How hormones, emotions and stress makes skin moody

Feeling blue? That could be why your skin is looking a little off-colour, too. Beauty editor Kelsey Ferencak reveals why.

It seems like stress has become an epidemic. That constant state of feeling like you can’t get on top of your to-do list, housework or inbox has created a society that’s more anxious than ever. Last year, 2.4 million Australians over 18 experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress, an increase from previous years — with women more likely than men to experience depression and anxiety.

By now, you’re probably familiar with the effects poor mental health can have on your body — from high blood pressure to heart disease and even gut issues. But did you know these feelings can also affect your skin? In fact, the state of your skin is one of the biggest indicators of your mood, with experts uncovering links between emotions and your wrinkles, skin elasticity and more.

It’s a hormone thing

Feelings of stress and anxiety trigger your body’s fight-or-flight response. The hormones that are released as a result can impact sleep, oil production, immunity and blood flow, which then manifest as physical changes like puffiness and dark circles. These hormonal fluctuations — specifically in cortisol, adrenaline and testosterone — can also lead to changes in your skin’s behaviour.

“Your skin is your largest organ and your first contact to the outside world, as well as a reflection of what is going on inside of you,” explains Antoinette Barnardo, founder of YORA, a new Australian wellness brand launching next month. “When you produce cortisol, it elevates your blood sugar, while adrenaline pushes blood to your muscles, heart and vital organs, increasing blood pressure and heart rate. If this type of stress exposure and emotional change keeps happening regularly, you’re constantly subjecting your skin to sweat, increased or decreased blood circulation and clamminess, which can eventually lead to the premature formation of wrinkles, tired and dull-looking skin,” she says.

The Dermal Diary founder Isabella Loneragan agrees. “Emotional disharmony has a huge impact on your skin and emotions are usually all categorised under the same heading of stress,” she says. And those same feelings can cause you to take on lifestyle changes like eating a poor diet, not drinking enough water, smoking and being lax with your skincare regimen, which all contribute to poor skin.

“This can also work in reverse,” says Loneragan. “If someone is suffering from rosacea, for example, it can impact their moods, creating a depressive state, which is why people with acne often report being highly stressed.”

Managing your emotions

It’s not all bad — happiness and feel-good emotions can be beneficial to your skin, too. The release of endorphins and dopamine can make your skin look more radiant, for example. So it’s important to prioritise self-care and relaxing practices like meditation and facials.

Loneragan wanted to do something for her clients who were suffering from mood-related skin issues and found a treatment that uses a massage technique designed to release built-up emotional tension and stress.

“By breaking down emotional bonds in the muscle, it’s a great way to release and reduce emotionally driven ageing of the skin,” she says. “It goes inside the mouth to unlock tension held in the face and help muscles to release the bonds created by sadness, anger and depression.”

Read on to see how your state of mind is written all over your face…

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Your skin on… stress

Tell-tale signs: red, blotchy and inflamed, with breakouts, dark circles and maybe eczema

“Chronic exposure to stress causes inflammation, which has been linked to certain skin disorders, such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and rosacea,” says Barnardo. There’s also increasing evidence that stress influences disease processes and contributes to inflammation through the brain-hormonal axis, which is responsible for how your body reacts to stress. When in a state of stress, the axis releases chemicals from nerve endings in your skin cells that release proinflammatory substances, so you’re kept in a perpetual cycle of inflammation.

Your skin on… sadness

Tell-tale signs: sallow, pale, lacklustre or sagging skin

“Sadness and depression impact not only the tone of your skin, resulting in accelerated sag especially of your lower face, but also the colour – sallow and pale skin is often a result,” explains Loneragan. “Increased cortisol affects your sleep and quality of sleep, which results in a lifeless, dull complexion, too. The sag is caused by your frown muscles being utilised more often. Anger results in a strengthening of the masseter [bite] muscle as angry people often clench their jaw, which can create a boxy appearance of the face from front on.”

Your skin on… happiness

Tell-tale signs: a soft, radiant, glowing and bouncy complexion

“Happiness has a fantastic impact on your skin,” says Loneragan. “This state of mind helps your blood flow freely to deliver oxygen and nutrition to your skin so it appears healthy and bright.” Being in a good mood also helps keep your hormones in check to prevent the imbalances that cause ‘bad’ skin. Plus, Loneragan adds: “The saying ‘laughter is the best medicine’ has some medical validity — if you laugh and smile, you’re using all the muscles in your face, effectively exercising them and creating a strong and uplifting posture for your face.”

Keep calm

Bring your skin back in balance with these complexion mood-boosting buys:

Neogen Dermalogy H2 Dermadeca Serum Spray ($32,

Calm cranky skin in a cinch with a face mist. Store it in the fridge for extra cooling properties. This cult Korean beauty spray is formulated with hydrogen, which is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

YORA Clarify Face Mask ($95,

Hitting the market next month, this detoxifying treatment contains activated charcoal and Australian clay to draw out pollution and impurities.

Raww Superfood Infused Beauty Night Owl Rich Facial Oil ($34.99, raww

Inflamed skin needs nourishment, so look to repairing and soothing ingredients like moringa and rosehip oils that won’t irritate already-angry skin.