Stress can mess with everything from your sleep to your skin. Learn the signs of a stressed face, plus how to get your glow back.
Feeling stressed? The pent-up tension, frustration, and anxiety affect more than just your brain. Stress can show up on your face too.
While some stress is a normal part of a changing life — even good changes! — chronic stress can devastate your health, from restless sleep to random breakouts.
Wanna know all the ways stress can affect your face? Let’s take a look, then figure out what you can do to release the tension and calm your complexion.
We all know stress can wreak havoc on our thoughts, emotions, and sleep. But your good looks too?
Yep, here are 10 signs of a so-called “stressed face.”
Think you ditched acne back in college? Think again.
Stress is a well-known breakout trigger. Research suggests this might be because the stress hormone, cortisol, unleashes a chain reaction that causes your sebaceous glands to produce more oil.
More oil = clogged pores = zit central.
Unfortunately, fixating on a stress breakout might make you break out more. So take a deep breath and do your best to avoid popping those pimples.
Your outer layer of skin — your skin barrier — is responsible for locking moisture in. But chronic stress can literally erode your skin barrier from the inside out.
The result? A dry, stressed complexion. When stress keeps your skin from retaining moisture, you could end up with an itchy, flaky face.
Folks with skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis know that stress can do significant damage. Stressful weeks or months tend to aggravate flare-ups, leading to redness, itchiness, and even rashes.
But what about folks who *don’t* have chronic skin issues? Well, they’re not exactly in the clear. Research shows that you’re more likely to experience itchy skin, a dry rash, and even dandruff when your stress level is sky-high.
Dark circles under eyes
Dark circles are usually caused by a combo of age and genetics. But lifestyle ish (like stress) can also mess with the delicate skin around your eyes.
Whether it’s pressure at work, relationship probs, or mental exhaustion, feeling stressed makes it harder to sleep. And if you’re not clocking 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, you *will* end up with shadows under your eyes.
As if dark circles aren’t enough, stress-induced sleeplessness can lead to puffy under-eye bags.
Science says sleep deprivation can affect your skin’s elasticity and pigmentation. A small 2013 study also found that extreme fatigue can cause droopy eyelids and swollen eyes.
The skin around your eyes is super thin, so any loss of bounce or increased swelling can lead to droopy skin pouches under your peepers.
Y’know the vertical lines that pop up between your eyebrows when you’re mad? Those are glabellar frown lines, and they’re a super popular target for Botox. The more you frown, scowl, or even furrow your brows in deep thought, the deeper these wrinkles form.
Of course, everyone’s face structure is different. Some folks are more prone to glabellar lines, while others tend to get horizontal forehead wrinkles. One thing we can say for sure is the link between mental stress and frown lines is pretty darn clear.
If you’ve ever had to remind yourself to unclench your jaw after a bad day, you might also be a card-carrying member of the Bruxism Brigade.
Bruxism is just a fancy term for teeth grinding. And teeth grinding has been clearly linked to stress and depression.
Grinding your teeth might sound like the least of your worries, but this “stressed face” sign has some nasty effects:
- tooth cracks
- lost enamel
- jaw pain
Another telltale sign of bruxism? Enlarged masseters — aka, jaw muscles.
Unconsciously clenching your jaw and grinding your teeth gives your jaw a major workout. Over time, swole masseters can change the shape of your lower face. If your jawline has slowly broadened or gone from tapered to square, you’ve got a clear case of “stressed face.”
While this is more about your head than your face, it’s worth noting: Stress can make your hair fall out.
Telogen effluvium (TE) is a type of hair loss that occurs when your hair’s normal growth-shedding cycle is disrupted. Often triggered by extreme stress, TE can thin up to 70 percent of your mane. 🤯
Before you freak, know that TE is *not* permanent. Regrowth takes time, but your locks should return once the stress is addressed.
As if finding clumps of hair in the shower isn’t enough, stress can make you go gray.
A 2020 study found that mental stress slays your body’s melanocytes, the stem cells responsible for hair color. Once these cells are gone, new hair growth will be devoid of color. In other words, your baby hairs might come in white.
Noticing the effects of stress on your face and hair? Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but finding healthy ways to cope can help you reduce the chances of a stressed face and mane.
Here are some ways to manage the mayhem of tough times.
Schedule relaxation time
If you’re struggling to kick back and chill, try scheduling a block of relaxation time as if you’re planning a meeting. This prearranged time should be spent focusing on you — on releasing tension, loosening up, and filling your cup.
Bonus points if you schedule something you can’t back out of as easily, like a prepaid massage, yoga class, or meditation lesson.
Easier said than done, right? But science says laughter and social connection can dial down stress and depression, boosting your good vibes.
A few practical ideas:
- Queue up a favorite movie that’s guaranteed to make you chuckle.
- Grab a coffee or meal with a friend — and commit to keeping your phones out of sight to soak in precious face-to-face time.
- Escape the overwhelm with an easy-breezy beach read, dreamy fantasy series, or even a steamy love story.
- Use your lunch break to take a walk in your favorite park — and actually take time to smell the flowers!
- Close the laptop, put the phone down, and spend a few minutes snuggling with our pup, kitty, or partner.
Goodbye stress, hello cardio! There’s nothing like a run, spin sesh, or bike ride to let go of tension and bump up feel-good endorphins.
Science also backs the stress-busting power of movement. Recent research found that though stress might make you less likely to work out, higher physical activity leads to lower stress levels.
Eat more stress-relieving foods
Yep, you can work stress eating to your advantage! Nourishing foods could help minimize signs of a stressed face too.
A few stress-relieving foods to try:
- acerola cherries
- sweet potatoes
- matcha powder
- fatty fish
- dark chocolate
Ask for help
TBH, most chronic stress can’t be fixed with a bubble bath or face mask. Heck, sometimes even taking a mental health day won’t solve the problem.
If stress is showing on your face, it’s probably affecting your health in other ways too. Talking with a therapist can help you get to the root of your stressors, help you learn new ways to cope with stressful situations, and offer clarity during significant life changes.
Going all in on the stress management techniques above can help your face get back to a calm, healthy state, but change takes time.
In the meantime, here are some ways to get rid of a stressed-looking face.
- For stress-related breakouts: Switch to a super-gentle skin care routine that includes a pH-balanced cleanser, noncomedogenic moisturizer, and gentle vitamin C serum.
- For dry skin: Work to repair your damaged skin barrier by layering ceramide creams and humectants like hyaluronic acid and niacinamide.
- For rashes and hives: Go easy on your skin! Opt for skin care formulated for sensitive skin and take short, cool showers or baths to soothe redness and irritation.
- For dark circles: Home remedies include cool compresses, gentle eye massage, and better sleep. Of course, med-spa treatments like lasers and fillers also help.
- For under-eye bags: Try a cold tea bag compress or eye cream designed for under-eye bags. Limiting salt intake can also reduce puffiness in general.
- For forehead wrinkles: If you don’t already, use skin care products with anti-aging ingredients. Dehydrated skin also highlights stress lines on your face, so keep your face hydrated morning and night. Botox also effectively smooths forehead furrows.
- For teeth grinding: Mouth guards protect your teeth from further damage, while jaw exercises help tell overactive masseters to chill.
- For hair loss: Stress-related hair loss should resolve on its own, but you can support regrowth by eating a well-balanced diet. Some folks also turn to topical hair loss treatments — but run these past your doc or derm first.
- Some stress is normal, but chronic overwhelm and tension can literally show up on your face.
- Signs of a stressed face include breakouts, dry skin, new wrinkles, and even enlarged jaw muscles.
- Soothing a stressed face requires addressing the source of the problem: your stress level! Finding ways to relax, release tension, and reclaim your joy can give you an all-natural glow-up.
- In the short term, you can treat your stressed face with sensitive skin care formulations, soothing hydration, and cool compresses. You might also want to consult a dermatologist for skin probs or hair loss and a dentist for teeth grinding.
- If chronic stress is getting you down, consider therapy. A trained pro can offer personalized tips and coping skills for whatever you’re going through.