We can all agree that the last year has brought some unexpected changes to our lives!
Most of us have been faced with situations we have never before encountered, and this has certainly made us flex muscles we didn’t know we had. We have all experienced lots of sudden changes and have had to implement unprecedented levels of flexibility into our lives - causing huge amounts of stress. The side effects of this additional stress have been seen and felt by all of us, especially on our skins (some of us never having had any skin problems before).
Why would stress, anxiety, a low immune system, poor sleeping habits etc. have a direct effect on the skin?
Sometimes we forget that our skin is in fact the largest organ in the body and it unfortunately bears the brunt of and reflects the internal state of our mind and body, presenting us with evidence topically that we need to address internally as well as externally.
Stress and all the above-mentioned circumstances trigger the release of hormones and adrenaline, both of which negatively affect our skin. When stress is chronic (ongoing), inflammation increases and prolongs this detrimental effect. You may notice that you have increased acne breakouts, dryness, irritation, or redness during periods of high stress. These symptoms stem from the release of various hormones when the body encounters stress – in particular, the “stress hormone” cortisol.
What is cortisol?
Cortisol is a hormone that is released in times of stress, it has many important functions. Having the right cortisol balance is essential, problems arise when cortisol levels are too high as well as too low.
Cortisol is made in the Adrenals (a small gland that sits above each kidney) and is then released into the blood, which transports it all round the body. Almost every cell responds to cortisol and so cortisol can have lots of different actions depending on which sort of cells it is acting upon. These effects include controlling the body’s blood sugar levels and regulating metabolism, acting as an anti-inflammatory, influencing memory formation, controlling salt and water balance, influencing blood pressure, and is needed for the fight or flight response.
When your body is stressed, you release adrenaline and cortisol, aka the stress hormone. In a healthy stress response, (i.e. once off stressful occurrence) this rise in hormone activity is temporary and the effect on your skin is minimal and short-lived. But when a single stressful event is too much to handle or ongoing, these hormones stay active for long periods of time causing changes in and on the skin’s surface.
Cortisol levels in the blood vary throughout the day, but generally are higher in the morning when we wake up, and then fall as the day goes on. This is called a diurnal rhythm. In people that work at night, this pattern is reversed, so the timing of cortisol release is clearly linked to daily activity patterns. Extra cortisol is released in response to stress to help the body to respond appropriately.
What effects can cortisol have on my skin?
- Increased oil production leading to breakouts
- Increased inflammation which can make the skin feel hot, flushed & sensitive to the touch therefore being more sensitive to topical actives applied to the skin’s surface (if this inflammation continues, this is a precursor to more serious skin conditions such as Rosacea, Acne, Eczema, Psoriasis and Contact Dermatitis)
- In extreme cases elevated cortisol levels could be linked to hair loss
- Dryness: Inflammatory immune responses may also cause general dryness and itching, as inflamed skin loses the ability to retain water
- Wrinkles: The cortisone hormone caused by stress is a collagen killer. Stress reduces the natural proteins that are responsible for skin elasticity, which speeds up the signs of aging, including wrinkles
Stress and increased inflammation in the skin also speeds up the aging process, more recently known as inflammaging. In this case, the skin is constantly in “reactive” mode. Matrix Metalloproteinases are a group of enzymes that are responsible for breaking down collagen and elastin in the deeper layers of the skin, this is usually in the rare cases of an injury or exposure to a foreign body whereby immunogenic forces are able to reach the injury site with haste. When the skin is in a constant state of “response” due to ongoing stress and inflammation the skin is literally just breaking down its protein matrix constantly leaving the skin lax, dull and superficially lined & wrinkled.
What can we do to reduce the secondary effects stress has on the skin?
Reducing stress is a very personal thing, here are some tips you could try to improve your body’s overall health as well as some tips for your skin.
- Don't neglect your skin. Take care of it, even if you're tired or stressed. Look for a skin treatment that will support the basic needs of your skin being the barrier function. If your skin is feeling oilier than usual try to find a lighter textured moisturiser, alternatively if your skin is feeling drier, you may need something a little richer to comfort the barrier and replace lost oils. If your skin is feeling flushed and hot, this may mean that a gentler skin regimen is required. When in doubt seek professional advice.
We recommend Crème Rescue Serum by Tracie Giles London - a light-weight cosmeceutical formula clinically proven to reform and renew stressed skin. Blended with a unique combination of 5 high performance active ingredients, Crème Rescue Serum is designed to protect and repair skins from the base upwards. The dual action formula works to strengthen weakened, compromised skins by supporting and repairing the barrier function of the skin while controlling additional inflammation and discomfort. The serum-like light-weight formula makes this treatment product suitable for all skin types. Should you require more information on this product, please do not hesitate to get in contact with us.
- Get regular exercise as this boosts the body’s serotonin levels combating the stress cascade in the body.
- Take time for yourself to do something you enjoy, try to plan your time more effectively.
- Try to get enough sleep. 7 - 8 hours each night is ideal. Sleep apps are extremely helpful to monitor and improve healthy rest patterns.
- Drink plenty of water and try to include fresh fruits and vegetables daily.
- Seek medical advice should this persist, there are many healthy options your GP can suggest to build your immune system and improve your body’s internal health. Sometimes we just need the push in the right direction.