IS STRESS CAUSING YOUR SKIN PROBLEMS?
We’ve all had it happen to us. Days before an event or date at which we want to look our absolute best, the inevitable pimple strikes, or some strange rash erupts across our chest. We’ve all SEEN it. An American president goes into office and comes out four years later looking like he aged a decade…at least. We’ve all FELT it. Stress. A physiological response that once aided us thousands of years ago with a “fight or flight” response to predators, is now a chronic and inescapable presence in our everyday lives and it is having a huge impact on the health and aging process of our skin.
We all could have guessed that stress doesn’t help our skin, but we are only now beginning to fully understand how the stress hormone, cortisol, literally changes our skin at a cellular level. From worry lines to acne, the biology of stress triggers a massive inflammatory response in our entire bodies that accelerates aging. But don’t stress just yet! Once we understand the impact it is having on our skin we can use specific products, treatments, and therapies to counter act the not-so-attractive effects!
Inflammation, Redness & Rosacea
During times of heightened stress, we experience increased blood flow. To accommodate this increase, our capillaries expand and we can experience flushing. If your stress is chronic, you may literally “wear out” these small vessels and cause them to break. These will appear as small, red/purple mappings of veins on your skin. Common areas to experience these broken vessels are on the nose, cheeks and chin especially.
What to do about it: Some ingredients found in topical creams are natural anti-inflammatories, such as green tea extract, Birch Bark Extract, certain algae/seaweeds and licorice extract. Stay away from skincare products which include harsh artificial fragrances and synthetic chemicals that may strip or dry your skin, leading to MORE inflammation. Opt for natural skincare that keeps your skin calm, cool and hydrated.
As previously discussed, stress causes inflammation. Inflammation exacerbates acne and causes breakouts, hence, the unfortunate pimple that appears on your chin right before your wedding or big speech. It is especially advised that those struggling with pustular forms of acne (red, sore pimples with whiteheads) moderate their stress further, as their particular form of acne is truly inflammatory in nature.
What to do about it: One of the most beneficial ingredients in skincare to treat inflammatory acne is salicylic acid, or Willow bark. Aspirin is derived from Willow bark and just as it takes down the inflammation of a fever or sore muscles, so will it take down the inflammation in skin when applied topically. Seek skincare that keeps your skin calm and hydrated and avoid products that are harsh and abrasive, as these can increase the symptoms of inflammatory acne. Clary Sage Oil is another wonderful botanical that has hormone balancing properties when used topically for acne.
Dryness & Fine Lines
Cortisol, the stress hormone, can impact our skin cells ability to hold onto water. It is taxing for our bodies to be chronically inflamed and in our body’s attempt to combat it we can become dehydrated. This can manifest in our skin as dryness, tightness and exaggerated fine lines around the eyes especially. In turn, we look older than our years and our skin loses its luminosity and dewy glow.
In addition to zapping our skin’s water stores, cortisol also triggers an elevation in blood sugar. This is the catalyst for a process called “glycation.” Glycation affects how our skin cross-links its proteins, or building blocks. It damages our collagen and elastin, which are what keep our skin firm and full. Left unchecked, this can lead to advanced fine lines and premature wrinkling of the skin.
What to do about it: Avoid products with artificial fragrances, as these can further strip, irritate and dry your skin. Seek out serums that are non-comedogenic and oil based to replace lost moisture in skin. Apply these while your skin is still moist. To combat wrinkles, look for ingredients such as Vitamin A and Chaga Mushroom extract which fight glycation and encourage the growth of new collagen and elastin.
It is important to note that NONE of these topical solutions will fully eradicate your skin’s symptoms if nothing is done to alleviate the source of your stress or your reaction to it. Many people find that strategies such as mediation, massage, yoga and even deep breathing techniques make a dramatic improvement in their stress levels. Striving to find a balance in life and making yourself and your well-being a priority can be a truly beautiful thing!