Your emotions can show up on your face in more ways than one. Find out how your feelings can hurt — and help — your complexion.
Smile For Good Skin
The saying “laughter is the best medicine” actually has some medical validity. Studies show that our emotions can have positive and negative consequences on our bodies, and affect the appearance of our skin. “I always say that life is in your head,” says Doris Day, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical School and author of Forget the Facelift. “Meaning, your moods and outlook have the greatest impact on how you look, and how others perceive you.”
Find out how your feelings leave their mark on your skin.
Out of all the emotions, stress is youth’s biggest enemy. “Stress can age your face far more rapidly than the passage of time,” says Amy Wechsler MD, an adjunct assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and dermatologist in New York City. That’s because it’s the biggest stimulator of that pesky hormone cortisol, which flows freely through your system in times of stress. “Cortisol taxes every organ, blood vessels become more fragile, new skin cells don’t form as quickly, and cell turnover may eventually slow by half — it’s skin aging in a nutshell,” says Dr. Wechsler.
During those stressful times, that chocolate bar, bag of salty potato chips or tempting cocktail often look more tantalizing than ever. “When you’re stressed, you may eat different foods than you usually do, and drink less water and more alcohol, which will can show in the dehydration,” says Dr. Day. “You may also pay less attention to your skincare routine.” While dehydration can make wrinkles and fine lines look more pronounced, the combination of a poor diet and spotty skincare can spell breakout trouble for the acne-prone.
Road rage or arguing with your mother can set the stage for more wrinkles. “Anger makes your facial muscles tense, which over time gives you lines,” says Jessica Wu, MD, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Southern California medical school and Daily Glow’s dermatology expert.
Feelings of anger can also affect how your skin rejuvenates and heals. In a study published in the journal Brain, Behavior, Immunity, researchers separated participants into two groups of easily angered and more peacefully Zen temperaments, and gave each a small wound on their arms. Healing and cell turnover took four times longer in the angry participants as it did those who had temper control. Researchers attributed the phenomenon to high levels of cortisol present in people who are quick to anger, which inhibits the product of collagen, a crucial element of skin healing, and a cause of wrinkling when production slows.
Like anger, sadness weighs heavily on the face, and can cause wrinkles from repetitively frowning and furrowing brows. Research now suggests that facial expression has such a strong effect on skin, that if you don’t have the ability to frown, you might actually feel less sadness. In a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, subjects who had unsuccessfully been treated with antidepressants were given Botox injections in their foreheads, which prevented brow furrowing. Six weeks later, depression was reduced on average by 47 percent in the control group, and nine percent in the placebo group, suggesting that our facial muscles not only express, but regulate mood states, says Dr. Wu.
Long-term depression has disastrous effects on skin, because the chemicals associated with the condition can prevent your body from repairing inflammation in cells. “These hormones affect sleep, which will show on our faces in the form of baggy, puffy eyes and a dull or lifeless complexion,” says Dr. Wechsler.
“Embarrassment can move from your brain to your skin, when neuropeptide receptors in skin receive messages, causing you to blush,” says Dr. Wechsler. The sensitivity of the sympathetic nervous system determines why how often and easily one blushes, as well as how hot your skin feels.
Blushing easily and frequently can be precursor to the chronic swollen blood vessel condition known as rosacea, according to the National Rosacea Society. However, blushing should not be confused with flushing, which shades a more intense red, spreads over the body and not just the face, and is usually caused by an external factor like temperature or spicy food.
When you feel threatened or in danger — whether the cause is real or imagined — “the brain’s first reaction is to signal the adrenal glands to release epinephrine, better known as adrenaline,” explains Dr. Wechsler. As a result, heart rate speed increases, rushing blood to the body’s big power muscles, in case you need the burst of energy to run fast. Adrenaline also commandeers some of that blood from the skin and face, and constricts blood vessels in the skin to control and limit bleeding if wounded. Dr. Wechsler explains that the fear chemicals can cause you to look pale and dull, as if you’d just seen a ghost.