Stress and skin and how to help it..

I know most of us know that stress can affect our skin, but I wanted to write this post to help explain why. I’m definitely seeing the affects on my skin, but have found that understanding a bit more about what it is actually doing has helped me to deal with it more. Hopefully this might help you too…

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t suffered with stress these days. Many of us were living stressful lives before COVID, but a global pandemic, along with a whole host of other events has compounded it.

Cortisol is our body’s main stress hormone, it is produced by the adrenal glands which sit on top of our kidneys and its production is regulated by the pituitary gland. It is a really important hormone and despite a bad rap, we need it. A little bit of stress is actually good for us, Cortisol helps us get up in the morning when we have a natural spike, it also helps with alertness and energy levels. Levels will rise for acute stress – this is our fight or flight mode but it should be short and sweet – we deal with the stressful situation and then our cortisol goes down, gradually reducing throughout the day ready for sleep.

It is when those levels don’t go down that we have chronic stress. Cortisol goes into overdrive and we become unbalanced. If we are in constant fight or flight mode, our bodies cannot function properly. Things like digestion will get pushed aside as the body will prioritise what it deems most important to ‘save us’ from the stressful situation, but if the ‘stressful situation’ doesn’t end our health starts to suffer. Chronic stress will take its toll in many ways, internal stuff we may not know exactly what is going on, but on our skin we can visibly see changes. In fight or flight mode, skin health comes way at the bottom of the pile of importance.

Excess cortisol can really affect our skin in a negative way and will manifest in different ways for different people. It can exacerbate current issues and also create more.

Over production of cortisol can slow the production of ceramides in our skin which which can result in a drier skin. Ceramides make up part of our natural lipid protection barrier, if this gets upset skin can become irritated and open to infection. It can also become dehydrated as water in the skin can ‘escape’. I’ve got a post here tasing about the difference between dry and dehydrated skin if you’re interested. Skin may seem thinner and more delicate, fine lines may start to appear. I know I feel like I’ve aged ten years over the last two!!

Psychological stress can also increase oxidative stress (I’m sure you’ve heard of those pesky free radicals) which has also been linked to impaired skin barrier function. It can also make conditions like eczema and psoriasis flare up or become worse.

We ourselves produce free radicals ourselves through bodily functions, however we also produce anti-oxidants to deal with them. Free radicals also come from things like pollution, cigarette smoke and it is when we become ‘outnumbered’ that our natural defences can’t cope and we start to get increased stress. I recently listened to an interesting podcast by Dr Rupy Aujla aka The Doctor’s Kitchen on skin health which is worth a listen if you’re interested as he talks about oxidative stress – he also gives some positive ideas to help.

Back to that annoying Cortisol…. too much of it can affect the collagen; it can break it down along with the elastin, this again will make skin feel thinner. I can totally relate to this – the texture of my skin has changed, it feels more delicate and less easy to bounce back.

And then on the flip side, excess Cortisol can increase the sebum in the skin which can contribute to acne especially if you’re already prone to it. It might show itself as blocked pores and congestion that maybe you’ve not had before. 

Being out of balance will upset the natural microbiome of the skin which again can lead to irritation and inflammation. Stress often has an impact on our sleep as well, and we all know bad sleep usually results in dull, tired looking skin.

So how to we get our radiance back??

Obviously trying to reduce stress is the first thing but this is easier said then done. Some stresses are beyond our control, but trying to find ways that help us deal with stress better is good. I’ve personally found that working on my breathing has helped as has cutting out caffeine – more on that to come in a follow up post..

Skin products are not going to stop our stress – although a nurturing daily skin routine can really help to soothe a stressed body and mind. However choosing the right products to support our skin can definitely make a difference to how our skin feels in times of stress. Skin concerns can add to our list of stressors so if we can support our skin, we can hopefully reduce some of our stress that way too.

When thinking about skin products, a key thing is to support your natural barrier. 

If your skin is particularly stressed, simplifying your routine is a great way to start. For the moment cutting out anything too active could be a good move as well. Go for products that will calm, hydrate and nourish. 

Neal’s Yard Remedies has a lovely range for sensitive skin, which can help to reset irritated skin. I’ve been using the Sensitive Restore and Smooth Serum. I feel it calms and hydrates and definitely leaves my skin happier.

Another range I’ve been introduced to lately is Gherane which has been formulated for stressed-out skin. I’ve only been using for a couple of weeks or so but I can see a difference in my skin. Both the serum and oil are jam packed full of amazing ingredients including adaptogens and prebiotics to help repair and strengthen the skin barrier, calm inflammation, re-balance, hydrate and also protect. Yes please!

I’m a big fan of adaptagens (these are plants and mushrooms that can help to balance the body) Ashwagandha being a favourite that I have taken for a while to help deal with stress, so I jumped to try this Mushroom Mist from Olixa – it contains other adaptogens such as Holy Basil and Ginseng to help skin more resilient to stress. I loved it and will purchase again for sure.

stress and skin - some of my favourite products

The Nourish Probiotic Multi-Mineral Repair Mask is a favourite of mine to calm stressed skin, I use it as a mask but also an overnight cream. It contains magnesium to help with inflammation, also copper, iron and zinc to help repair, protect and boost collagen.

Protecting skin is also key – I really like the Madara Stem Cell sunscreen SPF30 – it’s very lightweight and doesn’t feel heavy or sticky on skin. It does have a slight beige tint but seems to blend in quite well with a lot of skin tones. I’ve also just started using Upcircle’s new SPF which is very nice, it again gives great protection without feeling heavy.

If you’re suffering with more oil and breakouts than cleansing is so important, but nothing stripping. Gentle cleansing it key – I’m currently using Evolve’s Kalahari Dream Cleansing Oil and I love it – it removes make-up and daily grime and leaves skin nice and comfortable. Oils on an oily skin can sometimes feel counterintuitive but actually can work really well. I also love Dirty Face Cleanser by We are Faace – really lovely and light going into warmer weather – it cleanses well but doesn’t dry skin out. 

When cleansing think about water temperature, anything too hot can irritate and dry skin out.

You can feel ‘oily’ and still have dehydrated skin so don’t skip the moisturiser, choose something a bit lighter in texture especially going into warmer weather. The Gherane duo I mentioned above I think would be great – the serum especially as so lightweight and the oil doesn’t feel oily, it leaves more of a matt finish. This moisturiser is lovely from Neal’s Yard too, lightweight but hydrating when you need it.

If you’re thinking about changing some of your skincare, do it bit by bit rather than all at once. That way you’ll know what is and what isn’t working for you.

Hopefully the above has helped you understand stress and skin a bit more and give you some ideas to support your skin during times of stress. Let me know if anything really resonates with you!

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