Studies show effect of psychological stress on skin

February 18, 2005

While psychological stress impacts skin function, its effects on human skin physiology have not been well documented.

While psychological stress impacts skin function, its effects on human skin physiology have not been well documented.

Margaret Altemus, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry, Weill Medical College, Cornell University, New York, presented the results of two studies on this topic yesterday. The studies were designed to describe the effect of stress on skin in healthy humans who do not have skin disorders.

Laboratory stressors were used to induce acute stress responses. Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder were used as a model of chronic stress. According to the findings, skin barrier function recovery was impaired by a simulated job interview and sleep deprivation. In a separate study, the job interview stress suppressed delayed-type hypersensitivity. In addition, individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder had smaller responses to an irritant, sodium lauryl sulfate.

The differing skin response profiles that acute laboratory stress and chronic psychological stress necessitate the quantification of dose and duration of stress when studying its effects on the skin. Furthermore, the effects of stress on skin function appear to be modulated by individual differences in hormonal responses to stress, arising from genetic, developmental and environmental factors.