How To Cope When Stress Is Harming Your Skin
Sometimes there’s no getting rid of what’s causing us stress, but where does that leave our skin? Here’s how to deal
Well, I don’t know about you guys but I am constantly operating at a low level of stress. It has highs and lows, depending on how many deadlines I have and when I last sat down with a book, but I do tend to have a slightly panicked expression far too much of the time.
No matter how perfect your skin may be, no matter how flawless or unattainably poreless, no matter how much you may in fact resemble the marble-like perfectionism of an Instagram filter, if you get stressed, it tends to mess up your skin. When we’re stressed, our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol, designed to aid us in a fight or flight scenario. But in modern life, you can’t really run away from your day job. Although, actually, I did just that. I’m still stressed, but now I can have a bath in the middle of the day – you win some, you lose some. Anyway, I digress. Cortisol causes your skin to produce more oil, which leads to greasy skin, breakouts and congestion. You can always tell when I’m struggling because my skin looks dull, and I generally look like I’ve had about four hours’ sleep even if I slept well. Stress also disrupts digestion, which can in turn cause inflammation throughout the body, including on your face.
If you have sensitive skin or any skin conditions such as eczema, stress can cause those issues to flare up too, meaning often we end up with a lovely combination of dry skin, oil and breakouts. The easiest way to fix this is to deal with the source: the stress itself.
Taking a little time to yourself and dealing with stress in whatever way works best for you is the easiest way to combat problem skin. Whether that’s putting aside an evening for rest and relaxation, making time to read, or spending quality time with loved ones, fixing the problem at the source is the best solution. Once your caveman brain no longer feels the need to be constantly prepped for battle against a sabre tooth tiger, it can start to slow down and get back to business, including sorting out your skin.
The reality is though, sabre tooth tiger-equivalents are everywhere these days, often in the form of Gary from Marketing and his need to send emails twice a day to ask for updates on that project you said would be done on Friday. It’s Tuesday, and you want to rip his head off. Tempting as that may be, you might lose your job. So you suck it up, and your skin freaks out. How can we give our skin a helping hand until Gary gets off our back?
Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. Making regular time for your body to relax is the best option, and even five minutes of meditation per day can make a difference. Regular exercise also helps, as not only does it get the blood flowing and reoxygenate your skin, it also helps to regulate your adrenaline levels and destress a little. Plus, that oxytocin boost at the end of an intense workout can do wonders for your skin as well as your mood. Making sure you’re drinking plenty of water and eating a balanced diet will also help, but that can be easier said than done when life moves fast.
If, like me, your skincare routine is how you relax, then good news – there are also lots of products that can help with stressed out, congested skin. It’s best to keep your routine relatively simple if you’re stressed, as our skin can be much more sensitive than normal. Ensure you’ve got your cleansing routine down, then there are a few ingredients to keep an eye out for that can really help calm down your skin.
CBD is being hailed as a bit of a wonder ingredient in skincare at the moment, and while further research is needed, it does seem to be producing results for stressed out skin. It’s rich in antioxidants, which reduce inflammation, and it’s non-comedogenic so it won’t clog up your pores. It can help calm down breakouts and reduce redness; I’ve been trying out a CBD serum for the last couple of very stressful weeks and it does seem to be helping.
Chamomile is another ingredient that’s great for calming things down, whether you choose to drink it as a soothing cup of tea or incorporate it into your skincare routine, it’s also full of antioxidants and has a similar effect to CBD.
If dryness is your issue, your best bet is to up your water intake. If you’re looking for a quick fix though, layering hyaluronic acid with a light moisturiser is your best bet. It’s best to avoid heavy night cream if your skin is stressed out, as this can be smothering to sensitive skin, and that’s where hyaluronic acid comes in. It basically enables your skin to absorb far more moisture than it would normally, so your regular moisturiser is able to work much more effectively.
Exfoliation is also key for dry skin, and a gentle chemical exfoliator is the way to go. Different acids work for different people, so it’s worth taking it slow if you’re trying something new. Glycolic acid is the classic skincare ingredient many swear by, but if, like many of us, you find you skin reacts badly to it, lactic acid and mandelic acid are good alternatives. Please remember to use SPF the morning after though, as chemical exfoliants make your skin much more sensitive to the sun.
The unfortunate conclusion is that the best way to sort stressed-out skin is to not be stressed. It’s easier said than done, but making a little time every day to relax can make a huge difference to your skin and mental wellbeing in the long run. In the meantime though, there are plenty of skincare products and ingredients designed to tide us over until we achieve that far off miracle, a work-life balance.