Lately, despite the twice daily cleansing and moisturising, an hour at the gym, weekly scrubs and face packs, adequate beauty sleep and copious amounts of water, I have been noticing that my skin has never ever looked this terrible. It’s reached a point where strangers at the malls are asking me if I am sick and need help… not kidding!
Time to visit the dermatologist – who takes one look at my blotchy complexion, flaking chin, dark circles and the monstrous zit on my forehead and decides what I need is a “life questionnaire” rather than a session of Blue Light. And through gradual prodding and poking, we arrive at the root cause – stress (and a lot of being pissed off, to boot), which is literally killing my skin cells.
I have always known that stress leads to high blood pressure, depression, migraines, heart disease, obesity… yada yada yada! But honestly, it never bothered me because all that’s in the future. Skin problems, however, are in the here and now! Hence, this required some serious research. And what I found is that given our increasingly crazy lifestyles, there is actually a new field of medicine called psychodermatology, which focuses on the mind-beauty connection. Experts of psychodermatology treat skin problems that are caused or worsened by stress and here I am summarising what they say happens to our complexions when we are emotionally troubled.
But remember, these “quick fixes” are just that – quick fixes. To actually reverse the beauty (and overall health!) effects of stress, you need to go much deeper than lotions and potions!
Stress triggers a hormone called cortisol (a stress hormone), which slows down skin cells, making them take longer to reach the surface and flake off. Hence, dead skin cells build up, making your face look dull and lifeless.
Furthermore, prolonged cortisol production leads to loss of collagen and elastin, resulting in slackness, sagging and loss of elasticity. Not a good beauty look at all!
Quick fix: Consume foods that increase collagen production and benefit the skin. For example, soy products help block enzymes that break down and age the skin. Also, try topical beauty products containing Vitamin C (l-ascorbic acid) or hyaluronic acid (sometimes listed as sodium hyaluronate). Skip the retinoids though – they will further irritate stressed skin.
Stressed skin has a very low lipid (protective) barrier, so fluids evaporate more easily. In addition, cortisol also reduces the skin’s ability to retain water, leading to excessive dryness.
Quick fix: Try a weekly moisture mask and apply a hydrating serum along with moisturiser. Also, avoid using toners and cleansers that contain harsh ingredients such as Ammonium Laurenth Sulphate, Sodium Lauryl Sulphate and Sodium Laureth Sulphate, which can dehydrate and irritate the skin.
4. Skin infections
The epidermal skin cells are packed tightly together, forming a strong barrier that blocks the entry of bacteria and other toxins. When you are under stress, this protective layer becomes less effective, allowing harmful bacteria to reach the deeper layers of skin.
Quick fix: Keep skin scrupulously clean with a mild soap. Use warm, not hot water, and pat skin dry instead of rubbing; put moisturiser on immediately.
5. Itchy, ugly rashes
Stress decreases skin’s self-repairing abilities, while also releasing histamines (which create allergic reactions) into the bloodstream. The result? Flareups of immunity-related conditions such as hives, rashes, cold sores, psoriasis and eczema.
Quick fix: Look for beauty products that contain soothing ingredients like avocado oil, almond oil, aloe vera, Shea butter, sunflower oil and chamomile. Also, cut down on the number of skincare products you use – fewer products means lesser ingredients and hence a lower risk of an allergic reaction.
Stress increases oil production, which blocks the pores and results in breakouts.
Quick fix: Keep skin clear of surface dirt, oil and dead cells. Use oil-free beauty products and wash your face gently with a soft cloth. Don’t scrub, as this can further irritate acne and make it worse.
7. Premature ageing
During times of crisis, our body redirects the flow of blood to areas that are vital for reacting to stress – such as lungs and heart. This leaves skin without essential blood and oxygen. The result? Increased production of free radicals and tissue-damaging oxidants, which speed up wrinkles, lines and other signs of premature ageing.
Quick fix: Try some facial exercises and massage. These help release tension along with increasing oxygen-rich blood flow to muscles, tissue and skin, making the complexion look vibrant and healthier.
Stress hurts the digestive system. This means essential nutrients are not digested properly, allowing build up of impurities. As a result, stressed skin looks dull, lifeless and sallow.
Quick fix: Step up intake of leafy greens, fruit and high protein grains and lentils as well as healthy fats like those found in avocados and olive oil; cut down on caffeine. Skipping meals is a complete no-no!
Prolonged stress creates chronic internal inflammation, which leads to premature ageing, uneven skin tone and texture, lack of radiance and hyperpigmentation.
Quick fix: Sleep is anti-inflammatory – a time of healing, when cortisol levels are at their lowest. Getting enough will keep your body’s best coping skills at hand.
10. Skin cancers
In a study at Yale University, it was found that people with melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – were more likely to have gone through stressful life events during the years leading up to their diagnosis than people who did not have skin cancer.
Quick fix: Remember to not skip the sunscreen – even if you are indoors. Rule of thumb is that if the natural light is bright enough to read, it’s bright enough to damage your skin.