When you think of your stressors, what usually comes to mind? Maybe it’s a bad breakup or a big move. These types of stress are short term and the way our body temporarily responds, such as by releasing the hormone cortisol for a small period of time, helps us deal with the stressor at hand. But just as pernicious are chronic stressors that build up over time, the ones that happen so often that they become “normal,” leading to an impact on our hair and skin health. An example could be the stress put on our bodies from inadequate sleep or the daily stress of a toxic work environment. Given the higher stress levels many of us are experiencing, you may even be noticing an increased feeling of anxiety or emotion when checking the news or scrolling social media.
Why hair thins when you’re chronically stressed
Linked to acceleration of hair and skin aging, chronic (long-term) and acute (short-term) stressors can be mental, emotional, or physical. However, while acute stress works to help enhance our immunity, chronic stress can have the opposite effect, suppressing our immunoprotection and increasing inflammation around our hair follicles, leaving us more vulnerable to damage.
Extreme or prolonged chronic stress even has the ability to push our normal hair growth cycle out of the growth phase, while stress molecules released by the body can work to directly inhibit the growth of hair, resulting in periods of increased hair shedding and nearly no growth. High stress levels also have the ability to aggravate existing hair issues stemming from hormones, toxins, metabolic issues, or our immune system.
How skin ages and sags under continued stress
Like hair, cortisol has the potential to cause serious damage to the skin. High levels of cortisol increase the breakdown of important skin compounds by about 40% and, to add insult to injury, decrease how well we make new ones. This is particularly true of skin components we rely on to help retain moisture. For example, when high levels of the hormone epinephrine (aka adrenaline) are released in response to a sudden stressor, the body’s ability to generate collagen can be impacted. Meanwhile, long-term or chronic stress has been connected to decreasing elastin. Both collagen and elastin are essential to taut, smooth skin. Without them, sagging, wrinkles, and other signs of skin aging become more apparent.
While photoaging of our skin is blamed largely on UV exposure from the sun, studies have shown that this damage is accelerated when combined with chronic stress. High levels of stress molecules have been shown to increase DNA damage to our cells, messing with their normal functioning and repair and leading to premature aging. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) have been shown to play a role in damaging and aging our cells, and repeated stress has been shown to enhance their negative impact. This insult of extra stress on the skin comes double with age, as the skin cell’s ability to repair damage naturally dwindles.
High stress levels have also been linked to causing blemishes. Common acne occurs thanks to a perfect storm of increased colonization of the bacteria P. acnes on the skin, increased oil production from our oil glands, and inflammation. Stress hormones have been shown to increase both oil production and inflammation, potentially causing or worsening acne. Not only that, but stress has the ability to worsen other issues associated with skin rashes, such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.
Gray hair and stress
Is the link between gray hair and stress just a myth? Science says no. Researchers now know that continued influence from the hormone norepinephrine, released in response to stress, robs us of the cells we rely on to pigment our hair. High levels of norepinephrine cause our melanocytes, or pigmented cells, to mature too quickly and migrate right out of our hair follicles in unnaturally high numbers — never to return. Prolonged exposure to high epinephrine can lead to new hair growth being emptied of pigmented cells, leaving hair looking grey or white.
How to manage stress for beautiful skin and hair
Given today’s stressful environment, supporting a healthy stress response is a priority for both well-being and healthy hair and skin aging. Stress-fighting ingredients found in hair growth supplements like Nutrafol have been shown to support your natural defense against stress.
Effective vitamins for stress, hair, and skin
Some of the top vitamins and botanicals to support hair growth and healthy skin aging in times of stress are:
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin C
Ashwagandha for stress
Vitamins for skin health
Vitamin D has been shown to improve immune function and inflammation, including the inflammatory response associated with premature aging. Vitamin C also helps to support proper immune function, as well as support antioxidant activity of the skin, protecting us from damage to our skin cells that may attribute to signs of aging. As an extra perk, vitamin C aids collagen production, helping to support the resilience of our skin and the hair follicles that rely on it.
Studies have shown that continual oral use of collagen is a safe way to help reduce and prevent skin aging. Researchers agree that hydrolyzed collagen, like the kind found in Nutrafol, is a helpful tool to improve skin hydration, wrinkling, and elasticity, which means great things for overall skin appearance, as well as the strength your skin needs to foster and secure healthy hair follicles and support formation of hair fibers like keratin.