A research team at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) and Temple University made the observation having carried out a questionnaire-based study, published in the international, peer-reviewed journal Acta Dermato-Venereologica.
The aim was to assess the relationship between perceived psychological stress and the prevalence of various skin symptoms in a large, randomly selected sample of undergraduate students.
Different stress groups
Respondents were divided into groupings labelled as low stress, moderate stress and high stress.
Compared to low stress subjects, the high stress group suffered significantly more often from itchy skin; alopecia; oily, waxy or flaky patches on the scalp; sweating; scaly skin; nail biting; itchy rash on hands; and hair pulling.
There was no association between perceived psychological stress levels and the presence of pimples, dry/sore rash, warts and other rashes on the face.
"Our findings highlight the need for health care/dermatology providers to ask these patients about their perceived levels of psychological stress,” says Dr Gil Yosopovitch, Chair of the Department of Dermatology at LKSOM, Director of the Temple Itch Center, and corresponding author of the study.
“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."
The questionnaire-based, cross-sectional study was conducted at Temple University during the 2014 fall semester, with 5000 undergraduate students invited to take part in a web-based survey in which they reported their perceived psychological stress and any skin complaints. In all, 422 students were included in the final sample size.
Despite the low response rate, and the absence of physical assessment of respondents, Dr Yosipovitch says the results are important for dermatologists who treat undergraduate-aged patients.
"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," he adds.