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Eczema and Stress: What's the Connection?

Updated on June 24, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Article written by
Amy Isler, RN

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition that produces rash, discoloration, and painfully itchy skin. The condition is influenced by genetics and is often triggered by allergens and irritants. Emotional stress has also been linked to eczema flare-ups. A negative feedback loop of anxiety and eczema symptoms can make it hard to control and prevent eczema breakouts.

A MyEczemaTeam member shared how stress has affected their eczema. “My rash was doing better, but then I had a stressful week. Now the rash is back on my stomach,” they shared. “I guess it’s true that stress and eczema are related.”

However, there are ways to manage both stress and eczema to help clear your skin and reduce itchiness.

How Does Stress Cause Eczema?

Feelings of emotional tension, such as fear, anger, or nervousness, can activate the body’s stress response. A stress response is a chemical reaction that releases cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones help you to combat dangerous situations by increasing your heart rate and preparing your mind and body for either fight or flight.

Stress is a natural body response that, in small doses, is beneficial to your well-being. It can act as a motivator to get a project completed on time, or it can alert you to danger. However, when your stress response is activated for long periods of time, it can cause considerable damage to your body.

Inflammation is a negative symptom of chronic stress. Eczema is an inflammatory skin disorder, resulting in the overactivation of the immune system. Stress can aggravate eczema and worsen symptoms.

How Can You Control Stress-Related Eczema?

There is not yet a cure for eczema, but there are many ways to manage and reduce symptoms. Reducing stress-triggered eczema, for example, involves reducing the stress in your life. Positive ways to reduce stress levels include:

  • Exercise and physical activity
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation and deep breathing
  • Spending time with people you care about
  • Finding time to relax
  • Joining a support group
  • Drinking enough water
  • Getting enough sleep

One MyEczemaTeam member stated, “Stress and no sleep equals bad skin.”

If you are having increased symptoms of stress, anxiety, or depression and the above tips don’t seem to help, consider reaching out to a therapist or medical professional for help and treatment suggestions.

How To Treat and Prevent Eczema Symptoms

Whether your symptoms derive from stress or other triggers, it is important to consult with a board-certified dermatologist to get a treatment plan that works for you and your condition. A common eczema treatment plan includes a combination of skin care, trigger management, and medication.

Skin Care

Eczema requires delicate skin care to decrease dryness and promote skin hydration. A skin care routine for managing eczema includes:

  • Taking short baths in lukewarm water — instead of hot, which can worsen symptoms
  • Applying a fragrance-free and dye-free moisturizer
  • Applying moisturizer to your skin immediately after bathing to trap in moisture

Trigger Management

Reducing eczema triggers is key to preventing flare-ups. Not everyone has the same causes of eczema, so it is important to recognize what activates your flare-ups. In addition to stress, common triggers can include:

  • Certain skin care products
  • Sweating
  • Cold or hot weather
  • Fragranced or dyed skin products
  • Certain laundry detergents
  • Wool

A MyEczemaTeam member shared what triggers their eczema, “The summer heat, stress, and food allergies are all causing my eczema to be a pain to deal with. I soaked in an oatmeal bath and applied my cream medication, which has helped.”

Topical Medication

Over-the-counter and prescription topical skin medications are available to help manage eczema symptoms. Common products include:

You Are Not Alone

MyEczemaTeam is the social network for people with eczema and their loved ones. Here, more than 36,000 members from around the world come together to ask questions, offer support and advice, and connect with others who understand life with eczema.

Does stress cause your eczema to flare? How do you cope? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a discussion on MyEczemaTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D. is a dermatologist at the Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Amy Isler, RN is a registered nurse with over six years of experience as a credentialed school nurse. Learn more about her here.

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