Anxiety may be taking a toll on your skin, but you can soothe it back to health.
Between a global pandemic, a shaky economy and the election, it’s an understatement to say we’ve all had a lot on our minds over the past year. Chances are that stress might be showing up on your skin and manifesting in a number of ways, from breakouts to irritation to dryness.
“We all have stress in our lives which, when we let it, can wreak havoc on our bodies,” says Barbara Close, founder of Naturopathica. “Stress causes our adrenal glands to work overtime, producing excessive amounts of cortisol, which raises our ‘fight or flight’ response and taxes our endocrine system. This burnout can lead to a host of issues, including skin imbalances,” she continues. “Blemishes, rosacea, dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis are all exacerbated by stress. Stress-reactive skin has an average pore size and moderate oil production (mainly in the T-zone), but is highly sensitive to factors such as lack of sleep, poor diet, a high-pressured lifestyle and changes to the environment.”
Calm the Mind
Bringing on a Zen state will help calm your mind—and, in turn, your skin. Meditation, yoga, aromatherapy, a nice bath or however you like to unwind might do the trick. But that sometimes isn’t enough. “For most of us, eliminating stress altogether isn’t realistic, so we need to learn how to adapt to the natural ebbs and flows of it in our lives,” Close says. “My favorite way to stay resilient to stress, both internally and on the surface of the skin, is to use herbal remedies. Nervine and adaptogen herbs help to build the body’s resistance to stress by balancing cortisol and soothing frayed nerves, so look for herbs like schisandra berry, holy basil, skullcap, passionflower or chamomile to enjoy in a tea or herbal tincture.”
To treat stressed skin, it’s important to know what the triggers are. “Stressed skin is primarily driven by cumulative and chronic exposure to irritants—both internal and external,” Close says. “Irritation can come in the form of toxic ingredients, junk food or daily stressors, all of which can cause an inflammatory response. The more consistent the exposure, the more sensitive skin becomes.”
When it comes to diet, it’s no surprise that food that’s bad for your body is also bad for your skin. That goes beyond chips and sugary sweets. Acid-forming foods such as coffee, alcohol, processed foods and saturated fats from dairy and red meat can aggravate skin disturbances. If your skin is prone to reacting to stress, stick to a more alkaline diet of grains, fruits and vegetables. If you’re eating mindfully but still have an irritated complexion, buy a pH kit.
“These kits are easy to use and will demonstrate the acid or alkalinity in your body based on a saliva test,” Close says.
Regardless of the trigger, stressed skin is sensitive skin, so use gentle products. “Be sure to choose a sulfate-free cleanser with soothing ingredients, like aloe or chamomile, or try a cleansing balm with humectants that help the skin to attract and retain moisture,” Close says. Her go-to is Naturopathica Manuka Honey Cleansing Balm, a rich, nourishing cleanser with probiotics and peptides to boost the skin barrier.
Be wary when exfoliating, and skip harsh peels and scrubs during reactive phases, such as when the skin is irritated or rashy. During dormant phases, only exfoliate the skin once or twice per week with gentle fruit enzymes, like papaya or pear.
Daily Skincare: Make Thoughful Choices
For your daily regimen, opt for a medium-weight facial oil with a base of vegetal oils such as argan, avocado or evening primrose, all of which are rich in nutrients and help to form a protective skin barrier. “Boost your routine with essential oils like carrot seed, calendula or lavender, or add antioxidants like vitamins A, C and E to neutralize stress in the skin,” Close says. “Since a lot of stress is environmental, always apply a mineral sunblock before heading outside.” Colleen Rothschild CBD Face Oil is ideal for stressed, sensitive skin since it contains broad spectrum CBD to deliver relief, as well as hemp seed oil, Gotu Kola and vitamin E. Another great option is Supernal Cosmic Glow Oil, designed to restore a natural glow, with organic camellia seed oil, baobab seed oil, vitamin C and Omegas 3, 6 and 9.
Using the right cleanser is also crucial, since you want to avoid harsh ingredients such as surfactants like sulfates, octoxynols and cocamidopropyl betaine. “These surfactants strip the skin of its natural oils and healthy bacteria, which make up the lipid barrier and skin microbiome—the skin’s first line of defense against irritation,” Close says. “Instead, choose coconut-derived surfactants or plant-derived decyl glucoside, surfactants that will gently clarify without stripping the skin. Avoid over-washing by cleansing daily in the evening and opt for a nourishing cleansing balm with ingredients like probiotics to reinforce the skin barrier.”
For creams and serums, look for gentle ingredients that are safe for sensitive skin and nourish. Birkenstock Anti-Stress Serum is chock-full of powerful plant oils and anti-inflammatory botanicals to calm redness and irritation, all while boosting skin barrier function. Close recommends Naturopathica Calendula Essential Hydrating Cream, because it spotlights anti-inflammatory calendula extract to soothe thirsty, sensitive skin. During the day, spritz on Tower 28 SOS Daily Rescue Facial Spray to calm and protect skin from stressors like sweat and pollution. It also helps strengthen the skin barrier and aids the natural renewal process.
“We all have stress in our lives which, when we let it, can wreak havoc on our bodies.”
Avoid Allergens and Irritants
To prevent a flareup or stop stressed skin from getting worse, take a long look at the ingredients you’ve been using. “When your skin is stressed, the last thing that you want to do is fuel the fires of inflammation, so there are certain triggering ingredients that should be avoided,” Close says. “These ingredients are primarily found in the base materials of many conventional skincare products—the surfactants, emulsifiers and preservative systems that make up these formulas.”
Some of the most widely used allergens and irritants in skincare include harsh surfactants; silicones; glycols and diglycols; synthetic colors and dyes; synthetic fragrances (phthalates, DBP, DMP, DEP); and animal-derived ingredients like lanolin, musk, collagen and squalene. Petroleum and petroleum-derived ingredients, including mineral oil, paraffin wax, carbomer, benzene and toluene, are also common triggers. Keep in mind that some preservatives have been linked to health issues, like parabens, phenoxyethanol, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, BHA and BHT. Finally, some synthetic sunscreens can cause trouble for your skin as well, such as PABA, oxybenzone and benzophenones.
Ultimately, treat your skin just like you do your mental health when you’re stressed: gently and with care. In this case, beauty really does come from within, so when you treat your inside right, the outside will reap the rewards, too.