Dermatitis, sometimes stress is to blame

The psyche affects skin health. Here’s how to fight psychophysiological stress disorders.

The skin can manifest our psychological discomfort through real diseases. Acting simultaneously on mind and body helps to solve the problem.

Seborrheic, atopic, psoriasis, eczema. There are several terms in which we talk about dermatitis, although the appearance of the various forms of this skin disorder is similar.

All, in fact, are united by redness (in the form of red patches with vesicles or bubbles) and itchy swelling that can degenerate into real lesions.

Do you suspect that it is atopic dermatitis? Read this Dossier.

Dry skin is also a common symptom of many types of dermatitis. Sometimes it can be associated with peeling. Symptoms generally appear on the face, neck, hands and feet, in the eye area (including eyelids) and on the scalp. The subject feels discomfort, severe itching, heat and burning and is led to scratch, risking to give rise to wounds, abrasions and grazes of the skin, with possible leakage of blood, and the consequent formation of scabs.

Many forms of dermatitis can be worsened, even in children, by a great enemy of our times: stress.

The influence of the psyche on skin health is particularly important in those diseases, such as psoriasis, which tend to disappear for a few periods and then flare up.

Precisely because the skin disorder is aggravated by emotions or particularly stressful events, atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis are part of the so-called psychophysiological disorders.

When, on the other hand, stress manifests itself in the skin with a sudden itchy sensation and without it being possible to identify pre-existing disorders or pathological causes, then we speak of stress itching.

Mind and skin, a whole of sensitivity

We talk about stress dermatitis when the symptoms of this skin disease appear or worsen in psychologically stressful periods.

Dermatitis can in fact depend on a very ancient defense mechanism of the organism, in which emotions find an outlet valve on the body. In this way psychologically unacceptable stresses are removed from the mind and emotions are not perceived, to the detriment, however, of the physical.

Psychologists have not yet come to define the unique psychological characteristics of the patient in which the symptoms of dermatitis worsen as a result of severe stress.

However, often those who suffer from this type of problem are united by anxiety, problems in relationships with the mother or, more generally, with significant people, emotional lability, feelings of independence, sexual difficulties and a tendency to turn aggression towards oneself. Sometimes those affected by this disease also suffer from depression.

Most of these people experience difficulty expressing their emotions, have a very active life but do not psychologically process daily experiences, such as work or school problems, or family bereavements.

In the same way, the physical mechanisms underlying this phenomenon of somatization have not yet been fully elucidated. Some studies suggest that under conditions of anxiety-inducing stress the skin becomes more permeable and, therefore, more vulnerable to dermatitis.

The role of so-called stress hormones, such as cortisol, also seems fundamental. These, by stimulating immunological responses associated with skin irritation, aggravate the symptoms of the disease.

Nervous dermatitis: what happens in the body

But what are the biological mechanisms underlying nervous dermatitis? When our psychophysical and emotional state is normal, we are under the influence of the hormones of well-being and everything works normally.

If, on the other hand, we are subjected to stress, our body is crossed by a storm of hormones and the mediators of inflammation by the immune system are also activated, which generate the typical symptoms of stress dermatitis.

It’s not just the endocrine system, the hormone-producing system, and the immune system that comes into play. Much is also due to the nervous system, the network of cells that send and receive electrical impulses that allow us to feel certain sensations.

In normal situations everything works well. When a stressor takes over, however, the nervous system is overstimulated and generates a sense of itching and heat and a burning sensation, which can also disturb the night’s rest.

Symptoms and diagnosis of dermatitis nervosa

For the doctor, the diagnosis of nervous (or stress) dermatitis is not very simple due to symptoms common to many other types of dermatitis.

For example, similarly to atopic dermatitis, nervous dermatitis also shows the typical symptoms of dermatitis without however any association with typical causes of other forms of this disease, such as, for example, exposure to irritating external agents, drugs, cosmetics and washing with detergents aggressive foamers. 

When, during a dermatological visit, the specialist analyzes the clinical picture of a suspected nervous dermatitis, a common element is the overexertion of the patient, who complains of psychological or emotional fatigue ; often psychic and emotional stress are also associated.

Our body begins to release histamine, the typical substance of allergic reactions. And that’s how a nerve itch can start ; a well-defined area of the body – legs, arms, scalp – that we just can’t help but scratch. And if we scratch ourselves we can also generate skin lesions.

Here then is that the family doctor or dermatologist can prescribe treatments with some drugs that allow on the one hand to limit the scratching action (mild sedatives) and on the other to counteract the inflammation that causes the itching sensation (anti-inflammatories) .

There may also be cases in which the dermatitis is localized on areas where the sebaceous glands are present (for example the face): in this case we speak of seborrheic dermatitis.

It is characterized by flaking of the skin and scalp, especially where there are skin folds. The back of the ears, the nasolabial folds of the nose and mouth, and the area near the eyelashes are most affected.

Although the cause of this chronic disorder is not yet well known, it is hypothesized that it is due to an altered production of androgen hormones, which determines an abnormal regulation of the glands that produce sebum, a fatty substance that normally contributes to the maintenance of skin elasticity.

The treatment of nervous dermatitis: between drugs and yoga

Precisely because in most cases stress does nothing but worsen an already ongoing dermatitis, acting on the psychological factor can help alleviate the symptoms, but it cannot be the cure.

Often the root cause is an allergy , infection or irritation triggered by atmospheric agents and it is therefore important to treat the skin disease as such first.

However, when stress also comes into play, it is possible to alleviate the symptoms of dermatitis by improving one’s lifestyle with anti-stress strategies (also useful for the prevention of subsequent episodes), for example by relieving tension through sport, relaxation Techniques , yoga and sleeping well.

In fact, if dermatitis is caused by stress, eliminating the cause or countering it with techniques that act on the psyche can be a useful strategy that can avoid the use of drugs.

For example, hypnosis and psychotherapy can help greatly reduce and even eliminate the psychosomatic problem that manifests itself in head, stomach and skin disorders. In fact, feeling good about yourself allows you to improve the general health conditions of the body and the immune system and, ultimately, determines a reduction in the typical symptoms of stress dermatitis such as itching, rashes and flaking.

It is also necessary to avoid behaviors that directly depend on one’s psychological state, such as the habit of scratching or picking at irritated skin, to avoid making the situation worse.

Even if stress dermatitis disappears as quickly as it appears suddenly, once the cause of the stress has been neutralized, in some cases the dermatologist suggests a therapy that involves treating the skin with soothing creams based on drugs that contribute to relieve pain, inflammation and itching (in some cases, and only for short periods, based on cortisone).

Help from nutrition too

Just as it is necessary to identify and neutralize the sources of psychological stress, it is also good to keep the factors that generate stress on a physical level under control. Among these, smoking, alcohol, caffeine-containing drinks and fatty foods should be avoided or limited as much as possible, instead favoring fruit, vegetables and foods rich in vitamins in general.

Natural remedies

Although there is still no scientific evidence that demonstrates its effectiveness, natural remedies can also be used to help solve the problem of stress dermatitis.

First of all, drinking extracts of plant origin with calming properties (such as valerian , passion flower , Chamomile , lemon balm and escholzia ) can help reduce stress levels.

Other plant substances can then help to counteract the symptoms of nervous dermatitis, in particular redness, erythema , urticaria and pain.

Another natural substance that can help those with stress dermatitis is oatmeal tags. It can be used in two ways: by mixing it with a little water to form a cream to be applied for a few minutes on reddened skin, or by adding a few spoonfuls to the bath. In both cases, you will feel a sensation of relief from burning and skin irritation.

Plant Property
Valerian, passion flower, chamomile, lemon balm, escholzia Calming properties
Borage oil Anti-inflammatory properties
Aloe vera gel, cold chamomile extract They relieve burning and itching
Oatmeal flour Offers relief from burning and skin irritation

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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