Sometimes, Your Skin Needs You to Take It on Vacation continued...
"It is so common for my patients to report when they leave town on some relaxing vacation, their psoriasis or eczema almost magically resolves. It is not uncommon for new patients to report they are 'allergic' to something in their environment, when in fact they are responding to an increased level of stress in their environment," says Kunin.
People with cold sores often say they flare up when they're under stress. "The reason is that stress really does alter immune-system responses," Jones says. "The herpes virus responsible for cold sores is present all the time, but most of the time, the immune system has it controlled."
Acne flares are notorious before a big date or special event, Kunin says.
"This may have something to do with elevated cortisol levels," she says. "I encourage my acne patients to exercise regularly and try to keep stress down, especially when there is a planned event."
Shingles: Byproduct of Aging ... and Stress, Too?
Shingles is a painful skin problem caused by the same virus that's responsible for chickenpox. The virus remains inactive in nerve root cells for many years, until something rouses it, causing inflammation of the nerve. The patient experiences pain and a rash with small blisters in a narrow band on one side of the body.
"While it has long been suggested that stress may aggravate this condition, I have not found it to be true in the real world," Kunin says. "The dermatology community now feels that as people live longer, the majority of adults will eventually experience a bout of shingles. This is normally a one-time event. You can get it again in a different part of the body, but most people aren't that unlucky."
Kunin routinely treats shingles with oral antiviral agents to reduce the risk of postherpetic neuralgia, a painful condition that sometimes remains after the rash goes away.
Grossbart, however, says he believes stress can tip the balance between the virus and immune system and lead to an outbreak of shingles.
"We know the immune system is exquisitely sensitive to a range of emotional issues. We know the shingles virus lives in the body for decades. Why is it activated at a particular time? Because the person is under stress," he says.
Grossbart has found that hypnosis is particularly effective in dealing with pain control if pain persists even when the rash has disappeared.