The Impact of Stress On Skin

Experiencing generally uncooperative skin as of late? You’re not alone. Here's how to treat and prevent stress-induced skin concerns.
Written by Vivien Moon
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The Impact of Stress On SkinGayatri Malhotra/Unsplash

Experiencing a higher amount of breakouts (maskne, anyone?), uneven skin tone or texture, redness, or just generally uncooperative skin as of late? You’re not alone, and it’s not by accident. There could be a scientific reason behind the rise in complexion concerns that is unrelated to the boom in screen time or having to wear a mask. Stress, although invisible, could very well be the hidden culprit behind the most visible skin woes experienced since COVID-19 stay-at-home orders took effect in March.

“Stress is a component of living that is impossible to avoid and in our daily lives comes at us from all angles,” says Kat Bryce, global brand vice president of LOUM. “Family and child-rearing, relationships, health, work, financial security, politics, global events like COVID-19, and the pressure to succeed and live up to expectations all rank highly amongst women 18 to 55, to the extent that many of us live on the edge of burnout.”

Although each person's response to stress is as singular as their genetic makeup (which, by the way, also plays a role in how the body operates under pressure), many people see signs of stress on their skin. With that said, you don’t need one more thing to worry about. There are ways to treat stress-affected skin and prevent further damage.

What Stress Does to the Skin

A list of stressors can feel endless — especially in today’s world. But, no matter what the root of the problem is, here is what stress can do to the skin:

1. Stress Can Lead To Dry, Irritated Skin

According Francisco Tausk, MD, a psycho-dermatologist and professor at the University of Rochester who helped to develop LOUM, stress creates an increase in adrenaline, which, in turn, release cytokines (i.e. stress signalling markers) that trigger a pro-inflammatory response in the skin. The result? Dry skin. But that’s not all. “This leads to wrinkling, sagging, and a ruddy texture to the skin, as well as overall sallowness,” says Amy Spizuoco, DO, a board certified dermatologist in NYC.

2. Stress Can Cause Breakouts

According to the 2019 American Psychological Association’s annual stress report, individuals between the ages of 18 to 21 feel at least one physical or emotional symptom due to stress in per month, compared to 74 percent of adults. While acne is a hallmark of young adulthood, unwanted breakouts and pimples are not exclusive to teenagers. Stress-induced acne flare-ups occur when the “central nervous system triggers the release of a neuropeptide called ‘substance P’ in the skin that causes sebum production to increase and pores to dilate,” Dr. Tausk shares. That combination leads to skin that is oilier than usual and more prone to breakouts.

3. Stress Decreases Collagen Production

Stress causes a spike in cortisol levels, and the fight or flight hormone is, in the words of Dr. Tausk, “a collagen killer.” Collagen production naturally decreases with age, but constant stress can speed up the degradation process and manifest itself in premature signs of aging. “[Cortisol] damages our collagen and weakens the cellular matrix, leading to signs of aging like fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of firmness,” he says.

How To Treat Stressed Skin

If reading about the impact of stress on the skin has you, well, stressed, know that there are ways to treat and prevent damage. Here’s how:

Focus On Quality Skincare

What you put on your skin is always important, but the right active ingredients can go a long way towards combating the ill effects of stress. “Antioxidants, humectants, and peptides are best to de-stress the skin,” Dr. Spizuoco says, adding each has its own unique benefit:

  • Antioxidants: Vitamins B, C, and E (to name a few) help fight free radical damage.
  • Humectants: Niacinamide and hyaluronic acid (HA) restore moisture.
  • Peptides: Help calm and soothe the skin.

When crafting an anti-stress skincare regimen, Dr. Spizuoco says “daily sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher), lotions or serums with antioxidants, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and peptides, and nighttime retinol” are musts.

At LOUM, the product line is formulated with this in mind. The brand’s proprietary blend of marine microalgae (to calm irritation), broad-spectrum CBD (to thwart sebum production), and wild indigo extract (to slow cortisol and boost endorphins) is clinically proven to calm skin.

Take A Breather

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat. The breathing mechanisms taught in yoga and used to cope with anxiety are also recommended to deal with everyday stressors. If you are feeling stressed, Dr. Spizuoco suggests taking a minute for deep breathing. If seated for long periods, stand up and go for a five-minute walk to circulate blood flow and enhance tissue hydration. Physical activity releases endorphins that can combat stress and lift your mood.

Don’t Pressure Yourself

Unfortunately, stress compounds. Not addressing the underlying causes of worry, anxiety, and pressure can lead to bigger issues long term. “The high level of stress we’re living with isn’t the intermittent stress our body can bounce back from,” Bryce warns. “It’s long-term chronic stress that negatively impacts our whole body and, arguably, our skin — our biggest organ — most of all.” If you find yourself trying to juggle it all, cut yourself some slack. “At LOUM, we hope we can start a more positive conversation where we acknowledge the stress we all face and provide the support women need to discover not just the beauty but the positive self-image and confidence that comes from calm,” she shares.

The Takeaway

Stress may be unavoidable, but the way you react to it is up to you. Mindful awareness of life's little (and big) challenges combined with a smart approach to skincare can help mitigate the impacts of stress on the skin. From thoughtful skincare selections to mindful breathing, adding a bit more self-care to your daily routine can have a big impact on both the mind and body.

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VIVIEN MOONis a senior editor at AEDIT.

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