“I get stressed, my skin condition worsens, I purchase things I am told will work, but my skin is dysregulated and so am I.” This is something I hear frequently from my clients. They are chronically stressed, their stress wreaks havoc on their skin, which in turn worsens their mental health and their stress. It is a vicious cycle which, for some individuals, can be interrupted with breathwork, movement, and elimination of contributing bacteria.
The National Library of Medicine states that,” In the generalized estimating equation models, depression symptoms and stress were significantly associated with skin problems.”* It is important to note that the relationship between stress and skin health can vary from person to person. Not everyone will experience skin problems due to stress, and the severity of these issues can also differ. However, managing stress through optimizing lifestyle (breath, exercise, nutrition, and skincare), is a way to show up as your best self.
How Does Stress Affect Our Skin Health?
When we are stressed, our body releases two types of stress hormones – cortisol and adrenaline. Normally, the rise in these hormones is temporary and they dissipate shortly after the stressful event has passed. However, when we are chronically stressed, these hormone levels continue to stay high which can negatively impact our skin:
- Acne: Increase in cortisol levels can lead to an increase in sebum (skin oil) production, clogging of pores, and the development of acne lesions.
- Psoriasis: Stress is known to exacerbate psoriasis, a chronic skin condition characterized by red, scaly patches on the skin. Stress can trigger flare-ups and make the symptoms of psoriasis more severe.
- Eczema: People with eczema may find that stress can lead to increased itching, inflammation, and worsening of their eczema symptoms. Stress can weaken the skin's barrier function, making it more susceptible to irritation and allergens.
- Hives and Rashes: Stress can cause the release of histamines, which can lead to the development of hives or other skin rashes. These rashes are often itchy and can be uncomfortable.
- Aging: Chronic stress can accelerate the aging process of the skin. It can lead to the breakdown of collagen and elastin fibers, causing wrinkles and sagging skin.
- Impaired Healing: Stress can slow down the body's natural healing processes, including the repair of skin injuries or wounds. This can result in slower healing and an increased risk of infection.
- Dryness and Dullness: Stress can lead to changes in the skin's moisture balance, causing it to become dry, flaky, and dull. This can make the skin appear less healthy and vibrant.
- Hair Loss: While not directly related to the skin, stress can also contribute to hair loss, which can affect the scalp and overall appearance.
- Impaired Immune Function: Prolonged stress can weaken the immune system, making the skin more susceptible to infections and delaying the healing of skin issues.
- Nail Problems: Stress can lead to nail problems, such as brittle nails or nail biting, which can affect the appearance of the hands.
How Can We Improve Skin Health By Diminishing Stress?
BreathWork + Movement: Taking 5 minutes to breathe, in through the nose, out through the mouth, with a hold at the end is a great way to start. When we pair this with movement, the oxygen lubricates our body and limits the repetition of spikes of cortisol for brief periods. With time and practice, these techniques can significantly contribute to an overall reduction in chronic stress levels.
Establishing a Skincare Routine: Application of skincare is a stress diminishing activity! Showing yourself love through application with certain products such as Retin-A, Vitamin C, and an effective sunscreen, have proven over and over again to be beneficial for most skin types. Then, by adding in products (as needed) that target specific skin issues, you can establish a skincare routine that is tailor made for your skin. Refine your routine further by tweaking it based on the change of season and lifestyle events.
How Can We Improve Skin Health By Diminishing Bacteria?
Mindfulness of what touches your skin:
Stressed skin is fragile and highly prone to irritation and inflammation. The best way to ensure that fragile, stressed skin is not further compromised, is to keep our skin and skincare free from contamination and bacteria which can negatively impact the skin. If suffering from a skin condition such as acne, reduce bacteria through daily facial cleansing and applying topical products that promote skin cell turnover. Changing your pillowcase, not putting your phone to your cheek, and not touching your face with fingers are all strategies that can further reduce bacteria. I personally recommend the LUNAESCENT touch-free applicator to my clients. It is a unique tool that prevents accumulation of bacteria and germs on our skin and in our skincare. It gives fragile skin a chance to heal and improves skin health.
In summary, for many skin conditions, pairing stress reducing activities with an optimized routine, is an effective strategy that yields real and lasting positive results.
Carly Sunderland is a Los Angeles- based Esthetician and Founder of RadiantSelf. She believes that everyone deserves to be clear about what their ideal wellness routine is and that ending the cycle of stress and skin conditions alone can be a great challenge, so she developed the PsychoSkin Method™. The combination of virtual skin coaching and facials increases confidence, allowing individuals to meet their most RadiantSelf.