Can stress cause eczema?

Stress is a broad term that encompasses a number of different emotions such as anxiety, low mood, depression, even panic, resulting in a general feeling of negativity. It can manifest itself in different ways, such as a skin allergy. And it can, without you wanting it to, spill over into every aspect of your life. Not only can stress affect you mentally and emotionally, it can also affect you physically.

If you or a member of your family already has eczema there is no doubt that psychological factors can cause and make the condition worse - triggering skin allergy, flare-ups and outbreaks of severe itchiness.1 The stress hormone cortisol affects the immune system, which may lead to these flare ups. Additionally, some studies have indicated that some stress can negatively affect your skin’s barrier functions, therefore exacerbating skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as skin allergy.2

Top causes of stress in adults include:

  • Work pressure, or a loss of job
  • Bereavement
  • Relocation
  • Money problems

Top causes of stress in children include:

  • Social pressures, e.g. bullying
  • Studying for exams3
  • Parental divorce or bereavement 4

In times of stress, be sure to take extra care with your skin and try to avoid physical irritants. Some steps you can take include:

  • Shower regularly with gentle and fragrance-free soaps
  • If you prefer baths, only bathe for a maximum of 10 minutes
  • When showering or taking a bath, use warm - not hot - water
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing

Everyone reacts to stress differently, but here are some tips that may help you get a handle on your stress:

  • Identify your stress triggers, so you can learn to develop habits or strategies to prepare yourself and deal with them.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will help you manage periods of high stress.
  • Be active, getting outside for some fresh air and exercise.
  • Ensure you’re getting enough sleep.
  • Make sure you’re eating healthily and drinking enough water.
  • Me time – Make sure you make some time in your day to relax and spend time doing the things that really make you happy.
  • Set goals – Having challenges or conquering new skills or experiences can raise your self-esteem, empower you and give you a feeling of wellbeing and accomplishment.
  • Volunteer – Helping others can often be the perfect antidote to thinking about your own worries.


  1. Griesemer, Robert D. "Emotionally triggered disease in a dermatologic practice." Psychiatric Annals 8.8 (1978): 49-56.G1)
  2. Altemus, Margaret, et al. "Stress-induced changes in skin barrier function in healthy women." Journal of Investigative Dermatology 117.2 (2001): 309-317.
  3. Garg, Amit, et al. "Psychological stress perturbs epidermal permeability barrier homeostasis: implications for the pathogenesis of stress-associated skin disorders." Archives of dermatology 137.1
  4. Bockelbrink, A., et al. "Atopic eczema in children: another harmful sequel of divorce." Allergy 61.12 (2006): 1397-1402.