The relationship between stress, anxiety, and skin conditions explored

Written by: Dr Alia Ahmed
Edited by: Conor Lynch

In this article below, Dr Alia Ahmed, an experienced and highly regarded consultant dermatologist, talks about the relationship between anxiety, stress, and skin problems.

Can stress and anxiety cause skin problems? Why does this occur?

Stress and anxiety are closely related to skin problems. This happens because we all have what we call a ‘stress axis’ in our brain. So, as soon as our body perceives stress or emotional distress, your brain takes that as a signal that you are stressed and starts a process which releases the stress hormone called cortisol.


Cortisol has far-reaching effects on the skin and body. It is known to affect the immune system (making the skin less able to defend itself), drive allergic responses, delay healing, and disrupt the skin’s natural barrier. The effects seen on the skin can vary, including feeling red, dry and itchy, as well as the formation of lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, signs of premature ageing and dull skin. High levels of stress are associated with a higher severity of skin disease in people with psoriasis and eczema.


Are some people more likely to be affected by skin problems related to stress or anxiety? is age a relevant factor?

We know that having a skin condition makes you more likely to develop poor mental health. We also know that some skin conditions are linked to mental health conditions, such as eczema being related to anxiety.


What types of skin problems may be related to stress or anxiety?

Eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, and some types of hair loss are closely linked to stress and anxiety. These are the ones that we have the most research behind. It is important to remember that stress and anxiety can drive skin problems and skin problems can drive stress and anxiety, so it’s a vicious circle at any time.


How are anxiety or stress-related skin problems treated?

We treat what we can see, so we can treat the skin, hair, or nail condition. We can also focus on stress management, as well as addressing lifestyle factors (like diet, exercise, fluid intake) and time for self-care.


Are there any lifestyle modifications which can help?

I regularly advocate adequate sleep to my patients. Getting enough sleep and at the right times is extremely important. Exercise and diet are hugely important, and also meditation and mindfulness techniques.


Dr Alia Ahmed is a highly skilled and trusted consultant dermatologist. Be sure to make an appointment with her today if you are worried about stress or anxiety leading to or worsening a skin condition.

By Dr Alia Ahmed

Dr Alia Ahmed is a highly respected consultant dermatologist based in Maidenhead and Reading, who specialises in pyschodermatology, treating the mind and skin together. She is also renowned for her expertise in hair loss, acne, rosacea, skin cancer and eczema.

Dr Ahmed is a dual trained medical practitioner, having first studied psychology with clinical psychology at the University of Kent before qualifying in medicine from the University of London, Bart’s and the Royal London School of Medicine. Following further training within the Oxford deanery, she completed a year-long clinical research fellowship in psychodermatology before undergoing specialist training in dermatology in London. She was appointed as a consultant dermatologist in 2017 and currently works within the Frimley Health Foundation Trust, where she is also clinical lead. She sees private patients at The Bridge Clinic, Maidenhead and Circle Reading Hospital.

Additional to her clinical responsibilities, Dr Ahmed is a highly esteemed educator and holds the position of honorary lecturer in her specialty of psychodermatology at the University of Hertforshire. She additionally frequently shares her expertise and research at international meetings of colleagues and her numerous academic publications appear in peer-reviewed journals. She is also a well-established contributor to a number of the UK’s leading magazines and newspapers, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, The Times, Glamour and The Telegraph.

Dr Ahmed is a member of the Royal College of Physicians’ dermatology section and holds senior positions in several esteemed professional bodies, including as the Thames Valley and Wessex regional representative for the British Association of Dermatologists and an executive committee member for Psychodermatology UK. She is also a panel member of the Vitiligo Society and a contributor to the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin.

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