When you're stressed, you know it. You may feel it in your head, your heart, and your stomach, and you may even be able to see signs of stress on your skin. After all, if you let it go untreated, stress can really take a toll on your body. So to find out some ways stress can manifest on your skin and the best ways to treat it, I emailed with a few experts.
Dr. Marnie Nussbaum, NYC-based cosmetic dermatologist; Sarah Kugelman, founder of Skyn ICELAND; and Dr. Dendy Engelman, NYC-based dermatologic surgeon, all let me in on how stress may be affecting your skin and how to keep signs of it at bay. According to Kugelman, when we are stressed, our bodies release hormones and chemicals such as cortisol, adrenaline, and histamine, which signal the skin to do or not do various things that impact our skin's health and appearance. Dr. Nussbaum explains that cortisol in particular "impacts other hormones affecting the skin resulting in acne on the face and back as well as flares of eczema, psoriasis, and other inflammatory skin conditions." Not to mention it can also cause or exacerbate hives and rashes. But cortisol levels aren't the only stress-related concern.
Dr. Nussbaum says stress can also change your breathing patterns, causing shallow breathing and facial redness; sleeping patterns, which can cause fluid to pool in the under-eye area leading to puffiness; facial expressions, which result in more pursed lips and furrowed brows and can cause premature fine lines and wrinkles; and diet changes which can cause poor nutrition and dehydration.
So if you notice symptoms that aren't usually a product of your environment, age, skin type, and/or lifestyle such as fine lines, sagging skin, loss of elasticity, clogged pores, oiliness, blemishes, irritation, sensitivity, redness, itching, hives, dry patches, flakiness, uneven tone and texture, or hyperpigmentation, these could be signs of stress, says Kugelman.
Unfortunately, stress can easily turn into a vicious circle where once you see signs of it, it can cause even more stress. That's why it's important to properly manage and treat your stress before it builds to be too much. So you can keep your stress at bay and mitigate its effects on your skin, here are nine steps you can take:
1. Stay Hydrated
Whether you drink more coffee or furrow your brow more when you're stressed, drinking plenty of water can help counteract any side effects, says Dr. Nussbaum. It will keep you hydrated when you consume foods and drinks that dry out your skin, and it can also help plump any fine lines, she explains.
2. Eat A Balanced Diet
"Stress can lead to poor eating habits," says Dr. Engelman. If you pay attention to what you eat and try to limit your dairy, high glycemic-index foods, and alcohol though, your diet can control how easily your skin is affected by stress.
Keeping calm is one of the best ways to prevent stress symptoms. While Dr. Nussbaum recommends breathing exercises and meditating to keep your nerves in check, she says calming skin-care can also help keep your skin under control. Some ingredients she says to look for in serums or topical creams include chamomile, patchouli, niacinamide, and green tea.
To help keep skin hydrated and free from fine lines that are carved from stress, Dr. Nussbaum also says to "use a moisturizer or serum containing hyaluronic acid which can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water [and] will be sure to plump, hydrate, and give you a dewy glow."
Puffy eyes are a common stress symptom, but there are a couple of quick ways to treat them. Dr. Nussbaum recommends using "the backs of two refrigerated spoons as cool compresses," and says to "rub them in circular directions from the inner eye to the outer eye to stimulate circulation and decrease swelling." If you're strapped for time, try cooling eye gels that can work while you get ready in the morning. After cooling your under-eyes, Dr. Nussbaum suggests applying a "morning eye cream containing caffeine [that] can also temporarily lift and tighten the area."
In addition to calming and de-puffing ingredients, there are some others that also help treat stress and signs of it. According to Kugelman, skin care with antioxidants can tackle free radicals that are created when you're stressed, adaptogens (which are certain herbs) can "bolster the immune system of skin that's attacked by stress," natural anti-inflammatories can reduce irritation associated with stress, and certain peptides can even release endorphins on the skin to make it "happy."
Additionally, plant stem cells can help regulate stress-related inflammation and aging, and omega fatty-acids can also reduce stress-induced inflammation, she says.
Your sense of smell is also important in alleviating stress and symptoms of it. Dr. Engelman suggests "incorporating aromatherapy into your routine to enhance the well-being of not only your skin but your body and mind as well." Try taking deep breaths while pressing a scented oil into your skin. If you opt for an essential oil, be sure to mix it with a carrier oil before applying it to your skin. Either way, utilizing aromatherapeutic oils, says Dr. Engelman, can help with stress-related skin concerns such as breakouts and wrinkles.
8. Spot Treat
If you have stress-related breakouts, Dr. Nussbaum says a quick way to treat the occasional spot is to ice it for a minute or two and then follow up with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment to dry it up. If your breakouts tend to be more severe, she recommends talking to your dermatologist about treatment options. And if you're looking to cover up your stress acne, try a concealer with antioxidant properties like vitamin E and green tea. This, says Dr. Nussbaum, should help keep your skin and spots calm.
9. Practice Self-Care
But not only can your skin-care routine help treat signs of stress, it can also help prevent it in the first place. Try to take some time for yourself every week to unwind, says Kugelman. Something as simple as slapping on a face mask and relaxing for 20 or 30 minutes can help detox and rebalance your skin and mind for a fresh start. Yep, a little me-time can really change everything.