This is how stress affects your skin – and what you can do about it
Have you noticed your skin has suffered in the last year, with an increase in acne, deepening wrinkles or exacerbated existing conditions? Pandemic stress might be to blame.
“Multiple lockdowns combined with the stresses of working from home and homeschooling has been tough on most people’s mental health,” says dermatology nurse consultant Paula Oliver.
“Even though normality is on the horizon, it can still feel stressful and daunting for many, and this added stress could be causing skin to flare-up for eczema and psoriasis sufferers.”
Plus, if you already have complexion issues, they can – in turn – have an impact on your mental health.
“I often say to my patients, ‘Stress causes skin disease and skin disease causes stress’,” says consultant dermatologist Dr Alia Ahmed aka The Psychodermatologist.
“People with skin conditions are at higher risk of developing poor psychological health, meaning they are more likely to feel embarrassed, low, anxious, have body image issues or feel socially isolated. These feelings can then impact their skin and it can turn into a vicious cycle.”
Why does stress impact our skin?
“The brain has a stress-activated pathway that causes the release of various chemicals and hormones that drive inflammation both in the body and the skin,” Dr Ahmed continues. “Feelings of emotional distress lead to the release of a stress hormone (cortisol), which is known to affect the immune system.”
The effects of cortisol can vary, with skin “feeling dry and itchy, as well as the formation of lines, wrinkles, pigmentation, signs of premature aging and dull skin”.
Oliver adds: “Acne tends to heal much slower when a person is under stress, which means that pimples stay longer and appear more visible at this time.”
Our experts agree that treating the cause, not the symptoms, is the best approach, which is why you should start by trying to reduce the causes of stress in your life.
Dr Ahmed says: “Often, very simple changes can make big differences in patients’ lives. So, it’s important to consider the amount of sleep people are getting, their daily fluid intake, food choices, and amount of time spent exercising.”
Oliver recommends sticking to “a healthy, balanced diet, which is full of rich, leafy greens, good fats and high fibre foods. Drinking at least two litres of water a day can also help hydrate the skin, preventing breakouts and signs of ageing”.
Exercise is another lifestyle factor to consider, she says, as it “releases endorphins that make you feel happy, and it gives you the opportunity to clear your mind from daily worries.
“Whether it’s taking your dog for a walk, cycling to the shop or putting on some music for a dance, get your body moving to help yourself feel uplifted.”
In addition, Dr Ahmed recommends trying relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness or meditation, to find a method that works for you. “Ways to facilitate this have become easier. There are apps that can be used (e.g. Headspace), online habit reversal and self-help websites. If you’re not sure what approach is right for you, speak to a healthcare professional.”
“Finally, it’s important to remember that chasing the concept of flawless skin can be emotionally distressing, but learning to cope with ‘skin imperfections’ can be empowering,” says Dr Ahmed.
“So, having a good skincare product that helps take care of your skin and treats any marks can help you feel more confident in your own skin.”
She recommends using a lightweight oil, such as Nuture Nourishing Skin Treatment Oil (£5,99, was £8.99, Boots) to “replenish hydration for improved elasticity and supple skin”.
Oliver says that an emollient, such as Epimax Original Cream, (£6.99, YourDrySkin) is ideal for “the relief of dry skin, and diagnosed eczema and psoriasis”.