The stress hormone cortisol breaks down collagen, a protein in the skin that helps keep it strong and elastic. Less collagen means more wrinkles. Wechsler points out that stress can age you and make you look three to six years older.
Stress can also indirectly affect the skin. This may happen when you don’t have the time or strength for proper skincare. In some cases, you might excessively pick at blemishes (called acne excoriee, in medical-speak), which are already exacerbated and might take longer than normal to heal. Or, you may shirk basic beauty regimens. “When people are stressed out they don’t take as good of care of themselves,” explains Wechsler. “They might not take the time to cleanse and moisturize, or they may be drinking too much or engaging in other unhealthy behaviors.”
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Stress and Your Smile
Americans will spend around $3 billion on oral hygiene products this year, yet poor choices and unhealthy behavior can lead to its neglect. Stress is a major indicator for gum disease. A 2007 literature review by Brazilian periodontists suggests a correlation between stress and gum disease, which could be due to a decrease in flossing and brushing. Cortisol may also play a role, says Don Clem, President of the American Academy of Periodontology, because the hormone’s elevated levels during stress may exacerbate the inflammatory response to bacteria in the mouth. This inflammation, he says, leads to the worst symptoms of periodontal disease: red, swollen and bleeding gums. Gum disease can also lead to tooth decay or even tooth loss.
Stress is also implicated in sleep bruxism, or teeth grinding, which involves clenching or grinding the teeth during sleep. In 2010, researchers at the National Institute of Aging showed that bruxing was far more common amongst stressed patients, results that agree with a number of other studies. Tooth enamel is a crystalline material that can crack under too much pressure. According to Ohio-based dentist Matthew Messina, these crack lines can fill with stains from food or beverages—coffee and tea for example—making them appear discolored and aged. Grinding on the molars can shorten the vertical height between the tip of the nose and the chin, Messina adds, which can cause the corners of the mouth to turn down. And, the wear and tear on your front teeth flattens their naturally rounded edges, which makes them—and you—appear older.
WATCH VIDEO: Why You Grind Your Teeth
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