingredients like rose, lavender or cucumber.

                Rashes and hives

                These conditions are often caused by dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut that will ultimately show up on skin. Skin can also become more sensitive to irritants and allergens when you're tired, and yes you guessed it, stressed.

                  Helpful ingredients: skin probiotics, colloidal oatmeal, comfrey, chamomile, lavender, seaweed, rose, olive-derived squalane and neem leaf extract.

                  Tips: Be gentle with your skin! Gently apply products that typically work for you to calm your skin. Aloe vera gel, non-alcohol witch hazel, chamomile and oat-based products generally are safe (but always patch test if you're sensitive). Always check with your healthcare provider, but antihistamines are also an effective way to calm skin reactions for many people.

                    Fine lines and wrinkles

                    Constantly making certain facial expressions, like furrowing your brows when you're experiencing stress or pursing your lips, can lead to deeper skin wrinkles over time. 

                      Helpful ingredients: B vitamins, vitamin C, shea, mango, cocoa or mowrah butter, prickly pear, macadamia nut seed, kiwi seed, argan oil, or cucumber (seed oil or fruit extract).

                      Copper peptide may be one of the best anti-aging ingredients around. It improves elasticity, builds collagen, and protects and repairs from sun damage. Packed with antioxidants which fight the free radicals that cause oxidative stress that results in wrinkles and lines. Copper also promotes the production of hyaluronic acid in our bodies which helps to retain moisture.

                      Tips: Practice facial massage and be mindful of your facial expressions when you feel tense or stressed. Finding yourself frowning, clenching your jaw, scrunching your brow or other habits? Take a few minutes to breathe deeply, relax your facial muscles, listen to a calming song or meditation and then jump back in.

                        Flushed face

                        When you're stressed, you breathe in short, shallow breaths and can even find yourself holding your breath for periods of time, which can lead to flushing and redness.

                          Helpful ingredients: rose, lavender, neem leaf, green tea, comfrey.

                          Tips: Focus on deep breathing techniques, splash some cool water or face mist on your skin, and drink some water!


                          If you want to consider stress, skin, and the mind/body connection, you may change how you think about everything, and that includes stress management. Your most immediate need is to boost your oxytocin levels! 

                          Oxytocin is a natural hormone (often called the “love” hormone or the “cuddle” hormone) that you can get easily just by gardening or sitting in a park so you can be close to fauna and foliage. You can also boost it by playing with animals or babies, or hugging, shaking hands, seeing a friend, or getting a massage.

                          Oxytocin stabilizes moods and reduces stress, anxiety, and cortisol. Oxytocin will make you laugh more often which has been shown to boost immunity, and that’s good for skin!

                          Other stress management techniques include:

                          • Self care. Take a warm bath, read, dance, listen to music - whatever gives you pleasure! Pamper your skin and reduce stress, by giving yourself a gentle facial. Set aside a little time (even 10 minutes) per day just for you.
                          • Exercise. This increases endorphins, those natural, feel-good substances, so you’ll feel more confident, alert, stress-free, and less moody. 
                          • Breathe. Breathing deeply will help you get calm and find focus, while you reduce stress and anxiety simply by paying attention to and controlling your breath.
                          • Seek help and support from family and friends when you need it. Your brain is wired to connect with people, says Psychology Today, so whenever you feel disconnected you’ll trigger the fight or flight stress response, resulting in chronic increased levels of skin-damaging cortisol.