8 Signs Of Anxiety That Can Show Up In Your Skin, According To Dermatologists
If you're struggling with anxiety, you might assume that you'll only notice a difference in how you feel. But you might not expect that anxiety affects your skin in a number of ways too. Depending on how severe your anxiety is, you might notice more hair falling out than usual, a skin rash that won't go away, or even areas of your skin losing color, according to experts.
Even though you might think of anxiety as mental and your skin health as physical, they actually connect quite a bit. "Skin and anxiety are inextricably linked," Dr. Richard Torbeck, a board-certified dermatologist with Advanced Dermatology PC, who has extensive experience in oncologic and cosmetic dermatology, tells Bustle. "The reason has to do a lot with how we deal with stress and anxiety," he says. Fortunately, there are professionals who can help you deal with not only your skin problem, but your anxiety issue as well. Although it's important to go to a dermatologist for help managing a skin condition, it's also crucial that you get help from a mental health profession to address the root cause — your anxiety. They'll be able to help you find strategies for coping with your anxiety so that your skin issues can also subside.
Here is how anxiety can show up on your skin, according to experts.
1. Hair Falling Out
When you think of how anxiety affects your skin, you probably immediately think of the skin on your face. But your scalp can also be affected by your mental health. "A very common-linked stress and hair loss [example] is telogen effluvium," Torbeck says. "It is very common after pregnancy, surgeries, significant life events, certain medications, and stressful events." If you've been noticing more hair falling out than usual and can spot some thinning, see your dermatologist for guidance specific to your situation. Also, make sure that you're caring for your mental health on a daily basis.
2. New Cuts, Pock Marks, Or Scabs
When some people are especially anxious, they might express that physically by jiggling their leg or biting their finger nails. For other folks, though, anxiety could lead them to pick at their skin. "Anxious picking is a very common condition that can be debilitating at times," Torbeck says. If this is something you're struggling with, your dermatologist will likely work with you to identify and then minimize the stressors in your life to reduce the desire to pick, he says. This is a condition that could be helped by seeing a talk therapist and then potentially also incorporating cognitive behavioral therapy, de-stressing (meditation, yoga), and medications SSRIs.
3. Dry Patches On Your Face And Scalp
When you're feeling especially anxious about something, that could lead to you developing seborrheic dermatitis — a rash on your scalp and face that causes dry flakes like dandruff to red, itchy scaly patches, Dr. Ohara Aivaz, a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist practicing in Beverly Hills, tells Bustle. "Because having a skin condition can lead to psychological distress and low self-esteem, the first step is to treat the skin condition itself," she says. Depending on your specific needs, your dermatologist might recommend creams or medicines. But treating the symptoms aren't enough. "Stress modification is also critical," Aivaz says. If you can get help dealing with the stressful situation, that can address the root cause.
If you have mild anxiety, it's pretty unlikely that you would experience vitiligo, a condition in which you lose pigment in parts of your skin. If you have extreme anxiety though, it could manifest this way, Dr. Viseslav Tonkovic-Capin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and dermatopathologist specializing in a wide variety of skin diseases including acne, tells Bustle. Vitiligo can be quite resistant to treatments, he says, which is why treating the anxiety is so important. "Obviously, the first step in the treatment of such conditions is to address possible causes of anxiety and try to treat them," he says. "To speed the process up, we usually start treating the skin as well, but sometimes the damage can be close to permanent."
5. Bumps Around Your Nose Or Mouth
If you've started noticing scaly, pink bumps that form around your mouth or nose, you might have perioral dermatitis, a rash which can be caused by anxiety, Dr. Ellen O. Turner, M.D., a dermatologist experienced in medical, cosmetic, surgical, laser, and superficial radiation procedures, tells Bustle. Your dermatologist might prescribe topical treatments or lifestyle changes, but they might also consider an approach that targets the anxiety itself. "In patients where traditional dermatology treatments are not effectively working, and patients are expressing stress or anxiety, I discuss four-point salivary cortisol testing, followed by treatment if there is, in fact, abnormality," she says. This might include taking adaptogenic herbs, following stress-reduction techniques, and drinking calming herbs or herbal teas.
6. Itchy Skin
When you're going through a period of intense anxiety, you might notice that your skin feels more itchy than usual. Pruritus, also known as itchy skin, is a possible manifestation of anxiety, Dr. Hal Weitzbuch, M.D., M.S., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist specializing in diagnosing and treating diseases, tumors, infections and age-related changes of the skin, hair, and nails, tells Bustle. "There are a number of reason why anxiety might lead to itching and then scratching," he says. "One reason is that anxiety is a neural condition and the nerves might be hyper-sensitive to any itch signal." Washing your body more often, moisturizing, or using an over-the-counter cream to help prevent itching, can help. If not, he says, seek the help of both a board-certified dermatologist and a mental health professional.
7. A Chronic Skin Rash
If you have a chronic skin rash, like psoriasis, you can have a flare-up during a period of anxiety, Weitzbuch says. Psoriasis is a skin issue where too many immune cells are in the skin, and anxiety can alter your immune system through stress hormones, which could worsen the condition. Treatment can vary based on your individual psoriasis experience, so if you notice that it's gotten much worse than it usually is, it's definitely smart to book an appointment with your dermatologist to talk about ways to address both the skin issue and your mental health.
"Acne is the best example where stress from anxiety can release cortisol," Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, a consultant dermatologist who's an expert in skin irritants and author of Beyond Soap, tells Bustle. "Cortisol will increase the skin's oil production through the testosterone pathway and can increase pimples," she says. The best acne treatment for you can vary based on a number of factors, such as your skin type, but addressing your anxiety can help your skin calm down. Consult with a mental health professional to identify stress-relief tactics that work for you, whether that means starting a daily meditation practice, taking up a new physical activity, or keeping a journal.
If you've been struggling with anxiety, it's definitely not a good time to also have to worry about a skin issue. Just be sure to address both your physical problem and your mental health so that you can get to a place where you feel the best you can.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.