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The Science Behind Skin Stress + Solutions

August 27, 2021

The Science Behind Skin Stress + Solutions

A global pandemic, rising sea levels, literally anything on the news: with so many stressors in the world lately, it’s no wonder we’re all feeling, well, stressed.

And if you’re stressed, there’s a good chance your skin is, too. Here’s how stress can manifest in skin and what you can do about it. 

Stressed Skin: The Science

Stress can affect your whole body. Even your thoughts, feelings, and behavior can be altered by stress. Left unchecked, stress can contribute to all sorts of health problems, such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

Whenever your body feels threatened (aka under stress), your fight-or-flight response kicks in. As a result, your nervous system releases a flood of stress hormones, primarily cortisol and adrenaline. This makes your heart beat faster, muscles tighten, and breath quicken as your body prepares to fight off a threat or flee to safety.

In terms of the skin, your fraught state of being can show up in the form of dryness, irritation, breakouts, and impaired barrier function.

Cortisol is partly to blame here, as higher cortisol levels can cause an increase in oil production. Oily skin is more prone to clogged pores, acne breakouts, and various other skin problems. 

Higher cortisol levels can also increase inflammation in the body, which may exacerbate any underlying skin conditions. Some studies have found a strong connection between stress and inflammation, linking chronic, low-grade inflammation to a number of stress-related diseases.

Stress can also weaken your immune system, making skin more vulnerable to blotchiness, redness, and irritation.

More bad news: stress can make existing skin problems worse. It is known to aggravate conditions like psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema. Stressed skin is also more prone to sensitivity and irritation, breakouts, and a dull, lackluster appearance.

So what is the best way to de-stress for your skin (and your sanity)?

Stressed Skin: The Solutions 

There isn’t one right answer for everyone, but there are some things anyone can do to calm the mind and give skin a break.

Acknowledge your stress. The first step is always to be mindful that your body is under stress and identify what your stress triggers are. Everyone gets stressed sometimes, and that’s actually a good thing: in acute situations, stress can be healthful and protective. It’s chronic stress that needs to be controlled, as it tends to suppress the body’s immune response and can lead to long-term skin damage, including fine lines and wrinkles, loss of elasticity, and other symptoms of aging skin. 

Don’t neglect your skin. Take time for your skincare routine, even if you’re tired or stressed. Find products that bring you a little joy, so this feels less like homework. Make a ritual out of it - put on a calming song, and take a few minutes to cleanse, massage and relax your skin.

Practice self-care. Self-care is not “pampering,” as it’s often portrayed. It’s really about meeting your human needs. This could be a need for relaxation, a need for quiet, a need for connection — whatever it is you find yourself needing most in your life. Some people may need an intense cardiovascular workout, while others crave a calming guided meditation. There are no wrong answers here.

Make sure your products are formulated to address your individual skincare needs. For stressed skin, look for skincare products that target the effects of stress and aim to restore healthy skin function. The best products will improve hydration, reduce inflammation, and promote collagen production.

Eat for skin health. There is a proven link between good nutrition and healthy skin, which means naturally gorgeous skin starts with your diet. Check out our guide to eating for skin health to learn more about the best foods to eat for a healthy, glowing complexion.

Get decent rest. Beauty sleep is a real thing! Experts say adults require a minimum of 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. If you’re not getting enough, sleep deprivation may be contributing to your stressed state of being (and your stressed complexion). Read more about the relationship between sleep and skin here.

Exercise regularly. Physical activity in almost any form can be a great way to relieve stress. Being active can boost your feel-good endorphins, improve your mood, and reduce the negative effects of stress.

Consider meditation or deep breathing exercises. Meditation is known to reduce cortisol levels and reduce inflammation. Calm, relaxed breathing helps to oxygenate the body, eliminate toxins and stimulate blood flow.

Give yourself the gift of TIME. Time to meditate, exercise, read, relax — time to use however you’d like (free of guilt!). Neglecting yourself and your needs can lead to poor dietary choices, mood swings, sickness, resentment, depression, stress (!) and a host of other serious issues.

Allow yourself the time you need so you can be your absolute best for yourself and everyone you love. We can see those worry lines lifting already! ;)