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Stress is peaking these days. Between managing households, deadlines at work and daily commutes, none of us are immune to the chaos that can exist in everyday life. And if you notice that your skin is seeming a little dull or you’re experiencing more breakouts than usual, you’re not imagining things: Stress can have a major impact on how your skin looks and feels. So, what can you do to lower stress levels to improve overall well-being and get your skin back to its naturally glowing state? Read on to find out how to manage stress and feel better inside and out.
The Impact of Stress on Skin
Much of what we know about how stress affects the body is through symptoms like elevated heart rate, stiff or tense muscles, low energy and digestive issues. But stress also plays a significant role in how your skin looks and feels, whether you experience tension on a chronic level or not. So how does stress show up on the skin?
Skin Irritation And Rashes
Because of a weakened immune system, the skin barrier is compromised when you’re experiencing a stressful situation or going through chronic stress. As the body’s outermost layer, the skin barrier is vital to protecting you against environmental irritants and free radicals. The health and strength of this protective barrier can become compromised by factors including excessive sun exposure, humid or dry environments, over-exfoliation and stress. Stress levels impact the skin barrier and immune system and, for some, can even trigger flare-ups of contact dermatitis, psoriasis or eczema.
Dry Skin And Wrinkles
Stress impacts the skin on a molecular level and affects how cells age. For example, stress hormones (such as adrenaline and cortisol) cause collagen and elastin to break down, making it harder for the skin to rejuvenate and stay supple. According to neuroscientist Dr. Tara Swart, “Because cortisol is pro-inflammatory, it’s very drying of the system … so you might notice that your skin is really dry or you’ve got skin problems. Your skin isn’t just the physical border of your body, it’s the psychological boundary of your body too, so often stress shows up in the skin.”
As the turnover of healthy skin cells slows down, fine lines and wrinkles become more pronounced. Couple that with facial expressions that get repeated during stressful situations – furrowing of the brows, for example – and you have a recipe for more fine lines and wrinkles.
Fluid Retention And Dark Circles
For many, sleep patterns are disrupted by stress. Insomnia and sleeping issues are common symptoms of stress, and poor sleep quality impacts numerous systems within the body, including the skin. A lack of sleep leads to increased signs of aging – notably undereye bags and dark circles. Loss of elastin and collagen makes the skin and muscle under the eyes weaker, which allows fluid retention to look more prominent.
Stress Hormones And Skin Health
What are stress hormones and are they bad? Not exactly. From suppressing inflammation to regulating metabolism and controlling sleep cycles, we need stress hormones to live optimally. Steady levels of cortisol and adrenaline are ideal, but when your body responds to internal and external stimuli, it causes hormone levels to rise and fall beyond the recommended range.
When the nervous system experiences a surge in stress hormones, it kicks off a number of reactions throughout the body and skin, such as:
- Skin glands producing more oil
- Slowed digestion in the gut
- Aggravated or angry skin due to triggered inflammation or setting off autoimmune disorders
- Trouble sleeping, leading to exhaustion and poor cognitive reasoning
Does Stress Cause Acne?
In a word: “Yes”! When the adrenal glands release excess cortisol due to chronic or acute stress, that stimulates another hormone (corticotrophin-releasing hormone or CRH) to release oil from the sebaceous glands. These tiny glands are found alongside hair follicles and emit oily sebum to keep skin hydrated naturally. Excess sebum production mixes with dead skin cells deep within the pore to create a clog, leading to buildup, irritation, bacterial growth and, you guessed it, acne.
Understanding The Mind-Body Connection
The mind and body are inextricably connected, which you notice through sensations like flushing when embarrassed, sweating when nervous or feeling itchy when stressed. As much as we notice the state of our skin when stressed, studies have shown that skin cells and hair follicles can create their own stress signals that get delivered to the brain!
The Brain-Skin Axis
In a simplified explanation, the brain-skin axis is a pathway that relays stress messages from the skin to the brain and from the brain to the skin. As we’ve already learned, stressful experiences and environments cause a release of hormones like cortisol into the body, leading to issues like irritation, dry skin and acne. However, exposing skin to specific stressors (ultraviolet rays from excessive sun exposure, for example) can cause stress signals to be sent from the skin to the brain, leading to an increased chance of psychological stress.
A Vicious Cycle: Stress Triggers and Skin Health
Both short and long-term stress can impact your skin health and show up as dry skin, prominent lines, wrinkles, baggy undereyes and inflammation. Plus, just seeing how stress impacts your skin adds another layer of stress to manage!
Whether you work or live in a stressful environment, or you’re simply going through a period of stress, there are things you can do to alleviate symptoms internally and externally, as well as manage how your body responds to various situations.
Creating a Skin Care Routine During Stressful Cycles
Getting your skin care routine back to basics is recommended when going through stressful periods and your skin is reactive. Using soothing ingredients and gentle care can help keep skin looking healthy without irritating the skin barrier. A simple routine is often best to help you manage the stress that is showing up on your skin.
Start by cleansing skin with a gentle formula, such as the Calm Skin Chamomile Cleanser, which contains revitalizing ingredients like rosemary, chamomile and grape leaf extract. The Echinacea Recovery Cream is filled with nourishing ingredients like evening primrose oil, echinacea and yarrow, making it an ideal moisturizer to calm and hydrate skin after cleansing.
If acne is present due to stress, consider deep cleansing masks to absorb excess oil and clear pores to prevent clogging. The Clear Skin Probiotic Masque features soothing yogurt, cucumber and kaolin clay to cleanse, soften and calm inflamed skin. Customer, Veronika, reviewed the mask online saying: “I have never used a face mask that actually yielded such results. I have been using it whenever I am breaking out or feel like I’m about to break out and it really saves my skin. LOVE!!!”
Look and Feel Better Using Stress Management Strategies
Though not ideal, stress is a part of everyday life. The best way to keep it at bay and reduce excess stress hormone production is to practice stress management strategies in a way that feels right for your situation or lifestyle. Learning how to cope with stress can give you a better handle on whatever comes your way and keep your skin and body in good condition.
Meditation, Mindfulness And Relaxation
There is so much noise in our lives, both literally and figuratively. The best way to balance that out and calm the body is by practicing mindfulness or meditation each day. Practicing these techniques can train you to be more aware of your surroundings and feelings, which can be grounding and calming during stressful times. It doesn’t have to be overly complicated — anything that allows you to tune out distractions and let your body and mind calm down and relax. Some good options include taking a walk, listening to a guided meditation or engaging in solo activities like painting or reading.
Exercise is good for the body in more ways than one. As well as lowering stress hormone levels and reducing anxiety, it also boosts sleep quality. Something as simple as cleaning the house, gardening, joining a workout class or lifting weights can be a beneficial activity to add to a daily routine for stress management. Deep breathing exercises are another powerful tool to use as a way to reduce stress, as they lower cortisol and activate the parasympathetic nervous system (the restful counterpart to the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system).
Eating Healthy (And Staying Hydrated!)
Drinking enough water and eating a diet rich in vitamins and antioxidants helps your body manage the effects of daily stress. Nutrients repair damaged cells, boost the immune system, regulate stress hormone levels and give the body the necessary energy to get through daily stressors. Studies suggest that fiber-rich vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids are especially helpful in balancing stress hormones. Plus, a healthy diet is good for skin health in general.
Sleep is a prime opportunity for the body to repair and reset. A good night’s sleep also improves cognitive performance and mood, which are crucial to managing stress. To improve sleep hygiene, keep the bedroom free of electronics and distractions, avoid sugary foods and drinks before bed and create (and stick to) a consistent sleep schedule.
Other Relaxation Tips And Techniques
Need more tips to help relax and reduce stress? Consider some of the following relaxation techniques in addition to the practices mentioned above:
- Massage and other spa treatments
- Deep breathing
Stress is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it needs to impact your skin health. By engaging in daily stress management techniques and using skin care ingredients that address concerns, you’ll be better able to navigate life’s curveballs without seeing acne, wrinkles or baggy undereyes creep up.
Are you looking to reduce stress in your life? Visit an Eminence Organics Spa Partner near you to learn how to minimize stress and get your glow back.