Stress and skin
Don’t worry, be happy…if only life was as easy as the lyrics of the 1988 Bobby McFerrin song! Dealing with stress is part of our everyday life. When we are feeling down, the anxiety we are feeling inside can show on the outside. This month’s journal is titled ‘stress and skin’ and I discuss the impact of stress on our skin and offer some advice and treatment options.
Stress, the feeling of being overwhelmed or unable to cope with mental or emotional pressure, is something we all experience. Worries about loved ones, finances or work, major challenges such as divorce or death and a 24-hour feed of global social and environmental issues outside our control, it’s no wonder we feel anxious.
But how does stress affect our skin? Anxiety is a well-known trigger of the stress response. The brain has a stress-activated pathway that causes the release of chemicals and hormones. When we are feeling emotional distress, we release the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol. It can cause inflammation throughout the body and the skin. Cortisol can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier and affects the immune system, making it less able to defend itself.
You may see flare up of conditions such as acne, psoriasis, eczema, urticaria (hives), and rosacea and symptoms such as flushing and sweating. Anxiety is often expressed in emotional facial expressions, such as forehead furrows and lines.
And unfortunately, there’s a vicious circle effect: stress causes skin issues and skin issues cause stress. Every blemish, red patch and or spot has the potential to affect how we feel emotionally. This can be compounded by unrealistic expectations of what skin should look like based on our social media feeds.
Here are some of the many ways stress affects your skin:
The stress hormone cortisol leads to an overproduction of sebum (oil) in your skin glands, which can cause acne breakouts.
Stress impacts your immune system. This can cause your skin to be more reactive and sensitive. It can also trigger rashes, hives, and redness.
Stress exacerbates existing inflammatory skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and rosacea, and can lead to flare ups.
Stress may cause you to feel nervous or anxious. You may find you are picking or scratching your skin until it becomes red or tears.
Chronic stress may also accelerate the ageing process. Mental stress or anxiety can result in deeper wrinkles or frown lines.
Skincare solutions for stressed skin
Stress increases our innate “fight or flight” response, boosting certain hormones such as cortisol and chemicals such as interleukins within the body, all of which increase inflammation. Inflammation affects our skin, ramping up swelling, redness, and heat, which in turn can cause an itchy, angry rash. With a stress rash your first port of call should be antihistamines. Keeping the skin cool and avoiding excessive rubbing of your skin may also help alleviate symptoms, as can OTC topical steroid creams.
Caring for our skin is integral to de-stressing our skin. How we treat ourselves is a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. Skincare is an act of self-love and can help us escape from daily stresses.
To manage stressed skin, I recommend simplifying your skincare routine. Focus on the age-old three steps, cleanse, moisturise and SPF.
Start with a gentle cleanser and use lukewarm water. I like to use La Roche Posay Toleriane Dermo Cleanser or CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser.
Finally, use a hydrating moisturiser followed by SPF to protect the skin’s barrier from environmental aggressors. I like Kiehl’s Skin Rescuer and Elta MD UV Clear SPF 46.
Consider gentle facial massage to improve circulation, lymphatic drainage and boost collagen production while prompting the body to relax.
Treatments for stressed skin
Skin boosters such as Profhilo, Volite and Revive deliver hyaluronic acid directly into the dermis, hydrating from the inside out, resulting in smoother, plumper and more glowing skin. Skin boosters offer a refreshed, natural result without altering facial contours.
AQUAGOLD® Fine Touch is a skin brightening and restoring treatment. Utilising a device tipped with 20 hair-fine gold-tipped needles, AQUAGOLD® creates micro-channels within the skin through which a bespoke cocktail of ingredients is delivered. Infused ingredients are highly customisable and may include vitamins, hyaluronic acid, bioactive compounds and neurotoxin.
Dynamic wrinkles can form as a result of muscle movement in a particular area, for example frowning. You may see them on your forehead, the glabella (the area between the eyebrows), and around the eyes and mouth. Neurotoxin treatment can be customised to soften dynamic wrinkles and create a gently lifting effect.
Managing your stress levels
Try to get a least eight hours of sleep a night to allow skin the time to repair itself.
Alongside a consistent exercise routine that gets your heart going choose mindful activities to switch off the sympathetic nervous system – our fight or flight response. Yoga and pilates can kickstart the parasympathetic nervous system lowering cortisol levels and calming us down.
Magnesium rich body lotion or bath salts can also reduce cortisol levels. The magnesium is absorbed trans-dermally, literally through your skin.
Stay hydrated. Drink at least two-and-a-half litres of water a day to reduce the effects of dehydration on the skin.
Make sure your diet includes protein, carbohydrates, good fats and natural sugars, as well as antioxidant-rich leafy greens.
The natural balance of the gut can be affected by lifestyle factors and stress, which can in turn promote inflammation, exacerbating skin conditions. Consider taking a probiotic supplement to maintain gut health.
Different ways of managing stress work for different people. Speak to a counsellor to discover what works for you.
If stressed skin is affecting how you feel about yourself, consult with a dermatologist about developing a treatment plan tailored specifically to your needs.