Stress-induced changes in skin barrier function in healthy women

Margaret Altemus, Babar Rao, Firdaus S. Dhabhar, Wanhong Ding, Richard D. Granstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

246 Scopus citations


Despite clear exacerbation of several skin disorders by stress, the effect of psychologic or exertional stress on human skin has not been well studied. We investigated the effect of three different stressors, psychologic interview stress, sleep deprivation, and exercise, on several dermatologic measures: transepidermal water loss, recovery of skin barrier function after tape stripping, and stratum corneum water content (skin conductance). We simultaneously measured the effects of stress on plasma levels of several stress-response hormones and cytokines, natural killer cell activity, and absolute numbers of peripheral blood leukocytes. Twenty-five women participated in a laboratory psychologic interview stress, 11 women participated in one night of sleep deprivation, and 10 women participated in a 3 d exercise protocol. The interview stress caused a delay in the recovery of skin barrier function, as well as increases in plasma cortisol, norepinephrine, interleukin-1β and interleukin-10, tumor necrosis factor-α, and an increase in circulating natural killer cell activity and natural killer cell number. Sleep deprivation also decreased skin barrier function recovery and increased plasma interleukin-1β, tumor necrosis factor-α, and natural killer cell activity. The exercise stress did not affect skin barrier function recovery, but caused an increase in natural killer cell activity and circulating numbers of both cytolytic T lymphocytes and helper T cells. In addition, cytokine responses to the interview stress were inversely correlated with changes in barrier function recovery. These results suggest that acute psychosocial and sleep deprivation stress disrupts skin barrier function homeostasis in women, and that this disruption may be related to stress-induced changes in cytokine secretion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)309-317
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Investigative Dermatology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Cytokine
  • Natural killer cell
  • Psychologic stress
  • Sleep deprivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Dermatology
  • Cell Biology


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