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The Science Behind How Stress Impacts Your Skin

“I am spending more of my days makeup-free while strictly following my skincare regimen. So why am I still experiencing breakouts?” It’s a frustrating question that’s posed frequently, especially as of late. With many of us staying home and giving our skin a much-needed break from cosmetics (and touching our face), our skin should be looking better than ever… right? Maybe if stress didn’t have a role to play, too.

“Stress can definitely cause all kinds of inflammatory conditions such as acne, rosacea, eczema and psoriasis to flare and worsen”, says Dr. Nancy Samolitis, MD board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Facile Dermatology. With many of us experiencing higher stress levels than normal (extra kudos to the moms and moms-to-be), it’s completely normal for your skin to be freaking out a bit. Read on for all the ways stress plays a role in your skincare and how to calm it (and yourself) down.

The Impact of Stress

There are endless reasons why you may experience feelings of stress—work deadlines, financial worries, family responsibilities, relationship tension, etc—but no matter its cause, your body reacts the same: by releasing hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, in efforts to protect itself. Depending on the situation, that’s not such a bad thing, but it can cause both emotional and physical distress, including for your skin. You may notice things like:

An Increase in Breakouts
When your body releases cortisol (AKA the stress hormone), it goes into survival mode, preparing your body for a potentially dangerous situation. This includes telling your glands to ramp up its oil production to retain the moisture it is anticipating losing. Since oily skin is one of acne’s culprits, you may notice more breakouts popping up.
Inflamed and Irritated Skin
Stress weakens the immune system, and when our defenses are down, we have more difficulty fending off antigens (harmful substances, like toxins) and keeping our skin barrier strong. This may be the reason you notice inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis worsen during times of stress. It can also result in less serious skin issues, such as dryness, flakiness, and irritation.

A Lack of Motivation
Overwhelming stress levels often lead to feelings of apathy, where we simply struggle to complete even the simplest of tasks. Whether you have more time on your hands or not, you may feel less enthusiastic about applying your skincare products when all your energy is going towards staying calm—which is completely understandable. As a result, your skin may take notice of the lack of attention it's receiving and, consequently, react negatively.

What to Do About It

First things first: Check in with yourself. Practice de-stressing techniques such as mindfulness and exercise (we put together our own recommendations here) and if necessary, reach out to a mental health expert for additional help. As far as skincare goes, now is the time to incorporate more skin-soothing ingredients and rituals that can help keep it feeling calm. Some ingredients to look out for are niacinamide (an anti-inflammatory hero ingredient that also strengthens skin, found in our Just Breathe Clarifying Serum), green tea extract (that’s what makes our Dew Point Moisturizing Gel-Cream so soothing), and turmeric (popular in Ayurvedic medicine, it’s antibacterial and reduces redness, perfect in our Photos, Please Brightening Tightening Mask). Of course, we always recommend reaching out to your dermatologist if your skin is still struggling to calm down. 
Shop our favorite de-stressing products below.