A large number of skin diseases including dermatitis and psoriasis, appear to be caused by, or exacerbated by, psychological stress, and scientists have long confirmed the role that the stress hormone, cortisol, plays in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – however the natural body stress response and deranged levels of this hormone can cause some surprising skin related symptoms to sufferers.
Easy bruising, and dry skin, are some common symptoms of high cortisol levels, alongside poor wound healing.
But how can a psychological condition such as PTSD cause physical scarring?
PTSD is often as described as being ‘trapped in the fight, flight or freeze bodily response’. At the time someone is exposed to an intensely fearful situation, their mind ‘suspends’ normal operations and it copes as well as it can in order to survive – unfortunately, the body can find it very difficult to recognise that the danger has passed, so retains many of the stress responses in the long term.
This stress response has shown to affect sufferers skin by:
- drawing water away from the outer layers of skin, as a way to keep hydrated in an emergency situation.
- inhibiting inflammatory cytokine expression during the healing process.
- activating vasoconstriction, thereby ‘reducing oxygen levels in tissues, which can damage reparative cells’
As a result of this, the stress reactions in the body prolong the inflammatory phase of healing, reduces overall capacity for healing, and delays wound closure.
The prolonged stress response of a PTSD sufferer increases the likelihood of a reduced ability for your skin to repair and regenerate itself correctly, and so is a large factor in the likelihood of being left with a scar, even from a small cut.
SOURCES: Shape, Psychological Stress Perturbs Epidermal Permeability Barrier Homeostasis Implications for the Pathogenesis of Stress-Associated Skin Disorders, Amit Garg, BA; Mary-Margaret Chren, MD; Laura P. Sands, PhD; Mary S. Matsui, PhD; Kenneth D. Marenus, PhD; Kenneth R. Feingold, MD; Peter M. Elias, MD Arch Dermatol. 2001;137(1):53-59. doi:10.1001/archderm.137.1.53., Neuroimmunology of the Skin: Basic Science to Clinical Practice, edited by Richard D. Granstein, Thomas A. Luge,
IMAGE: Lava Scars by Pascal