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How Stress Affects Your Skin

Dr. Julie Shelley

Dr. Julie Shelley

Dr. Shelley is a Family Medicine and Sports Medicine trained physician in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Wondering what you can do from home to keep your skin healthy? Dr. Shelley shares her favorite skincare products and a few tips!

There is no question that we are all under an increased amount of stress during this time in our world. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused increased worry and stress at the utmost heightened levels. We are stressed about keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe and healthy, keeping our jobs, and how we will homeschool our kids. Those on the front lines of our healthcare system are stressed about not having enough protection to safely treat those with the virus while also protecting themselves. We are stressed about the unknown and wondering when our world will go back to “normal.”

Stress affects our bodies both emotionally and physically, so it comes as no surprise that our skin is one area where we display our stress the most. Our skin is the largest organ in our body, and it can show our stress in a number of different ways, including acne breakouts and inflammatory responses such as rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. The interesting thing about our skin is that it can’t tell the difference between different types of stress such as physical, emotional, or environmental stress. However, we do know that the longer we endure stress, the harder the toll it takes on our skin.

How does stress affect our skin?

• Stress Triggers an Inflammatory Response
This inflammatory response starts in the digestive system and works its way to our skin. Increased amounts of stress on our bodies (whether physical or emotional) induces a “fight or flight” response within us and slows down our digestion in the gut. This slowed digestion in turn affects bacteria in the gut. It causes the “bad” bacteria in our digestive system to overproduce. This “bad” bacteria, in addition to other toxins, then leaks through the membranes of our gut and into other parts of our body, causing systemic inflammation. As a result of this internal inflammation, our skin also becomes inflamed, which induces unwanted skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, psoriasis, and even acne breakouts.

• Stress Dries Out Skin
When our bodies are under stress, we start to produce high levels of two stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol. The activation of these hormones weakens our immune system and leads to inflammation in our bodies. These hormones also trigger our sweat glands to produce sweat, which causes us to lose water more quickly. This leads to dehydration and affects our skin’s ability to hold onto water, which then results in dry, flaky, and even red skin.

• Stress Can Make Your Skin More Oily
In addition to drying out our skin, stress can also make our skin more oily. While this might sound like a conundrum, it’s actually a scientific fact. Stress leads to this dry AND oily combination skin because as stated earlier, an increase in cortisol activates our sweat glands, also known as our sebaceous glands. This increase in sweat gland activity leads to an increased production of oil in our skin, which then leads to blockages in our pores. The dry flakiness of our stressed skin also blocks our pores, resulting in worsening acne breakouts.

How can we take care of our during times of stress?

There are a multitude of treatments and products that I recommend for stressed skin. In-office treatments such as facials, Diamond Glow hydradermabrasion, IPL, and microneedling with PRP are some of my favorites. However, in light of our current recommendations to stay home to prevent further spread of COVID-19, there are several skin care products you can use at home to see a clinical change in your skin! I cannot stress enough the importance of a solid and consistent skin care routine with physician-grade skin care products. Here are some of my favorite tips and products to keep your skin healthy and vibrant during these stressful times!

• Take a Daily Probiotic
Probiotics aren’t “skin care products” per se. However, the positive effects that probiotics can have on your skin are outstanding! Earlier, it was discussed that increased stress can lead to “leaky gut” and increased bacteria and inflammation throughout the body. Taking a probiotic one to two times daily can DECREASE the amount of bacteria in your gut, therefore DECREASING inflammation in the body and skin, leading to less acne, rosacea, and other inflammatory conditions. In addition, probiotics will help support mental health and mood as a result of the decreased inflammation! My go-to probiotic of choice (which we carry at Renew!) is:
Active Probiotic by Farmakeio

• Use a Gentle Skin Cleanser
Some of my favorite skin cleansers that we carry at Renew are:
Simply Clean by SkinCeuticals
Gentle Cleanser by ZO
Purifying Foaming Wash by SkinMedica (for acne-prone and oily skin)

• If acne-prone, use a retinol!
Retinols help clear up acne-prone skin by keeping the follicles clear so that oil does not become trapped under the skin. This prevents further acne breakouts. We carry several different retinols at Renew with varying strengths to provide the best individualized treatments for our patients. In those with sensitive skin, I recommend starting with the lowest dose retinol one to two nights per week and slowly titrating up. Some of my favorite retinols are:
Retinol 0.3 by SkinCeuticals
Retinol Complex 0.5 by SkinMedica
Retinol Skin Brightening 0.5% by ZO

• Keep your skin hydrated!
It is important to keep your skin hydrated at ALL times, but particularly during times of stress, as we know stress dehydrates our skin. My top choices for skin hydrators that WON’T clog your pores are:
Triple Lipid Restore by SkinCeuticals
Hydrating B5 Gel by SKinCeuticals
HA5 Rejuvenating Hydrator by SkinMedica

• Drink plenty of water
Drinking water is another way to keep you skin (AND your body) hydrated. I recommend drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.

• Relieve your stress!
Taking care of our bodies both physically AND emotionally is paramount to helping us cope with stress and improving our overall health and wellbeing. I recommend the following healthy habits to improve your mental and physical health:

          • Get plenty of sleep! Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
          • Exercise! I recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five days per week.
          • Meditate or pray DAILY. This will help bring a sense of peace to your overall emotional wellbeing and will in turn help you cope with stress.

Shoot us an email at info@renewoklahoma.com or give us a call at 405.810.5944 to learn more about your next steps!

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