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The science of love: How falling in love alters skin physiology

By DR. GRACE CAROLE BELTRAN, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 16, 2024 5:00 am

As a dermatologist, I am cursed with the compulsion to find out how everything in the world impacts our skin—from the foods we eat, to the environment surrounding us, to the daily product routines we consume or utilize. However, I rarely stop to think about what is going on within our bodies when we are in love. That’s the reason for this article.

Personally, I sometimes feel like no matter how many serums we slather on our face, our skin never looks better than it does after an intense rush of adrenaline. Like, for example, when we receive a text message from our beloved. Wham! A healthy glow floods our cheeks, almost as if we just received a two-hour facial. It’s unfair if you think about it, spending all of this money on skincare products when just the simplest emotional curve ball already has such an impact on our complexion.

Love is, undeniably, a nutritional need for all humans. Our physical, mental and emotional well being greatly depends on receiving sweet nothings from our partners and loved ones. And why is this so? The answer is within the organization of our own bodies, specifically our brain and the heart.

Falling in love can have a profound impact on our skin’s appearance, sometimes turning even the dullest of skins into a radiant canvas.

How do emotions affect our body, especially our skin, both long-term and short-term? Love, the timeless emotion that has inspired poets, artists, philosophers and writers for centuries, is not just a matter of the heart. It also leaves its mark on the skin. Beyond the giddy butterflies in the stomach, the mushy feelings you experience and the racing heartbeat, falling in love can have a profound impact on our skin’s appearance, sometimes turning even the dullest of skins into a radiant canvas.

This curiosity made me do some searching and this is the result. Beyond the euphoria and emotional roller coaster, falling in love sets off a series of physiological changes within our bodies, many of which leave their mark on the skin. So allow me to unravel the science behind this captivating phenomena.

From the hormonal surges of attraction to the calming embrace of intimacy, love shapes our skin’s physiology in ways both subtle and profound.

Hormonal orchestra. At the heart of falling in love lies a complex waltzing of hormones orchestrated by our endocrine system (the system responsible for our hormonal dance). Dopamine, often dubbed the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, floods our brains during the initial stages of attraction, triggering sensations of pleasure and reward. This surge of dopamine not only fuels the euphoria of new love but also influences the skin by increasing blood flow and imparting a healthy, flushed appearance known as the “love-glow.”

Oxytocin’s embrace. That “glow” thing that people associate with being in love is, on some level, actually true. And we have the hormone oxytocin to thank for ’it. Often referred to as the attachment hormone or love hormone, oxytocin plays a pivotal role in forming emotional bonds and fostering intimacy. Released during moments of physical touch, such as hugs, kisses, and even holding hands, oxytocin promotes feelings of trust and connection. Moreover, this hormone has been shown to reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone notorious for wreaking havoc on the skin. By lowering stress levels, oxytocin indirectly contributes to a healthier skin by minimizing inflammation and reducing the likelihood of breakouts.

Cortisol control. Love acts as a powerful antidote to stress, effectively taming the body’s production of cortisol. When we’re in love, our brains perceive the presence of a supportive partner as a buffer against stressors, leading to lower cortisol levels. This is significant for skin health, as high cortisol levels have been linked to increased sebum production, inflammation and impaired wound healing. By keeping cortisol in check, love promotes a calmer, more balanced complexion.

Enhanced circulation. The euphoria of falling in love triggers a surge in heart rate and blood flow, a physiological response akin to the “butterflies” often experienced in the stomach. This heightened circulation delivers oxygen and essential nutrients to the skin cells, promoting cell renewal and repair. As a result, the skin appears more vibrant with improved tone and texture.

Embracing the power of touch, love intertwines our hands, fostering a shared connection.

The power of touch. Physical intimacy, a hallmark of romantic relationships, exerts a profound influence on skin physiology. Human touch releases a cascade of neurotransmitters and hormones, including serotonin and endorphins, which induce feelings of pleasure and well-being. Additionally, tactile stimulation triggers the activation of sensory nerve fibers in the skin, leading to increased blood flow and heightened sensitivity. Regular physical contact with a loved one thus contributes to a healthier, more resilient complexion.

Long-term effects. Beyond the initial stages of infatuation, love has enduring effects on the skin physiology. Studies have shown that individuals in supportive, loving relationships tend to exhibit lower levels of inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which contribute to premature aging and skin damage. Moreover, the emotional fulfillment derived from love promotes overall well-being, which in turn reflects positively on the skin, manifesting as a radiant, youthful complexion

The physiological sensations of love are dizzyingly powerful. When we are in love, chemicals associated with the reward circuit flood our brain, producing a variety of physical and emotional responses—racing hearts, sweaty palms, flushed cheeks, feelings of passion and anxiety; your mouth might go dry, and you might find yourself tripping over your words. Alternatively, love might wash over you like a warm hug and fill you with a profound sense of calm and complacency. Romantic love might send your hormones into overdrive, filling you with lust and raw sexual desire. Love of a child or pet might overwhelm you with warm and fuzzy feelings and elicit the need to protect and nurture. All of these sensations are some version of the physical and socio-emotional feelings of love. Each of the sensations is stimulated by a unique mix of biochemicals in the body and brain.

In conclusion, the journey of falling in love is not merely a flight of fancy but a profound physiological experience that leaves an indelible imprint on our skin. From the hormonal surges of attraction to the calming embrace of intimacy, love shapes our skin’s physiology in ways both subtle and profound. So, the next time you find yourself swept away by the throes of love, remember that your skin is also basking in the warmth of affection, radiating the beauty of a heart in full bloom.