It seems itchy skin, blotches and rashes now increasingly figure on the list of lifestyle diseases that afflict young urban professionals. Typically, a stressful life (coupled with sedentary habits) is seen as a causative factor for a host of ailments—from hormonal imbalance to hypertension. Skin disorders now figure alongside these health issues as more people turn to dermatologists with problems ranging from adult acne to pigmentation.
Itching with anxiety?
“Stress is responsible for many skin problems, including conditions such as dermatitis, where one develops a rough, dry, scaly dark patch, which is highly persistent and itchy,” says Charulata Bose, consultant dermatologist, Artemis Health Institute, Gurgaon.
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Dr Bose recalls a 25-year-old marketing professional (name withheld to protect patient’s privacy) whose new job entailed long hours and tough working conditions, including a difficult boss. “Within three months, she noticed very severe hair fall,” Dr Bose says. As often happens in skin-related disorders, the hair fall further exacerbated her stress. By the time she came to Dr Bose, her scalp was showing. She was treated with nutritional supplements—“We had to pump in antioxidants into her system to help negate the effect of stress,” says Dr Bose—then a three-month treatment to regenerate hair, followed by topical applications for hair growth.
“Urbanites today are ageing faster than previous generations, with issues such as ageing skin, wrinkles, dark circles and hair loss emerging as common complaints in the age group between 25 and 40 years,” says Pakhi Pereira, consultant dermatologist, Kaya Skin Clinic, Bangalore.
Is it your work?
Take the case of 27-year-old Savita Lakshman, a public relations consultant who found that her work routine had triggered a bout of adult acne that left her with scars. Lakshman has been treated by dermatologists at Kaya Skin Clinic for over four years now, starting with a year-long course of glycolic peels combined with treatments for acne and scar reduction. Lakshman now follows a rigorous routine of skin protection coupled with adequate fluid intake to protect her skin.
“In traditional societies, the physical activity involved in (the) daily routine would release endorphins that helped people de-stress,” says Pereira. “These days, the combined effect of less physical work and long hours spent indoors shows on the skin.” She also lists higher pollution and exposure to ultraviolet radiation as triggers.
Darkened by neglect?
A 12-hour workday leaves 28-year-old Rashmi Panwar with little time. As early as her first year in a new job, Panwar, a retail and real estate consultant in New Delhi, realized that stress at work was taking a toll, leaving her with habitual dark circles and dull, uneven skin. There was little time for remedial action until two years ago, though, when she found the first signs of pigmentation: dark freckles on her earlier clear skin. “I realized it was time to seek help to prevent further damage to my skin, which was reflecting the fatigue that was bottled up,” says Panwar, who has been treated with photo facials to reduce the pigmentation. She now combines regular skincare and twice-a-week yoga sessions with a personal trainer to help her destress.
Dermatologists recommend holistic treatments to soothe stressed-out skin. “I use a combination of skin procedures such as microdermabrasion and peels along with procedures such as colon hydrotherapy to detoxify the skin,” says Simal Soin, dermatologist, Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi. She sees an increasing number of patients in the 30-50 age group with skin disorders.
Recent research also points to stress as a trigger for skin ailments. After all, the skin is the first level of defence against infections, both as a physical barrier and as a site for white blood cells to battle invading bacteria and viruses. But these white blood cells can also overreact to stress, resulting in inflamed skin (as with dermatitis), according to a study published in the November issue of American Journal of Pathology. “Knowing the cause actually helps remove half the problem. A little help from the dermatologist can go a long way in taking care of, and reversing, skin disorders,” says Dr Bose.
Destress first, then treat
“Mental stress can exacerbate chronic skin conditions such as psoriasis and give rise to allergies, so it is important to understand what is causing the stress before we treat the skin,” says Pereira, who recommends medical treatment along with counselling to help a person identify the cause of stress and find ways to combat it.
Shiv K. Sharma, senior chief medical officer, department of skin and STD at Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, New Delhi, agrees. “Stress should be managed before taking up the treatments of (the) above-mentioned elements for long-lasting effect. One should follow a regular routine of sleeping and eating, with a sufficient intake of fruits and vegetables. Exercising at least four-five times a week is most helpful. If stress is not addressed, the stress-induced diseases can progress to psycho-pathological disorders like neurotic excoriations (unconscious picking, digging and scraping of skin) or trichotillomania (the abnormal urge to pull out one’s own hair from the scalp, eyebrows or beard, or even eyelashes),” he says.
Wash your hands, folks—especially you, ladies. A study funded by the US National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, published in November, found women have a greater variety of bacteria on their hands than men. The researchers suggest it may have to do with the acidity of skin (men generally have more acidic skin than women). Other possibilities include differences in sweat and oil gland production, the frequency of moisturizer or cosmetics application, skin thickness or hormone production, the researchers say. Kavita Devgan
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Human genes remember a sugar hit for two weeks, and prolonged poor eating
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