While breakouts are something we all have to deal with from time to time, they’re still not ideal.
If the return to the office commute, busier social schedule and re-entry to ‘normal’ life resumes again has meant you’ve been greeted with an angry face full of cystic zits, you’re not alone.
You might be wondering what gives, here. Well, know that when it comes to your skin and stress, there is a very real relationship between the two (ever gone through a hardcore time at work, gone to the loo to get yourself together and looked into the harshly lit mirror only to discover that you’ve broken out, to boot?)
It’s the same, here. While the majority of us are thankful that life is becoming more normal again, the change in our routine can be stressful and flare up bouts of anxiety and uncertainty. Added stress = blemishes. Drat.
Your skin and stress: what’s going on?
‘A stressful event leads to a physiological response in the body which we call the ‘flight or fight response’ – it prepares our bodies to flee from danger,’ Dr Stephanie Munn, Clinical Lead for Dermatology, Bupa Health Clinics, previously explained to WH.
So, how does that play into your face? ‘The stress hormones cause the release of chemicals which increase blood flow to the skin. This can trigger both rashes and redness, while the same hormones can lead to breakouts.’
But that’s not all, kids. ‘Furthermore, stress alters our immune responses, which can trigger some skin conditions,’ (think rosacea and eczema).
If you’re one of the one in 20 people who deals with picking the skin on your face (or dermatillomania, to use the medical term) then stress can trigger your chances of a resurgence.
And then, there’s the lifestyle results that stress can can cause. ‘We tend to sleep badly and eat less well when we are under pressure, often turning to alcohol and sugary foods, which can have an impact on the skin too,’ says Dr Munn. It’s indirect, but certainly significant.
Keep scrolling for our full conversation about stress and your skin with Munn.
WH: A lot of people think that their acne gets worse in times of stress. Is there any truth to this?
DM: Yes, this is true. Cortisol and androgens – the stress hormones – can lead to blocked pores, which is a contributing factor to acne-prone skin. Bacteria living in human skin feeds off the oily substance sebum, which is created by these hormones, and is a key factor in acne flaring up.
WH: Say someone doesn’t have acne – can stress still trigger spots?
Yes – stress can produce hormones which make the skin oily and make it more prone to breakouts.
WH: And what about when stress causes someone’s rosacea to flare up – what’s going on there?
DM: Stress causes emotion and this is proven to trigger rosacea flare-ups through dilatation of the blood vessels in the skin – triggering flare-ups just as easily as common physical factors like alcohol.
Chronic stress causes the body to overreact, which can lead to chemical and physical changes within the body.
For those with rosacea, physical symptoms of stress may occur because rosacea is linked to abnormal chemical reactions in the skin.
WH: And what about the relationship between stress and eczema and psoriasis?
It’s been well researched that eczema and psoriasis flare up during times of stress. If you’ve noticed a flare-up before a big meeting or presentation at work, or right before something else you may find stressful, it’s no coincidence.
If you’re tense, your body tries to protect your skin by boosting inflammation. If you already have inflammation because of eczema or psoriasis, this will make symptoms worse.
WH: More generally, how can a hum of low level stress – say, a demanding job – impact your skin?
Because that stress can weaken your immune system. Your immune system protects your body from infection and viruses, and your skin plays a vital role in this. The skin acts as a defence mechanism and a physical barrier between your bloodstream and antigens.
When your immune system is weakened, it can make your skin more vulnerable to infection with bacteria which can cause pustules and boils. These include viruses like cold sores and yeast infections such as candida or thrush.
Our bodies live in harmony with several organisms, [think about all of those bacteria doing their thing in your gut] but when we become chronically stressed this can become unbalanced, leading to over growth of yeasts and bacteria – some of which cause skin disease including dandruff.
WH: How would you recommend that someone tries to mitigate stress-induced acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis?
The key is to try to manage your stress and understand better what may be causing you to feel stressed or anxious:
Good ways of easing flare-ups linked to stress are practising relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga and deep breathing.
Regular exercise is also good for your skin and the rest of your body as it releases endorphins or the so called ‘happy hormones’.
Getting outside for a long walk is also good for you as sunshine has a positive effect on mood.
Drinking plenty of water, cutting back on alcohol and getting a good night’s sleep are all important for the skin as well.
Vitamin D supplements in the winter months (10mcg daily) can help fatigue, mood and boosts the immune system. Getting outside in the sunshine also helps us make our own vitamin D and helps overall wellbeing.
WH: Aside from relaxing, are there any products that can help to mitigate the impact of stress on your skin?
Use oil-free products, remove any make up before going to bed and use an over-the-counter acne product. If it doesn’t settle down, ask your GP for advice.