Stressed skin happens. Your skin is a reflection of everything that’s going on in your life. It never fails, something “really important” is about to happen; you get a blemish. You’re worried about your new job; dark circles suddenly appear. Your anxious about a new relationship; your rosacea flares up. Since you can’t avoid your job, bills, or life, the best thing to do is learn how to manage your stress.
This includes eating healthy, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and taking care of yourself in general. By adopting stress reducing habits like taking up yoga, going for walks, practicing meditation or having facials regularly you can lessen the effects of stress on your body and on your skin. If you don’t, the signs of stress will eventually show themselves as aging, acne or reactivity.
When under stress, the brain orders our adrenal glands to secrete two hormones, adrenaline and cortisol. Of the two, cortisol is the most concerning from a reactive and anti-aging perspective.
Cortisol is a natural hormone that helps the body deal with stress. In small amounts, cortisol is a normal and healthy short term reflex to give you the energy to push through stress. You’ve heard of the fight-or-flight response that saved early man from getting eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. Cortisol serves as a great short term coping mechanism. However, cortisol can turn into your enemy if it remains elevated for a long period of time. In today’s society, stress doesn’t always leave after a short encounter. You can’t always fight or run away from the tiger, especially when the tiger is your boss. People who are prone to high levels of stress will sustain high levels of cortisol. This negatively affects the body and specifically the skin by increasing reactivity responses which can cause flushing, inflammation and acne as well as premature wrinkling, dark circles and loss of skin firmness.
STRESS INDUCED ACNE:
You may notice that during periods of high stress you experience more acne-breakouts. This is because elevated cortisol prompts skin’s sebaceous glands to produce more oil, increasing the likeliness of getting clogged pores. If that’s not bad enough cortisol also increases your inflammation response. Normally, a clogged pore might just sit there forever. But combined with elevated cortisol your skin becomes more reactive, often leading to a full-blown blemish.
What to do:
- During times of stress act proactively. Switch to a light moisturizer that contains anti-inflammatory ingredients such as Sea Whip or Chinese Licorice Root.
- Exfoliate regularly to clear the pores. Instead of grabbing your Alpha Hydroxy Acid serum, Retin-A or a strong scrub to exfoliate, reactive skin should make the wiser choice of gently exfoliating, particulate free Proteolytic Enzymes.
- Nix the typical acne masque which is often drying and irritating, robbing your skin of moisture and its natural protective barrier. When your skin is stressed you need to focus on calming inflammation first. This way, angry red papules calm down and heal quicker. Choose a masque that contains Meadowsweet, which is a milder version of anti-bacterial and pore clearing salicylic acid. When used at the first signs of breakouts or a few days before your monthly cycle, a non-drying, anti-inflammatory gel masque for acne will effectively disrupt the visible blemish cycle to encourage smoother skin with fewer noticeable bumps.
STRESS AGES YOUR SKIN:
Cortisol has the power to accelerate aging in stressful situations. Elevated cortisol levels have a long list of negative effects that contribute to aging. Here are just a few:
- Increased Glycation
Stress causes sugar to be dumped into the bloodstream to provide energy for the fight or flight response. Prolonged, elevated sugar levels cause cross linking of important collagen and elastin fibers which normally support and plump our skin (known as glycation). When sugar molecules attach to collagen and elastin fibers it makes them rigid and malformed. This eventually leads to wrinkles, dullness and a loss of firmness. This process is called Advanced Glycation End Products (appropriately shortened to the acronym AGEs).
What to do:
While glycation cannot be completely stopped, dietary changes can make a big difference. It’s not easy to eliminate sugar completely. Even whole grains, fruits, and vegetables turn to glucose—the type of sugar that fuels glycation. But limiting added sugar certainly helps. When under stress, it’s also important to remember to boost your antioxidant levels. All fruits and veggies, as well as things like dark chocolate and green tea, have powerful antioxidants that help protect cells from glycation. So, the important thing is to eat fresh, whole fruits and veggies (not the juice) which slows sugar absorption and provides you with valuable antioxidants. Getting a regular supply of antioxidants helps to stave off the effects of AGEs. Also, consider a Vitamin B supplement: Studies have found that Vitamins B1 and B6 help inhibit the formation of AGEs by lowering the effects of stress on your skin.
Skin Care Tip:
When dealing with glycated skin, it is essential to remember that the skin needs ingredients that have anti-inflammatory properties. Research shows that antioxidants also fight inflammation. Vitamin C is the anti-oxidant most researched for fighting stress induced aging. Using a high potency skin serum containing Vitamin C is very effective. The problem with using Vitamin C in the form of L-Ascorbic Acid (the most common form found in serums) is that it can be very irritating and unstable, which adds to the inflammation component. We suggest trying Magnesium Ascorbyl Phosphate as a non-irritating and stable alternative. If you’re particularly stressed, you should also consider adding additional antioxidants to your skin care routine. Superfruits like coffee berries, acai berries, gogi fruit, mangoes and pomegranates are among the most powerful sources of natural antioxidants and can be added to your Vitamin C serum.
- Thinning Skin
Elevated cortisol (this includes extended use of cortisone creams) wears down skin supporting connective tissue resulting in thinner skin which is less durable, more reactive and more prone to wrinkles.
What to do:
Your skin is made of protein. You need to eat protein to provide your body with the amino acids needed to rebuild heathy skin cells. Making sure you are eating enough protein is essential. You also need lipids to calm and reinforce your skin’s protective barrier. Calming Omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and in nuts and seeds are great sources for building healthy skin.
Skin care tip:
Caprooyl Tetrapeptide-3, is one of a powerful group of protein building peptides which act as messengers that tell skin cells called fibroblasts to produce more collagen. Popular, new stem cell stimulators like Hydrolyzed Algin and a rare Swiss Apple Extract offer great promise for waking up your skin’s own sleepy stem cells to start rejuvenation and repair. While these stem cells don’t directly replace our own stem cells, research supports that they have the ability to give your own stem cells a little nudge to wake them up and start acting like younger, more vital skin repair cells.
LED (light emitting diode) treatments help stimulate Mitochondria in skin cells. Mitochondria is the engine, or power house for skin cells. Slowed skin repair is caused in part by a natural slow down of energy (called ATP) produced in cells as we age. LED boosts energy to stimulate metabolism for healthier, stronger skin.
- Dull, Sluggish Skin
In some cases stress causes decreased blood flow to the skin. This happens when hormones draw blood away from extremities and the skin to protect internal organs. Prolonged stress means the skin gets less nutrients and oxygen and becomes depleted of antioxidants. The result is skin which appears dull and tired looking.
What to do:
Moderate exercise is great for energizing the skin (don’t forget your sunscreen). It increases blood flow and improves circulation. Of course you need to get plenty of sleep, eat properly and avoid sugar, alcohol and smoking.
If your skin looks dull and worn try exercising your face as well as your body. Don’t do facial exercises as they pull on skin in a way that actually causes wrinkles. Instead, when you doing your morning and evening cleansing choose an invigorating cleanser containing rosemary. Try doing simple massage techniques like gentle circles and tapping movements all over your face before you rinse off your cleanser. A Ginseng toner is great followup that gently draws moisture and blood flow to the skin.
Your skin will benefit from a series of Microdermabrasion or Bio-Brasion treatments. Microdermabrasion and Bio-Brasion as well as many peels are exfoliating treatments that stimulate collagen by causing a very mild trauma to the skin. This gets the skin to go into a healing mode, which results in increased collagen production. Bio-Brasion is better for stressed skin because it is less likely to go overboard and cause irritation that can be counterproductive.
- Puffy Eyes
Cortisol has a natural rhythm throughout your day. Your body should produce more in the morning than in the evening, giving you the energy to begin your day. In the evening, as you leave your daily stresses behind, cortisol levels should drop by 90 percent. However, elevated cortisol levels at night can deprive you of sleep. Most skin repair occurs at night, during REM sleep, this is why your esthetician encourages you to apply those active rejuvenating serums in the evening. Lack of sleep can cause lymphatic fluid to pool under eyes causing puffiness in the morning.
What to do:
To prevent and shrink puffiness get at least eight hours of sleep. Since the light from your smartphone, smart TV, computer and iPad screen simulate sunlight, shut off any electronic devices an hour before you go to sleep. Use your downtime to make yourself a cup of caffeine-free chamomile tea to help calm and relax you before bed.
Try adopting the stress reducing habit of going to bed and getting up at the same times each day. If you still wake up with puffy eyes try applying an anti-puff gel in the morning. A good anti-puff gel contains Hesperidin to shrink capillaries and reduce dark circles. It might also contain CoQ10 to energize lymph drainage from under the eye. Make your anti-puff gel even more effective by placing your glass bottle of gel in the fridge at night. In the morning, when you tap on the gel, roll the edge of the chilly glass bottle over the puffy areas to tighten and further drain the lymph from the area.
A great stress reducer is remembering to smile, laugh and be good to yourself. This is not only good for your skin but great for your overall health as well.