Bad news: Your anxiety over aging could be causing wrinkles, breakouts, and blotchy spots. The good news: You can – and must – relax
The yoga class I’d signed up for to unwind was doing just the trick–that is, until the instructor stopped in front of me during corpse pose and told me to relax. “Try to cut the imaginary string that’s furrowing your brows together,” she whispered. “You’re getting a stress wrinkle.” Stress wrinkle? I wanted to tell this guru to namaste out of my business, but I had a hunch she was right. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the kind of stress that drives us to yoga class–or a third Diet Coke or checking our e-mail from bed–isn’t good for our skin, but it may be more serious than we realize. “There are very few skin conditions that stress doesn’t exacerbate: among them dryness, acne, rosacea, eczema, sensitivity, redness, and wrinkles,” says Inskin Medi Spa Skin Therapist Jacqueline Brennan. Also know that “in extreme cases, stress can even mess with your hormones enough to cause villous hair growth and bowel conditions”
THE STRESS CYCLE
The way stress affects your skin is that when you’re tense, your brain releases cortisol, a stress hormone, into your bloodstream. That tells oil glands to ramp up production, leading to breakouts. Stress also dilates blood vessels, which causes redness and aggravates rosacea. Another side effect is skin becomes dehydrated, sensitive, and more susceptible to damage. Besides causing lines from furrowing your brow, stress also makes you look markedly older. We already lose 1 percent of our skin’s collagen supply every year after we hit age 20, but stress can accelerate that. “Younger women are coming into my office with wrinkles and older ones are still fighting acne. These issues are caused in large part because clients are more stressed out than they were even five years ago. Some triggers are relationships, money, work, and family, according to Jacqueline, We can also see a rise in “cultural stress–the feeling that women expect perfection from themselves in all areas at all times. We all know that stress is unhealthy for your heart and brain, but it’s just as bad for your skin.” Repairing it works best with a dual-pronged approach that incorporates internal and external fixes.
SKIN-DEEP: TOPICAL SOLUTIONS
Since stress marks everyone’s skin differently, the first step is to take note of how your face reacts during the two weeks surrounding a high-stakes work presentation or a fight with your sister.
For those whose skin reacts with greasiness and breakouts, the key is exfoliating to unclog pores that can harbor bacteria. “Instead of a gritty scrub exfoliant, which can cause further redness, use a product with lactic acid, which hydrates as it removes dead skin cells,” says Jacqueline “Then follow with an oil-absorbing kaolin clay mask.” Spot treat blemishes with a salicylic acid gel. But if your acne comes with sensitivity and patches of dryness, the standard over-the-counter routine won’t benefit you as much as a trip to your Beauty Clinic. In those cases, an acne-fighting LED light therapy , with a salicylic acid infusion to brighten skin and clear acne.
If your skin goes to the other extreme with dryness, flaking, peeling, redness, sensitivity, rosacea, or eczema, you’re not alone: A study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that when women experience psychological stress, their skin becomes more easily dehydrated, even leading to eczema. Try products with ceramides and hyaluronic acid. “They absorb water and surround each dead skin cell with lipids, making the cell more able to hang on to water,” says Jacqueline. For daytime, use Medik8 Hydrating B5 Serum with hyaluronic acid.
For lines, sallow skin, and other visible signs of aging, you want to help skin fight back against free radicals and environmental damage with antioxidants. Jacqueline’s favorites are products that contain vitamin C, like his Essential-CE- Tetra by Medik8. The next step up is a chemical peel to reveal your newer, younger skin below.
Sunscreen is even more important than usual, since when you’re stressed, “the dead cell layer on the skin’s surface becomes thin, with microscopic holes in it,” which can’t protect as well against aging UV rays, says Jacqueline .
INTERNAL AFFAIRS: LIFESTYLE FIXES
Crazy-high expectations for yourself and being obsessed with perfection are a recipe for stress that many people handle with a bag of chips or a brownie. No, chocolate doesn’t cause acne, but “processed foods can worsen skin by causing inflammation,” says Jacqueline. Instead, reach for snacks that can actually improve your complexion, like raw fruits and vegetables, thanks to their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits. (The fact that they’ll keep you in your current jeans size is a double bonus.) “If you have redness, stay away from spicy food and shellfish, since they can cause blood vessels to flare,” says Jacqueline. A good bet is whole-grain crackers or pasta. “To encourage collagen production, I eat whole grains plus foods rich in amino acids, like eggs, beans, and seeds. Eating cold-water fish and almonds, which contain omega-3’s, will help dry skin,” says Jacqueline.
Jacqueline also recommends ways to reduce stressed-out skin that are more touchy-feely–literally. “Hands-on therapies like Reiki, craniosacral bodywork, and even hugging a friend help. I actually refer my patients to get massages,” she says.