You may think of skin annoyances as being the result of genetics, the environment, and the inevitable aging process, but your mental state is just as important to the health of your complexion. Flare-ups, dark circles, dullness, and dehydration are all exacerbated by that dirty word, stress.
Sadly, emotional turmoil affects us all. According to the Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report, over half of Americans experience some kind of stress on a daily basis. Whether it’s money problems, love life gripes, even the pressure of maintaining that perfect Insta life, anxiety can get its claws into the best of us.
Here’s an overview on stress, how it affects your skin, and what you can do to fight back.
What Is Stress?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress is how your body and brain responds to a demand or challenge. This can be anything from a traumatic event or significant life change to a job interview or pressures at home.
When you feel stressed, your body reacts in a number of ways as a result of your brain signaling the production of stress hormones to help you respond. These hormones include cortisol and adrenaline, and they give you the energy to do battle with whatever challenge you’re being faced with. Your heart rate increases, you begin to sweat, your muscles tense, and your breathing becomes short or rapid. The good news is your body is well equipped to handle most everyday stressors. In fact, stress can often be a good thing and is what motivates you when faced with something like your driving test, an exam, or your first day in a new job.
If stress becomes more permanent, however, it can become extremely damaging to your mental and physical well-being. When stress builds or becomes more of a long-term state, serious effects can take hold. Your immune, digestive, cardiovascular and reproductive systems can all take a hit, not to mention your sleep routine and, of course, your skin.
How Stress Affects Your Skin
As you are aware, stress makes you eat a less healthy diet, drink more coffee/booze, and interrupts your sleep patterns, which are all deleterious for your skin. But unfortunately, the effects of stress on your skin are so much more than that. An unwanted increase in cortisol levels physically interferes with the healing process and encourages inflammation, which causes your skin to become irritated and sensitive.
Spikes in cortisol also trigger your skin to produce more sebum, which can make you more prone to acne breakouts. Furthermore, they have been shown to break down collagen and decrease your levels of hyaluronic acid, which leads to premature aging, dryness, and dehydration.
The fact is stress is simply not good for your skin.
Your 3-Step Guide to Stress-Free Skin
Stress can be a bit of a vicious circle. Your body functions best when you take care of yourself, but when you’re stressed, you are less likely to eat well, drink enough water, and exercise. This causes further damage to your skin because you are stressed and not looking after yourself.
But it’s not all doom and gloom because there are many ways to manage your levels of stress and help maintain consistently healthy skin.
Evaluate Your Lifestyle
A healthy, balanced diet goes a long way in counteracting the effects of stress on your skin, so think about what you put into your body.
Too much caffeine, for example, can lead to a heightened stress response in the body, therefore interfering with sleep. You all know what bad sleep does to your skin, and none of it is good. And what if you couple your cup of Joe with a little cupcake on the side? Excess sugar and refined carbs are major stress villains and have both been linked to glycation, a chemical process in the body that stiffens and weakens collagen and elastin in the skin, making it dry and less ‘springy.’ Read: older and dull-looking.
To help keep stress levels at an all-time low, up your intake of leafy veggies, vitamin C-rich fruits such as oranges and strawberries, nuts, bananas, oily fish, and whole grains. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water because even mild dehydration can increase your levels of cortisol.
Exercise, reading, and spending time outside are also great ways to manage stress, so make time in your schedule for activities that help bring down your levels of anxiety.
“Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost your mood and improve your health,’ recommends the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH).
Lastly, never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.
Rethink Your Skincare Routine
Looking after yourself will only go so far if you’re not taking care of your skin. For this reason, follow a few simple rules for your skincare routine, and you can look forward to a much less stressed complexion.
First, look for soothing or anti-inflammatory ingredients in your moisturizer or treatment serum to help combat stress-induced redness or irritation. These include things like aloe vera, oatmeal, chamomile, licorice, green tea, and niacinamide.
Hyaluronic acid is also a total must. When skin is stressed out, its natural, protective barrier becomes compromised so it loses moisture quicker and more easily. This means hydration is vital, both day and night, and you literally can’t get better than a formulation that contains hyaluronic acid (HA) to help prevent moisture loss and dehydration.
When it comes to treating specific concerns, this all depends on how stress manifests itself on your own personal complexion. Conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, and acne are best diagnosed and treated by a professional whereas a lack of radiance or the odd dry patch can often be laid to rest through some carefully thought out skincare products. Our Overnight Star Lactic Acid Treatment, for example, not only contains aloe, licorice, and the mighty hyaluronic acid, but also one of the best ingredients for sloughing away dead skin cells and brightening dull, stressed out skin. That ingredient is, of course, lactic acid.
Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), a type of chemical exfoliant that works by breaking down and dissolving the structure of dead skin cells. By increasing cell turnover in the uppermost layers of your skin (the epidermis), lactic acid helps promotes cellular renewal, which results in younger, plumper-looking skin. Lactic acid also increases the ceramides in the skin's protective barrier, increases water retention, prevents congestion, and improves pigmentation – and all of this without the irritation so often experienced from other acids like glycolic, retinoic and salicylic.
Use Overnight Star Lactic Acid Treatment two or three times a week as part of your bedtime routine, and you’ll notice a real improvement in any visible signs of stress.
3. And Breathe
Breathing is not only the most essential part of human life, but it replenishes every cell in your body and is the key to maintaining a healthy and balanced physical and mental state.
Did you know the average person takes around 20,000 breaths a day? Well, if you don’t do it effectively, your body won’t take in enough fresh oxygenated blood and your skin will suffer.
Let’s put it this way: deep, effective, focused breathing where you exhale and inhale deeply is the key to reducing stress. It helps regulate the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide, calm the heart rate, and ensure your circulation is delivering the optimum amount of nutrients to your skin.
“Abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes each day will reduce anxiety and stress,” recommend experts at the American Institute of Stress.
“Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness. Breathing techniques help you feel connected to your body. This brings your awareness away from the worries in your head and relaxes your mind.”
Clearing your mind of excessive thoughts as you concentrate on deep breathing, however, is easier said than done, especially if your life is fast-paced (and these days, whose isn’t?). But try to focus on your breathing as much as possible because it really will help reduce your stress and restore your beauty balance.
A great meditative breathing technique is the 4-7-8 method, a core part of many yoga practices. And it’s super easy.
- Get comfortable in a seated or lying down position (preferably in a quiet room with no distractions).
- Breathe out to fully empty your lungs of air and then breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Blow the air out of your mouth for 8 seconds, pursing your lips and making a ‘whoosh’ noise.
- Repeat four times and twice a day.