The Crazy Connection Between Stress & Collagen Levels + Tips From A Top Derm
The stress-skin connection is very much real. Ever notice a string of blemishes after a particularly pressing workweek? Hi, stress acne, you are most unwelcome. Although, pimples and rashes aren't the only stress-induced skin woes; in fact, stress can affect your body's natural collagen levels, which can lead to a smattering of skin concerns over time (namely, wrinkles, dryness, and crepiness).
Here, a dermatologist weighs in on the connection between stress and collagen, plus how to manage it internally.*
The link between stress and collagen levels.
When you feel stress, your body kicks up cortisol—this is generally a good thing, as cortisol plays a huge part in your body's innate "fight-or-flight" response. Pretty helpful in case you need an upshot of adrenaline to run from a tiger, sure, but it also ramps up in response to modern, everyday stressors. That chronic cortisol production becomes a problem, as your body remains constantly in this "fight-or-flight" mode.
So, back to skin health: As board-certified dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D., shares on the mindbodygreen podcast, too much cortisol can dial down your skin's production of collagen, hyaluronic acid, and lipids to harbor energy for that fight-or-flight response. If your cortisol is constantly kicked up, that production only decreases further. Herein lies the issue: "When you're not having enough collagen and hyaluronic acid, that's going to make the skin less plump, less firm," Bowe says.
Over time, this can even lead to thinning of the dermal layer of the skin. "The skin can actually get thinner," says Bowe. "It impairs wound healing. So that has tremendous consequences on the health of the skin." And that chronic stress we mentioned? That can actually lead to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which can further deplete collagen levels and contribute to premature aging.
It's overall not a fun situation—but here's what you can do to help.
What to do about it.
First things first: Managing stress is key. It's easier said than done—this I know—but finding ways to cope with stress will pay off in the long run. What works for you might not look identical to a friend or family member (some love exercise or yoga; others find herbs and teas more stress-soothing), but do your best to discover what helps you dial down that "fight-or-flight" response.
But because stress is so nebulous and thus difficult to tackle, you can fare well by supporting your body's collagen production itself. Especially if you think your stress could be showing up in your fine lines, dryness, or dullness, you can replenish your skin with the exact nutrients it's begging for.
Hydrolyzed collagen supplements can support your skin cells' fibroblasts (aka, the parts of the skin cell that produce collagen and elastin), and studies have shown they can promote collagen and elastin production1, as well as healthy moisture levels, and smooth fine lines.*
With mindbodygreen's grass-fed collagen+, you'll also get your fill of hyaluronic acid (cortisol depletes this, too, remember?) for hydrated, supple skin.* Plus, it features vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that not only supports collagen production and stabilizes the collagen already in your body, but it also can help neutralize free radicals and manage oxidative stress.*
Stress can deplete collagen (as well as hyaluronic acid and essential lipids), which can make your skin appear dry, dull, and fragile. Of course, stress-relieving techniques are paramount, but you can also supply your body with those exact nutrients and get your skin health back on track.*
Jamie Schneider is the Beauty & Wellness Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.A. in Organizational Studies and English from the University of Michigan, and her work has appeared in Coveteur, The Chill Times, and Wyld Skincare. In her role at mbg, she reports on everything from the top beauty industry trends, to the gut-skin connection and the microbiome, to the latest expert makeup hacks. She currently lives in New York City.