What Skin Reactions are Your Emotions Triggering?

skin reactions to different emotions

Do your cheeks get red when you feel embarrassed? If so, you know what it feels like to have your emotions affect your skin.

But blushing is just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out there’s a strong connection between mind and skin, and we’re just starting to figure it out. Early research indicates that how we feel can affect how our skin looks and acts, and may even factor into what sort of skin conditions we may suffer from.

It’s all very individual, though. While your stress may show up in breakouts, your friend may suffer a rosacea flare-up instead. A third person may break out in hives.

How might your emotions be affecting your skin—and is there anything you can do about it?

The Brain-Skin Connection

We have quite a bit of evidence that stress and negative emotions can show up as skin trouble. In a 2014 review, for example, researchers examined studies on the “brain-skin connection,” and found that stress—including mental, physical, and emotional pressure—definitely affects skin.

When you’re under stress, the following is likely to happen:

  • You release hormones that encourage inflammation and decrease blood flow to the skin.
  • The nerves in the skin become irritated, and may increase inflammation or stimulate allergic reactions.
  • Skin recruits the immune system to fight, which can cause inflammation.
  • Rosacea, acne, and psoriasis flare-up.
  • There might be damage to your skin’s outer layer, resulting in dull, dry skin.
  • Production of moisturizing and plumping lipids declines.
  • Skin healing, repair, and restoration is delayed.

You’ve heard that stress is bad for your heart and your health overall. Now we know that it can also wreak havoc on your skin. If you’ve suspected that you break out when you’re stressed, you’re probably right!

“The bond between skin and mind has deep roots,” say the researchers at Harvard Women’s Health Watch, “going back at least as far as skin-to-skin contact between newborn and mother….”

what is psychodermatology?

The connection is thought to be so solid that there’s a name for the field—“psychodermatology.” In fact, many dermatologists have found that people who go to see the doctor for a skin condition often have a related psychological problem that is related to the skin issue—and that can, at times, make it difficult for standard treatments to work.

For example, whereas some people may get better with antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or topical ointments, people who have a psychological element involved in a skin condition will likely not experience complete recovery until both the psychological issue and the skin issue are resolved.

“The skin seems to have a unique ability to both respond to our emotions and stir up our emotions,” says Ted Grossbart, M.D., and author of Skin Deep: A Mind-Body Program for Healthy Skin. “It’s the one suit that we wear all the time, but we change it to fit our moods as much as anything else we wear.”

Mindfulness May Help Clear Up Your Skin

Would you be surprised to learn that hypnosis and mind-body techniques like relaxation and meditation hold the key to clear skin for many people?

It’s because the brain and nervous system influence the skin’s immune cells. One study, for instance, found that patients who were less stressed before surgery had higher levels of healing immune cells in their skin, experienced less pain after the operation, and enjoyed shorter recoveries.

the chronic stress effect

Individuals under chronic stress, on the other hand, may fall victim to skin diseases, because the stress disrupts the outer layer, making the skin more vulnerable to assaults from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pollution.

skin responses to stress

Skin conditions that become worse when we experience stress include:

Of course many of these skin conditions can cause difficult emotions, such as embarrassment, low self-esteem, and additional stress, creating a difficult cycle to break.

When dermatologists suspect a strong mind-skin connection, they may recommend additional treatments, including:

  • Anti-depressants
  • Mind-body techniques
  • Meditation
  • Hypnosis
  • Focused breathing

Hypnosis, for example, was found in studies to help reduce stress and anxiety, while at the same time taming inflammation, controlling itching, speeding healing, and even shrinking warts.

Standard psychotherapy has also found to be helpful. Patients learn how their emotions are affecting their skin, and how those emotions can actually “speak through the skin,” giving them important clues as to how they’re feeling or adapting.

Skin Reactions to Different Emotions

Everyone is different, and may suffer from different skin conditions in response to their emotions, but there are some emotions that are often linked to specific skin reactions.

When you experience these emotions, for instance, you may suffer from the following:

Emotion-Skin Reaction Chart

Of course we can’t stop experiencing emotions, or going through stressful times. That’s just life. So what can we do to minimize the effect on skin?

How to Keep Your Emotions from Wreaking Havoc on Your Skin

The key is to do your best to balance both your emotions/stress and your skin routine. Here are the tips that may help:

1. Watch out for stress eating

When we get stressed, the body releases hormones that can compel us to eat unhealthy stuff. Fast foods and high-sugar foods are both bad for your skin, and will further deplete its defenses against stress-induced changes. We all slip now and then, but try to stick to your healthy diet even during stressful times.

2. Get into relaxation

Studies have found that mindfulness-based techniques like meditation, yoga, tai chi, hypnosis, and more can help bring your stress levels down. These activities can also help you weather those stressful times more effectively, with fewer complications showing up on your skin. Incorporate some type of mindfulness routine into your daily schedule—whichever one works for you—and stick with it.

3. Adopt an “I’m stressed” routine

We all go through stressful times. A death in the family, a move, the loss of a job, a promotion, an illness, and financial strain can all derail our usual healthy lifestyles.

Try to create an “I’m stressed” routine that you adopt when things get tough. Think of it like a rescue routine—when you do a little extra for yourself to keep your defenses strong. This routine could include:

  • Becoming militant about bedtime (because it’s SO important, particularly when you’re stressed).
  • Adding some supportive supplements to your diet for a few weeks, like magnesium, a vitamin B complex, omega-3 fatty acids (great for skin!), vitamin C, lemon balm, and chamomile.
  • Scheduling regular relaxation times for yourself, where you get a massage or facial, enjoy a hot bath, take a relaxing walk, or spend time with a pet.
  • Cutting out at least one “to-do” from your list, so you can ease up on yourself and give your body the time it needs to recover.

The more you can keep “self-care” in your mind during a stressful period, the more likely you’ll be to get through it.

Have you noticed that your emotions show up on your skin? Please share your story.


Inflammation and Allergy Drug Targets – Brain-Skin Connection: Stress, Inflammation and Skin Aging

Harvard Medical School – Recognizing the Mind Skin Connection

Everyday Health – Emotional Impact of Dry Skin

comments (9 and counting)


Reader Interactions


  1. says

    Thank you Anne Marie for writing this. I agree!

    My fiancé and I were planning our wedding and there was much family conflict last week, I couldn’t believe it. My skin is dry, flaky, itchy, and red on my eyelids and near my mouth. I believe in the mind body connection and am hesitant to go to a dermatologist, who may not get this. In fact, I called one and they didn’t call back.

    Not sure if I’m allergic to essential oils or makeup. I think it’s stress related. I’ve changed my skincare. Will schedule a massage and try tapping. When I release the anger, I know it’ll clear.

    Side note: Tosha Silver’s book, It’s Not Your Money, inspired a huge letting go for me, on all levels. It’s about surrendering your plans to the divine versus *doership.* It may help. She suggest smashing coconuts to release anger. I might try this.

    Peace and healing for all.

  2. Monica Patterson says

    I get hives off and on. Mine are definitely related to anxiety and unresolved issues with Mom and Dad. In the past, I have been told that I’m allergic to cats dander and shellfish. I have exposed myself to both repeatedly and nothing happens. So the MDs are missing it and all they want to do is bombard me with heavy duty toxic drugs such as Prednisone. I know where it comes from though. Whenever I have an internal conflict related to my parents I start to get hives. Something that has helped me a lot avoiding the drugs is tapping. Emotional Freedom Technique does work! There’s a great guy in You Tube. His name is Brad Yates,
    so effective and magical! Try it out!

  3. says

    Hello! I started with a skin allergy last year in november in Bali. ThenI went back home to Mexico and then I came back to Bali in Februrary to work, all this time i still had the allergy and one day I realized it started decreasing until I stopped having it (it lasted around 6 months). I am still in Bali and its november and my allergy started again! Im not sure if its something from the weather, the food, or any other external source. But I guessing it is emotional. I have some social anxiety and I am very very emotional. So probably it might be related to this! I practice yoga but I will practice more mindfulness and relaxation 🙂

  4. Michael says

    Much love and positive energy to Ann Marie Gianni for this useful article. And to all people reading this. At this point, there is no room for doubt about the mind body connection. Anyone who has seen the evidence cited in documentaries such as “What the Bleep Do We Know” and “E-Motion”, let alone seminal texts such as Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Travelled” and Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” will know beyond any doubt that the body and mind/emotions are inextricably linked. I have very dry, flaky skin, despite healthy diet, daily meditation and good hydration. It comes as no surprise to me that multiple sources are saying that evidence shows that suppressed anger and anxiety are causes of this – I have both of these issues. Coco – my advice would be, minimise sugar, go to a plant based diet (www.nutritionfacts.org) and meditate daily. Yoga can also help. Bring your awareness into your body as many times per day as you can. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” can also be a great help. Namaste one and all xx

  5. Gwendolyn Kam says

    When my husband started withdrawing and turning to alcohol and staying away from the house at the start of the year, I started developing an itchy spot on my scalp. I was also stressed with a newborn and a toddler.

    Then my husband left 5 months ago and I recently developed some sort of dry skin bumpy itchy spots on my right leg. And I’m itching all over randomly lol; also my eyes are more prone to allergic reactions.

    So yes, I’m highly stressed and anxious because of all this external events. I know I need to meditate! Or probably go for a run or something.

  6. Coco says

    I’ve been experiencing itchy skin and hives (dermographism) for two years now. I’ve also been struggling with some of the worst anxiety over the last years. I’ve seen an allergist and he could find no allergies. I guess it is the mind body connection. Has anyone experienced this and been successful at treating it? The itching and hives cause a vicious cycle of increasing anxiety. Thank you.

    • Bec says

      This may be a bit late but using a natural moisturiser and adding some lavender oil has helped me clear it right up. Still looking for a cause for myself tho

  7. Elizabeth says

    I can see a connection between stress and acne flare ups. Sometimes it might be the emotional eating that is triggering the flare up also, since my skin definitely responds to dietary changes. I find a clay mask, sometimes just applied as a spot treatment, can be helpful. I also make sure that I am consistent with my morning routine…not just exercise and skin care, but my quiet time of mediation, prayer, and journaling. There is definitely a mind-body connection.

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