We’re living in stressful times. I don’t need to further stress you out by listing them here. But suffice it to say that all this uncertainty and anxiety takes its toll on our bodies. It’s during these times that my skin betrays me any chance it gets. Because while I should be meditating more, getting better sleep and maybe drinking less, I’m not. And while I try to play it cool (who needs a full seven hours of sleep, anyway?), my skin displays the truth in the form of angry pimples or redness and irritation or dry, itchy patches.
There are two different types of stress: acute stress and chronic stress. A quick surge of “flight or fight” adrenaline isn’t bad for you. It happens and it’s gone. But our bodies were not made for a near-constant stream of stressors, says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research, Department of Dermatology at New York’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. “Our bodies respond by boosting levels of a hormone called CRH—this increases cortisol levels to prepare our bodies for the stressful environment, but it also disrupts our natural oil production leading to both breakouts and dryness.” Those high cortisol levels take a toll on our whole body, of course, but a compromised complexion is what we often notice because it’s the only organ we can see, says the doc.
So what’s a guy to do? Focus on your skin barrier. You’ve likely heard the term before but Dr. Whitney Bowe, dermatologist and author of The Beauty of Dirty Skin describes it like this: Your skin barrier traps moisture in and keeps allergens, irritants and pollutants out. It requires three things in order to thrive: oil, water and the good bacteria that live on your skin. Unfortunately, cortisol depletes them all, and without that protection your skin gets its ass kicked, so to speak. Because chronic exposure to cortisol also inhibits the production of hyaluronic acid and collagen, which keep the skin smooth and plump. When you don’t have that, skin gets thinner which makes it easier for lines and bags to appear.
And there’s only so much that piling on products can do, both dermatologists confirmed. The key is gentle products that cleanse the skin, provide the necessary moisture and help restore the skin barrier to a more healthy place. Get that right, and maybe a few extra hours of sleep, and you should be able to de-stress your skin. I’ll certainly be trying it. Sadly, the same simple strategy cannot be used to simply our lives.