Is Stress Making Your Skin Freak Out? Here's What You Need to Do
Is stress hurting your skin?
Whether you’re overloaded at work or dealing with the kids, ongoing stress takes a toll on your complexion. It triggers adrenal glands to amp up cortisol production, which over time can cause skin inflammation. And during crazy stretches, you’re less likely to eat or sleep well, which doesn’t help. External stress from the environment is another culprit. Luckily, there are simple solutions.
Chronically high levels of cortisol can dehydrate your skin, explains Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. External elements (like cold, dry air) can further break down the skin barrier, making it easier for your skin’s natural moisture to escape, adds Chicago dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, MD.
Fast fix: Two words: hyaluronic acid. The powerhouse ingredient attracts moisture to the skin—it can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water—instantly hydrating and plumping your complexion, says Dr. Gohara. She suggests using a hyaluronic acid–based serum, which typically has a higher concentration than a moisturizer. Try Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum ($20; target.com).
Long-term plan: The more intact your skin barrier is, the less moisture is able to escape. To strengthen it, use a moisturizer with ceramides, lipid molecules that are an essential component of the skin barrier. Try Elizabeth Arden Ceramide Lift & Firm Night Cream ($78; macys.com).
For sallow skin
When your body is pumping out cortisol, it’s in a fight-or-flight state, says Dr. Gohara. Blood flow to your muscles increases, with less blood going to your skin, leaving it dull. Also to blame: pollution, which causes free radicals that make skin look uneven.
Fast fix: “Facial massage stimulates lymphatic drainage and increases circulation, the best antidote for a dull complexion,” says Dr. Gohara. You can also try the Clarisonic Smart Pro le Uplift ($349; sephora.com). It has interchangeable cleansing and massaging heads, which can remove pollution particles better than manual face washing.
Long-term plan: Consider microdermabrasion. “The tip of the machine bu s o dead cells, and the suction leaves skin radiant,” says Dr. Gohara, who advises getting a treatment every three months. Adding vitamin C to your routine is also a smart move; the antioxidant counteracts free radicals and fades existing spots. Find it in Joanna Vargas Rescue Serum ($150; dermstore.com).
Cortisol both increases inflammation and stimulates oil production. This dreaded combo can exacerbate existing acne and cause breakouts in someone with otherwise clear skin, says Dr. Carqueville. (Hence that massive zit that often crops up at the least opportune time, like right before a job interview.) On the environmental side, smog and particulate matter can clog pores, causing spots.
Fast fix: A visit to the dermatologist for a steroid injection is the quickest way to knock out a big honker. The next-best thing, says Dr. Carqueville, is a spot treatment with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Try the mess-free Oxy On-the-Go Acne Stick ($6; target.com).
Long-term plan: “Foods high on the glycemic index cause insulin spikes that lead to excess sebum production,” explains Dr. Carqueville. Translation: Ditching refined carbs may help keep your complexion clear.
Cortisol can dilate blood vessels, leading to temporary flushing. It’s also related to more chronic conditions, like rosacea, which causes persistent redness of the skin on the nose and across the cheeks, says Elizabeth K. Hale, MD, clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center. And increased cortisol can exacerbate other diseases that cause red, irritated skin, like eczema and psoriasis.
Fast fix: Skin-soothing botanicals, such as cucumber, can help temporarily bring down redness, says Dr. Carqueville. Try a mask like SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Masque ($57; dermstore.com). Dr. Gohara also likes spray-on mineral waters with the anti-inflammatory mineral selenium. Her pick: La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water ($13; dermstore.com).
Long-term plan: For chronic conditions like rosacea, see a derm, who may prescribe a combo of oral antibiotics and topicals, says Dr. Hale. The topical medications Mirvaso and Rhofade work by constricting blood vessels to tamp down redness.
For accelerated aging
“People carry stress in their brows and end up with ‘11’ lines,” says Dr. Hale. Not to mention, chronic skin inflammation can break down collagen and elastin, as does exposure to sun and pollution.
Fast fix: An injectable neuromodulator, like Botox or Dysport, will relax those lines between your brows, says Dr. Hale. If you don’t want to get jabbed, resurfacing lasers or chemical peels can quickly refresh the skin as well as stimulate collagen production.
Long-term plan: SPF plus antioxidant plus retinoid. Retinoids (stick to nightly use) remain the gold-standard anti-ager; the vitamin A derivatives are proven to boost cell turnover. Try this trio: Hampton Sun Age-Defying SPF 50 Mineral Crème ($52; neimanmarcus.com), PCA Skin C-Quench Antioxidant Serum ($75; dermstore.com), and First Aid Beauty Fab Skin Lab Retinol Serum ($58; dermstore.com). Also important: Daily sun protection is a must to safeguard your skin from aging and skin cancer. A topical antioxidant neutralizes free radicals caused by UV rays and pollution, says Dr. Hale, who suggests applying one morning and night.