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The Effects Stress Can Have On Your Skin

Woman looking stressed while looking at her skin in the mirror

We have undoubtedly fallen into a time of great uncertainty, which is understandably causing us all to feel a huge amount of unease, anxiety and stress. So can these feelings of stress affect our skin?

This blog post is set to explore the effects stress can have on your skin and what you can do about it.

Stress is a complex issue and it can impact you in a number of ways, but we'll start this topic from the inside out.

One of the most important points I want you to remember about your skin is that it is an ORGAN (and it’s your largest organ at that). In the same way that we have all become so much more conscious about the chemicals we are ingesting through our foods, we need to be considering what we are applying onto our skin.

You need to be aware that mistreating your skin can have the same kind of harmful effects as mistreating the organs can have, and that stress can impact negatively on all of your organs, including your skin.

When your body is in a state of stress you produce a hormone called cortisol, which has a knock-on effect on your skin’s oil production i.e. you produce too much. This can then appear as rashes or even an acne style breakout on your skin as it unbalances your skin’s natural PH. 

In my opinion, this particular subject more than any other one requires us to work from the inside out. You are never going to fully tackle your problem skin without addressing the cause, and this particular cause is internal. 

It's also worth noting that it's unlikely that anxiety is actually the cause of a skin reaction, but the stress that the anxiety causes is more likely to be what is causing the damage.

How to treat stressed skin

Meditation

Meditation will take you into your parasympathetic nervous system that will undoubtedly help lower your cortisol levels as your body will not feel the need to create it when in this state.

There are too many benefits to mediation to mention here, but I'm sure I will focus on it a lot more in other chapters because your mental wellbeing absolutely has a knock-on effect on your appearance, and it really is something we all should be focusing on.

If your mind is settled, calm and happy then you are giving your skin much more of a chance to feel the same. Go online, find a guided meditation session that suits you, and spend at least 10 minutes a day practising. It is an investment in yourself and your skin.

Exercise

A moderate amount of exercise can help lower your cortisol levels, but too much exertion can cause you to produce more, so 20-30 minutes of light exercise such as walking or yoga will help.

Sleep

Your cortisol levels decrease when you are in a deep sleep, so try to get a good amount of shut-eye each night. Once you start to wake back up, your body starts to produce it again so a light, broken sleep isn’t going to help at all.

We’ve all read over and over about tips on how to get a good night's sleep so I won’t waste your time on that subject, but one extra point to remember is the use of lavender to help put you in a relaxed state just before bed.

Anything from a lavender bath bomb, body cream or face cream along with lavender oil in your bedroom are all going to help.

Dermalogica does a lovely night time face cream called Sound Sleep Cocoon which contains French lavender essential oil. This gel-cream formula is designed to help aid your skin's natural nighttime repair behaviour, which is another subject that deserves its own chapter!

Ok… so above are three things you can alter to help combat stress and to help improve your overall wellbeing. So now I'm going to focus on a few things you might want to try avoiding, and also a few things you might want to start adding into your diet. (Sod’s law, the two most important things to avoid are my only two vices!)

Caffeine

My little boy said to me a few days ago, ‘Mummy, you only drink coffee and wine’. And while that’s not completely true, there’s usually a lot of water thrown in too.

One thing he is correct about is my absolute love of ‘real’ coffee, and the stronger the better for me. It’s the only thing that gets me out of bed in the morning! My morning routine consists of walking straight to the machine and having at least 2 cups (which is actually 4 espressos on my machine).

However, I'm lucky in the sense that I don't suffer from any type of stress reaction on my skin. But if I did, I would seriously consider reducing my caffeine intake and lowering it to zero to really try to balance the scales of my unhappy skin.

Try switching to decaf, or start with half decaf, half normal so as to try and wean yourself off it. Caffeine creates the ‘fight or flight’ response in your body (which I am personally up for because I hit the ground running), but this is consequently going to cause you to produce that problematic little cortisol hormone that keeps cropping up throughout this chapter.

Please don’t forget that caffeine is found in a lot more than just coffee, some fizzy drinks have a huge amount too, which leads on to my next favourite thing…

Sugar

Oh my goodness do I love sugar. Cake, chocolate, biscuits… JUST GIVE IT TO ME! When I am at my most hormonal point of the month I could eat my way through a Cadbury’s factory.

Whilst almost everyone I know seems to fancy popping open a bottle of wine when they have been through a stressful or upsetting situation, all I fancy is a nice big slice of Battenberg or something similar.

There is however a logical explanation for my craving when I am stressed, a quick influx of sugar after something stressful has happened to you can actually lower your cortisol levels. But, continuous overindulgence of sugar has the opposite effect and will cause your body to create more.

If you have a really sweet tooth like me, just don’t have it in the house! (I eat so much sugar when it is in the cupboards.) So your real discipline is to just not buy it in the first place and then it won’t be there. 

Now let’s get onto some of the things you can add to your diet to help with stressed skin.

Take supplements

Supplements such as Vitamin C and drinking Matcha Green Tea will both help lower your levels. Ashwagandha (an Asian herbal supplement) doesn’t actually lower your levels, but it aids how your body deals with stress so will consequently interrupt the overproduction. Taking Magnesium can help to regulate your production levels too.

Eat dark chocolate and bananas

Eating small amounts of natural dark chocolate can help, but make sure it is one with a very high percentage of cocoa so you are not adding to your sugar intake too much.

One other food that can give you a helping hand is bananas (which are also amazing for something else to do with your face that I’m going to focus on in another chapter). 

So, that’s the inside of your body covered (hope you’re still awake) - I now want to cover a few points about how to treat your unhappy skin topically. Specifically, if you are experiencing acne caused by stress.

I want your main thought process to be that your skin is exactly that at the moment - unhappy. I won’t spend as much time on this section as I have above because as I already mentioned when it comes to the issue of stress, it's fixing the stress that is very important.

Most people’s knee jerk reaction to treating breakouts is to strip their skin of all its natural oil to prevent future breakouts. All this is doing though is tipping the PH scales from one side to the other, not putting them into balance.

Think CALM - calming your skin is the aim of the game here. 

Look at your breakouts, they are red, swollen, inflamed and sore to touch. They need to calm down not to have harsh chemicals put on them. The two best pieces of advice I can give you are: 

  1. Use a very minimal regime whilst your skin is in this state, as little as just a cleanser and moisturiser. Dermalogica does a lovely UltraCalming range that is perfect for this skin condition. I actually use their UltraCalming Cleanser daily, even when my skin feels great. 
  2. When thinking of calming your skin down, don’t forget to connect that with oatmeal. Oatmeal can be so repairing to your skin and can be amazing for conditions such as eczema and psoriasis too.

If the issue is anywhere other than your face, a brilliant tip is to fill a clean sock full of organic oats (best to be one of those socks that have lost its other half, we’ve all definitely got a few), tie it to your hot bath tap and run yourself a bath. The water will be a milky consistency. Pop yourself in for 20 mins and the benefits are more than worth the effort.

But coming back to your face, I appreciate it’s difficult to lie with your face almost submerged in the bath, so Aveeno products are a brilliant range containing oatmeal and can help hugely to calm your skin down.

Once your skin is calm, your inflammation, redness and soreness are under control, if you then still have breakouts (which if they are stress-related and all of the above is adopted then I doubt you still will have), this is when we can start to treat your skin from an acne point of view, which is once again a whole other chapter in itself ;)

    I hope this has answered any questions and covered all bases, if not please get in touch!

    Love from Lois xxx