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How Stress Can Wreak Havoc on Your Skin (And What to Do About It)

How Stress Can Wreak Havoc on Your Skin (And What to Do About It)
Conventional wisdom used to hold that stress was strictly an emotional issue. But more and more research suggests the mind and body are inextricably linked—and one of the ways researchers have figured this out is by looking at people’s skin. In fact, the link between stress and the skin is now so well-proven that a new field of dermatology has emerged: Dubbed psychodermatology, the field focuses on identifying how patients’ emotions influence the health and appearance of their skin. You probably don’t need a psychodermatologist to tell you that stress can make you break out, since many of us have experienced this in our daily lives. But you might be surprised to learn that stress can impact our skin in several other ways, as well. Here’s how stress can wreak havoc on your skin—and what to do about it so your face stays fresh and glowing no matter what’s going on in your mind.

How Stress Harms Your Skin

It can cause inflammation.

Name a sign that your skin is inflamed, and stress might be contributing to it. From acne to hives, rashes, eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis, stress can exacerbate a wide range of skin issues. Even if your skin doesn’t reach the point of full-blown breakouts, the systemic inflammation resulting from stress can cause general redness.

It can dry up your skin.

Stress can contribute to skin dryness in a number of ways. For starters, the stress hormone cortisol lowers the body’s production of hyaluronic acid, which is a naturally occurring skin moisturizer. It also harms the skin’s protective barrier, which allows moisture to evaporate out of the skin more quickly. And given that many of us turn to caffeinated beverages instead of water when we’re stressed, this can further exacerbate skin dehydration.

It can speed up the development of fine lines.

Your relatives were right: If you keep making that face, it really might get stuck that way. Repeatedly furrowing your brow or holding tension in your face (which is common during times of stress) can accelerate the development of wrinkles and fine lines. A heightened production of cortisol has a similar effect.

It can make you look less radiant.

From under-eye puffiness to sagging or sallow skin, stress can zap all the vibrancy out of your skin and cause a dull complexion. This is partly because stress can decrease our body’s production of collagen and elastin, which are essential for fresh, dewy-looking skin. It can also slow down the natural sloughing of dead skin cells, which contributes to a duller complexion.

It can diminish beauty sleep.

The only way to maintain healthy, radiant skin over the long haul is by consistently getting at least seven or eight hours of beauty sleep a night. But when we’re stressed out, our sleep is often one of the first things to suffer. Sleep deprivation, in turn, can exacerbate all the other stress issues described above, from under-eye puffiness to advanced signs of aging.

How to Reduce Stress’ Effects on Your Skin

Here’s the good news: Your skin doesn’t have to fall victim every time you’re feeling stressed out. A variety of simple strategies can help you mitigate the effects of stress so it doesn’t wreak havoc on your skin. Here are several tactics that can help:
  • Get more sleep. As noted above, high-quality sleep is essential for maintaining healthy, vibrant-looking skin. If you’re in a period of high stress, make a point of upping the number of hours you sleep each night.
  • Stay hydrated. Whether you’re stressed or not, drinking plenty of water is helpful for maintaining a dewy-looking complexion. Make sure you’re getting the standard eight glasses of water each day (or more), and try to cut back on alcohol, soda, and caffeinated beverages.
  • Use a quality moisturizer. In addition to staying hydrated by drinking water, this is a simple way to help bring essential moisture and nutrients to dry, stressed-out skin. It’s also important to maintain a consistent skin care routine overall.
  • Stash spoons in the freezer. They make a stellar quick fix for puffy eyes. Just put a spoon in the freezer when you go to bed and massage it from your inner under-eye area to the outer under-eye area to give the skin around your eyes a pick-me-up when you wake up. Apply a de-puffing eye contour before the massage for intensified benefits.
  • Exercise regularly. Not only is exercise a great stress reliever, but it also improves circulation, which helps your body maintain healthier skin.
  • Take time outs. Experts agree it’s important to take time for ourselves when we’re stressed, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. Designate a quiet, peaceful space for this time and make sure you feel secure in that place by investing in locks and other privacy precautions. Go there to read, journal, listen to music, or engage in other activities that you find enjoyable and calming.
  • Practice mindfulness. It’s scientifically proven to reduce stress and minimize the effects of stress on your body. Even just five to 10 minutes of deep breathing can have a serious calming effect.
Overall, the key to maintaining great-looking skin even when you're stressed is to make sure you aren’t letting your beauty and other health routines fall by the wayside. By investing in self-care strategies that benefit your mind and body, you can help weather the storms of stress without it showing on your face.
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