Frazzled Hair and Skin
Americans will spend an estimated $25.6 billion on hair and skincare in 2011, more, by far, than on any other beauty products. But, stress has repercussions for your hair and skin, which you can’t overcome with a dollop of conditioner or smear of cream.
Telogen effluvium, a scalp disorder that stunts hair growth and causes an increase in hair shedding, is triggered by physically or emotionally stressful events including childbirth, chronic illness or surgery. Hair loss often occurs months after the event, making a direct cause difficult to pinpoint. Stress can also worsen hair loss due to alopecia, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, typically leaving round bald patches on the head or body.
Stress mars the skin to an even greater degree, attacking on multiple fronts. This is no surprise. The skin has the largest surface area of any organ in the human body, it’s chock-full of nerves and blood vessels and it’s directly connected to the brain.
Acne is one of the most common stress-induced skin ailments. While the connection between stress and acne may seem obvious to anyone who has broken out during a hard week, the evidence was mostly anecdotal until around a decade ago.
In 2002, Stanford University research dermatologists first showed a direct correlation between breakouts and stress in adults. A few years later, in one of the largest acne studies to date, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center showed an increase in acne during stress—specifically red, inflamed pimples. Correlation does not mean causation, of course, but since then, experiments by Christos Zouboulis, M.D. from Dessau Medical Center in Germany have shown a physiological link between stress-related hormones and acne. “For many years, we thought there was a link between stress and acne, but science didn’t offer the answer,” says Zouboulis. “But now our experiments show that it’s probable.”
Stress, it turns out, is partially to blame for several other common skin problems, from virus outbreaks to wrinkles. Researchers have tied it to eruptions of previously dormant herpes viruses, including the cold-sore-causing Herpes simplex, increased activity of inflammatory skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, and prolonged wound healing on both the body and in the mouth (studies from Ohio State University show a 24 percent and 40 percent increase in healing time for wounds on the arms and mouth, respectively).
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