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Stress and Seborrheic Dermatitis: What’s the Connection?

Medically reviewed by Kevin Berman, M.D., Ph.D.
Written by Anika Brahmbhatt
Posted on February 9, 2023

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition characterized by greasy scales and itchy, flaky patches of skin that mainly affect the scalp. Although scientists think that a type of yeast is the underlying cause of seborrheic dermatitis, they’ve identified stress as a risk factor for flare-ups — periods when symptoms worsen. Experiencing flare-ups may cause even more stress, creating a frustrating cycle.

If you identify with this, you may benefit from a deeper understanding of what exactly stress is, how it may interact with seborrheic dermatitis, and ways to manage it.

How Stress Affects Your Body

Stressful situations can come in many forms: driving in dangerous conditions, seeing a large dog approaching, facing a looming deadline, and many others. During stressful situations, your body naturally triggers a fight-or-flight response by releasing extra hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. The boost of adrenaline increases your energy supplies — as well as your heart rate and blood pressure. The added jolt of cortisol tamps down functions that aren’t immediately essential so that your mind and body can focus on dealing with the immediate threat. This includes changing how your immune system responds.

Once the threat has passed, your hormone levels will revert to normal — and, in turn, so will your blood pressure, heart rate, and other bodily functions.

The body’s natural stress response system can be vital to overcoming threats. However, if you experience chronic (ongoing) stress, your body can become overexposed to these stress hormones. This can then disrupt the majority of your body’s processes and adversely affect your well-being.

Common Symptoms of Stress

According to Cleveland Clinic, chronic stress can affect your body and mind in many ways. Symptoms of chronic stress of stress include:

  • Chest pain
  • Racing heart
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • High blood pressure
  • Digestive problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Clenched jaw
  • Weakened immune system
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Recognizing your stress response is the first step to learning how to cope with it.

Stress and Seborrheic Dermatitis

Each person’s experience of stress may look slightly different. However, you may want to keep a few particular factors in mind if you have seborrheic dermatitis.

Impact of Stress on Seborrheic Dermatitis

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, many people experience flare-ups of their seborrheic dermatitis symptoms when they’re stressed. Clinical studies have found that psychological stress similarly affects people with the skin condition atopic dermatitis — the most common type of eczema.

“Stress is causing a flare-up all along my hairline and forehead,” wrote one MySebDermTeam member. “Going to do an overnight scalp treatment tonight!”

For some people, flare-ups may also be seasonal, peaking in winter and early spring. One MySebDermTeam member shared, “I’m having a flare-up on my scalp this weekend/week. I think it’s a combination of the winter weather and the stress of returning to work after a long vacation. Trying my hardest not to scratch and pick. 😕”

Take note of times you’re feeling especially stressed out and whether those periods seem to correlate with your flare-ups. This could be an important piece of information to discuss with your dermatologist or primary care provider to help them customize your seborrheic dermatitis treatment plan.

Impact of Seborrheic Dermatitis on Stress

Seborrheic dermatitis can be a source of stress in and of itself for a number of reasons. The condition often starts in adolescence or young adulthood. Developing symptoms that affect your appearance, such as white or yellow flaky skin or dark patches, may spark social anxiety. Facing the discomfort of itchy skin can also be a source of stress. Juggling doctors’ appointments and trying to figure out which treatments are effective can also lead to increased stress.

Tips for Managing Stress With Seborrheic Dermatitis

If your seborrheic dermatitis symptoms are increasing your stress levels or vice versa, you can take steps to reduce that stress. According to the National Eczema Association, managing stress can have a significant positive impact on seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. So, too, can managing depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

Some ways to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety include:

Having compassion for yourself and being mindful of your limits can also help reduce stress. If you need to alter your exercise routine — or even skip a session — due to itchiness or skin flaking, give yourself permission to do so.

Additionally, if the prospect of taking a walk in public feels particularly daunting during a flare-up, that’s OK. You can experience the benefits of nature just by stepping outside your front door for a couple of minutes each day.

It’s also helpful to remember that you’re not alone in your experience. Living with a skin disease and weighing different treatment options — alongside all of life’s other responsibilities and stressors — can be overwhelming. Your wellness, both mental and physical, is a priority, and connecting with others who have similar experiences may help you find community. MySebDermTeam, the support network for people living with seborrheic dermatitis, can be a great resource for advice and empathy for people who understand what it’s like to live with the condition.

Finally, if you’re experiencing chronic stress, anxiety, or depression, you may also benefit from speaking with a mental health care professional, such as a therapist.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MySebDermTeam is the social network for people with seborrheic dermatitis and their loved ones. On MySebDermTeam, members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with seborrheic dermatitis.

Have you been diagnosed with seborrheic dermatitis? What advice do you have for others living with the condition and dealing with stress? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on your Activities page.

Posted on February 9, 2023

A MySebDermTeam Member

There's been some feedback on this website that senior SD patients who never had Sebderm before, now mysteriously have it. Or seniors who had a mild case of it now all of a sudden have a raging case… read more

posted October 10, 2023
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I Suffer With Chronic Stress An It Effects My Skin Badly What Can I Do To Help
November 30, 2023 by A MySebDermTeam Member 3 answers
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.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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