How stress affects your skin and what can you do about it.

Spoiler alert: it takes more than learning a couple of breathing techniques.

If you’re a living and breathing human, you’ve most likely had those weeks, months even when life turns upside down. Your job responsibilities are spiraling out of control, personal life becomes a complete mess, and on top of that, upstairs neighbors flooded your bedroom. You’re always on your toes, stressed out, tired, can’t sleep, can’t eat. And your skin starts to ACT UP. Flares of eczema, severe dryness and, of course, new pimples popping up daily.

You might think it’s all in your head – as long as you do your best to manage stress, all your skin troubles will disappear without a trace. But in reality, it takes more than learning a few deep-breathing techniques to clear your bout of stress acne or eczema flare. So, what does it take? Read along to find out.

First, you need to understand what exactly happens to your skin when you feel stressed.

  1. Stress triggers an inflammatory response. One of the main reasons why your skin flares up are because of an inappropriate release of inflammatory chemicals. Under normal circumstances, these chemicals are good for you. It’s a natural way to protect your body’s health and fight unwanted viruses that enter the system. But since stress isn’t the flu and there’re no actual viruses to go to a battle with, the inflammation causes your skin to misbehave. If you are susceptible to a particular skin condition, say rosacea or eczema, stress will be a trigger that leads to dry, itchy, irritated patches of skin across your body. Inflammation can also mess with your immune system, making you more prone to infections. On top of that, in some cases, you’re also running the risk of developing an autoimmune disease. Your body starts to attack and damage its own healthy tissue resulting in such conditions as alopecia (hair loss), psoriasis or vitiligo.
  2. Stress sends sebaceous glands into overdrive and contributes to premature skin aging. Stress triggers the production of a hormone called cortisol, which causes your skin to produce more oil. Excess oil leads to pore clogging, creating the perfect environment for acne bacteria to grow. Hello, unwanted acne! But not only that, cortisol increases blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and fat storage while lowing growth hormone. It ain’t called the “aging hormone” for nothing. Stress triggers an inflammatory response.
  3. Stress dries out your skin. Stress damages your protective barrier by destroying hyaluronic acid in your body and makes you more susceptible to dryness. You might have also noticed that whenever you feel stressed, you’ll sweat more than usual, which also contributes to skin dehydration.

If you are susceptible to a particular skin condition, say rosacea or eczema, stress will be a trigger that leads to dry, itchy, irritated patches of skin across your body.

So, then, what can you do?

Don’t get us wrong; learning how to deal with the stress when you’re feeling all the feels is something we definitely recommend doing. It won’t clear up your acne, or calm down inflamed skin right away. But it will help to feel less stressed, which in turn might have a positive effect on your skin.

At the same time, don’t rely on meditation alone. Yes, skincare is probably not what you want to engage with right now actively. But developing a clear, thought-out regimen is crucial to help your skin to become healthy again. Take a step back, look at your medicine cabinet/vanity, and re-think your skincare routine. You need a break, and your skin needs a break, so going on a skincare diet and sticking to the basics is the best thing you can do.

You need a break, and your skin needs a break, so going on a skincare diet and sticking to the basics is the best thing you can do.

Here are a couple of ground rules to follow when building your “stressed-skin-approved” skincare routine.

  • Choose the most gentle and non-irritating cleanser you own. One thing you don’t want to do is to dry out or sensitize your skin even further. But don’t eliminate a face wash from your routine completely, especially if your skin oils are going out of control. You need to keep those pores clean to prevent them from clogging again and again.
  • Don’t use exfoliators, chemical, or physical. Remember, we need to add to our skin, not subtract. And while there are plenty of great gentle peels on the market, your skin is not in the position to handle them just yet.
  • A good moisturizer is your friend. Use a toner if you must, but skip serums and ampules. We’re trying to put as little on our skin as possible to minimize the risk another eczema flare. A nice moisturizer – preferably low pH with ceramides and hyaluronic acid – is all you need to restore your compromised skin barrier.

Don’t use exfoliators, chemical, or physical. Remember, we need to add to our skin, not subtract.

Finally, if you’ve run into a wall and feel like nothing is working, it’s always best to consult a professional. Book an appointment with your dermatologist and see if you might benefit from several therapy sessions to get you through the rough patch. There are plenty of online mental health services that you can use from the comfort of your own home.

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