Stress and skin

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Today's top medical news and feel-better tips Relaxation may be ointment for better complexion

A recent study suggests what doctors and mothers of teenagers have known all along---that stress and anxiety may be rough on your skin.

The first shred of evidence behind a stress/skin link lies in a cellular chain of events initiated by substance P, a protein made by nerves. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine observed skin cultures in a petri dish. They found that substance P causes certain immune-system cells (known as mast cells) to release chemicals. These chemicals force white blood cells to clog the walls of blood vessels beneath the skin, causing redness and inflammation on the skin's surface. This kind of chain reaction has been observed in conditions like acne.

It's possible that substance P links stress and skin. Because it spills from our nerves, this troublemaking protein may be increased by heightened anxiety, the researchers think.

Understanding this link may help to nip skin problems before they begin to bud. According to the leader of the study, George F. Murphy, M.D., a dermatology professor at Penn, stress management, coping mechanisms and behavior modification may all have potential in preventing acne and related skin problems. "Rather than just giving the patient medication, we might one day be asking her what's going on in her life."

Dr. Murphy believes the stress/skin link could also apply to psoriasis, hives, eczema and rosacea, a condition that causes redness. Psoriasis, for example, has an inflammatory component that may be affected by substance P. When these conditions are thriving, stress may egg them on.

Stress may also play a role in nonskin ailments in which mast cells are prominent, he theorizes. "Inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and possibly even gastric ulcers ---all seem to be worsened during stressful periods," says Dr. Murphy.

Of course, it's a giant leap from the petri dish to real life, but Dr. Murphy hopes that if the stress/skin link proves true, relaxation techniques could become important adjunct therapies for clearer skin

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