Under pressure: How stress impacts our skin and what to do about it

If you’ve uttered the phrase “I’m stressed” recently, you’re not alone – in fact, 74% of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope, according to research by mentalhealth.org.uk. And not only can stress cause both physical and mental symptoms, such as a racing heart, sweaty palms and trouble sleeping (yikes), but it can also seriously mess with your complexion, too. Here, we look at how stress affects your face and the steps you can take to minimise its impact.

Stress and your skin

“A dull, uneven skin tone could be your skin’s way of showing signs of stress,” says Lou Sommereux, clinic director at Cosmex Clinic*. But how can stress cause skin problems? “Feeling overwhelmed can restrict blood flow to your skin, and when this happens, it’s deprived of nourishment,” Lou reveals. “As a result, a stressed face can look tired and dull, and lack moisture, softness and luminosity. Stress will also slow down the skin’s natural cell regeneration process, which can also contribute to a dull complexion.”

Struggling to nod off at night can also be a side effect of stress, which serves up yet more issues for your complexion. “Those who suffer from stress can also have trouble sleeping or suffer from insomnia,” says Dr Najia Shaikh, GP, skin doctor and founder of One Skin Clinic. “Lack of quality sleep also has a very detrimental effect on the skin, and, without it, many people begin to notice an increase in fine lines, pigmentation and reduced elasticity.”

So, what can you do to regain your glow? “Firstly, I highly recommend identifying the root cause of your stress and taking steps to combat it – regular exercise is a great way to do this,” says Lou. “You will also be surprised at how much difference a good skincare routine or facial treatment can make.” She recommends using hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and lactic acid to help beat the effects of stress on face and body.

Dr Najia agrees, adding that it’s vital to not neglect your skin. “Even when you’re tired, stressed or upset, try to maintain a good skincare routine every day,” she says. “At the bare minimum, ensure you cleanse and moisturise twice a day.” Any other advice? “Eat a healthy and balanced diet with plenty of good fats, proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates, and steer clear of processed and sugary foods.”

Stress and acne

While you may wish that you’d left the days of breakouts long behind, you could still find yourself frantically typing ‘can stress cause acne?’ into your Google search bar. The answer to that question, unfortunately, is yes, as Mel Gravel-Barnes, skincare lead at Croma Pharma*, explains. “Stress can cause the formation of a stress hormone within the body that increases oil production,” she tells us. “This, in turn, could lead to acne and stress spots on skin.”

Luckily, you’ll be pleased to hear that there are lots of ways to target a stress breakout. “To help combat acne and regulate oil production, make sure you’re double cleansing every day,” says Lou. “The first cleanse will remove any makeup and surface dirt from the skin, while the second will help target any acne-causing bacteria that may be trapped within the pores. As well as that, you should try to incorporate an exfoliating treatment into your routine at least three times a week. Natural exfoliators are designed to deep clean the pores and will also help to remove any dead skin cells and promote healthy cell turnover for a brighter, clearer complexion.”

Can stress cause dry skin?

As if acne and dullness weren’t enough to contend with, it turns out that stress and dry skin are also on friendly terms. “Stress can make your skin drier than usual,” warns Lou. “This, in turn, leads to the formation of fine lines and wrinkles. Try to drink enough water to keep your body hydrated and be sure to have a good skincare routine. Again, I would suggest using hyaluronic acid to help lock in moisture and follow this up with a good moisturising routine, morning and night, to help ease your stressed skin.”

Skin conditions caused by stress and anxiety

Can stress cause itchy skin? “Stress can cause various skin problems, including a stress skin rash, hives and itching,” says Dr Najia. “When our body releases the stress hormone cortisol, it can make skin more sensitive and reactive. For people who already suffer from skin conditions such as eczema and rosacea, stress can make it worse and trigger flare-ups.”

The good news? Simply going through the motions of your skincare regime can dramatically reduce your stress levels. According to a study by skincare brand Rodan + Fields, cortisol levels decreased by around 83% in participants who followed a three-step skincare routine!

*Comments sourced by CallCare

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