Stress is a part of life. It affects your mental wellbeing and also the health and appearance of your skin. In response to a stressful situation our bodies release a cascade of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that produce physiological changes in our bodies and in our skin.
The skin-mind connection comes down to the cortisol hormone, which is our primary stress hormone, and the consequences it has for the skin barrier. Our skin barrier keeps good stuff (like moisture and nutrients) in, and bad stuff (like allergens, pollutants, and irritants) out. It needs three things to be in balance in order to thrive: oil, water, and good-gut bacteria. Cortisol depletes them all.
Here’s what happens to skin when we are stressed.
Cortisol causes oil glands to increase oil production which in turn leads to clogged pores, blackheads, and acne breakouts. Using a gentle acid toner and hydrating facial spritz as part of your daily skincare routine can help to keep skin balanced and clarified.
Stress aggravates psoriasis, rosacea, and eczema and can cause flare-ups of other skin rashes and hives. While stress doesn’t directly cause these conditions, it provokes them. What happens then is a ‘loop effect’ – where the condition leads more to anxiety and stress, which in turn worsens the skin irritation.
Stress suppresses your skin’s ability to produce hyaluronic acid, which in turn causes dryness and dullness. Over time, this leads to dry, flaky, chapped skin. Applying a hyaluronic serum or creams rich in ceramides can help to offset the effects.
Increased free radical production.
When we are stressed, our bodies produce more free radicals, and they are like poison arrows shooting around and causing damage. Among other things, free radicals target collagen for destruction, which leads to fine lines and wrinkles. It’s a good idea to introduce a retinol product into your routine to fight free radical damage – retinol goes deep into the dermal layers to neutralise free radicals and boost collagen production.
There are lots of reasons that we feel stress, including environmental factors like traffic jams and work deadlines, or psychological factors like worrying over life’s constant issues.
There are two different types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress. An acute bout of stress can be a good thing because it’s designed to protect us from perceived danger. It might enhance mental clarity and heighten your responses to a threatening situation for example.
But it’s chronic stress, or bad stress that takes an enormous (and visible) toll on your skin. Of course, chronic stress affects more than your skin, but the skin is the only organ we can see. After all, it’s easier to ignore your feelings than your face, and that’s why when our skin shows signs of stress it makes us feel even more anxious.
Managing stress is hard, especially because most of our stress is not caused by the stressor, but by how we deal with it. Self care is key to managing stress and in turn, optimising skin health. Tools like meditation, exercise, healthy diet, adequate hydration, and sleep will help you to manage stress reactions. And a simple consistent daily skincare routine packed with nourishing ingredients like ceramides, vitamin A, peptides, and hyaluronic acid will strengthen your skin’s ability to deal with stress-related conditions that harm the skin barrier.