Skin Problems in College Students: Could Stress Levels Be the Reason?

College kids who break out or get hives can, in fact, blame some of their skin problems on heightened levels of psychological stress.

College kids who break out or get hives can, in fact, blame some of their skin problems on heightened levels of psychological stress.

Researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) conducted a study published in the journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica to evaluate the relationship between perceived psychological stress and the prevalence of various skin symptoms.

Gil Yosipovitch, MD, chair of the Department of Dermatology at LKSOM, director of the Temple Itch Center, and the study’s corresponding author said, “Previous studies have demonstrated an association between stress and skin symptoms, but those studies relied on small patient samples, did not use standardized tools, are anecdotal in nature, or focused their analyses on a single skin disease.”

However, this questionnaire-based study was conducted during fall 2014 — initially 5,000 undergraduate students were invited to participate, but only 422 students were included in the final sample size.

The cohort was separated into groups like low stress, moderate stress, and high stress.

Results showed that compared to low stress individuals, the high stress group suffered more often from pruritus (itchy skin), alopecia (hair loss), oil, waxy, or flaky patches on the scalp, hyperhidrosis (troublesome sweating), scaly skin, onychophagia (nail biting), itchy rash on hands, and trichotillomania (hair pulling).

The study did not find a link between perceived psychological stress levels and the onset of pimples, dry/sore rashes, warts, or other facial rashes.

Despite low response rates and absence of physical assessment of respondents, Yosipovitch understands this study emphasizes the importance of talking about stress when students’ bring up their skin concerns.

“Our findings highlight the need for health care/ dermatology providers to ask these patients about their perceived levels of psychological stress. Disease flare or exacerbation while on treatment in the setting of increased stress may not necessarily reflect treatment failure. These findings further suggest that non-pharmacologic therapeutic interventions should be considered for patients presenting with both skin conditions and heightened levels of psychological stress,” concluded Yosipovitch.