Here are a couple of scenarios that you may have gone through at least once in your life:
- You have an important social event coming up - such as a wedding, cocktail party, or a sangeet - and you wake up in the morning with a huge pimple on your face.
- It has been a stressful few days at work and your skin seems to have completely lost the plot - it is dry and itchy and you are experiencing some acne too.
- Your exams are fast approaching and your mind’s anxiety is showing up on your face. Your acne is out of control.
Let us be honest - we have all been through almost all of these 3 situations - and many more like them - in our lives. But why does this happen? Stress. It is all because of stress. The fact is that our bodies react to stress - the degree of this reaction may vary from person to person but there is most definitely a reaction. But why does this happen and how? Let us take a look!
What is stress?
Stress is essentially your body’s way of dealing with a certain event or a situation. While stress may seem like a bad thing there is a ‘good stress’ or ‘eustress’ too that can be motivating like that fear of not doing well that makes you study a little harder or be extra-prepared for that big presentation.
The trouble begins when the amount of stress you are taking on becomes excessive. That is when the side-effects start to manifest in your physical, mental, and emotional state. Stress can make you nervous, anxious, irritable, and unable to concentrate, among other things. It can trigger fevers and other effects in your body and on your skin too.
What happens to your skin when you get stressed?
When your body is under a lot of stress it behaves differently because stress affects your mental, emotional, and physical health. Under distress, our brain secretes hormones such as Cortisol, Norepinephrine, and Adrenaline. The release of Cortisol affects the skin in a wide variety of ways.
Of course, everyone reacts differently to stress and our bodies all respond differently to increased Cortisol levels but here are a few common reactions you may experience when you are going through a difficult time.
There is quite a strong connection between the mind, skin, and gut. When we are under stress, the body slows down digestion. The longer the duration of stress, the greater the impact on your digestion and consequently the gut bacteria. Slowed digestion affects the natural balance of microbes and leads to the growth of unhealthy bacteria, further causing the intestines to become more permeable. This in turn leads to inflammation and can even trigger skin conditions such as Eczema and Rosacea.
When under stress, the body’s fight or flight response kicks in. This triggers an increase in adrenaline and cortisol levels. An increase in adrenaline levels can cause you to sweat more by activating the sweat glands. This means you are getting dehydrated faster than usual and can make your skin feel dry and potentially itchy.
3. Oiliness and acne
Cortisol, the stress hormone, as well as Prolactin can also trigger your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. An overproduction of sebum can in turn clog your pores, resulting in acne.
If you are a smart watch-wearer, look back at your heart rate readings during a time where you were stressed or worked up. You will find that readings such as your resting heart rate - and even your heart rate in general - are on the higher side. This is because under stress your heart starts pumping blood faster, your blood vessels are full, and your capillaries are diluted. This can lead to temporary flushing and redness on the face and can trigger acne, eczema, and inflammation.
Another factor that contributes to redness and bumps, is the hormone Norepinephrine. It is released by the body when we are stressed and makes us more alert and awake. Norepinephrine is responsible for increasing blood flow to certain areas and decreasing it to others. This can result in flare-ups and reactions such as rashes and hives.
6. Scalp Flakiness, hairfall and premature greying
Stress affects your hair and scalp similar to how it affects your skin. It is normal for the scalp to become dry and irritated. Another side-effect of stress is hair loss. As the body prepares for the fight or flight response, blood flow to areas of the body such as the scalp reduces (courtesy Norepinephrine), depriving hair follicles of vital nutrients present in the blood. This makes the hair weaker and more susceptible to damage.
Our hair strands contain cells called melanocytes, that in turn produce melanin which gives our hair its colour. Stress reduces the production of these cells, resulting in greying of the hair.
7. Eyebags and puffiness
The skin around the eyes is very thin and delicate, requiring special care and attention. This is why it is not so surprising that eyebags and puffiness are a common occurrence. Let us take a look at why that happens - firstly, there is a matter of not getting enough rest. If you are stressed and do not get enough sleep, there is a fluid and toxin-buildup in the under-eye area and that leads to puffiness and eyebags.
Stress itself causes a salt imbalance in the body. If your body’s salt balance is off, it means there is increased water-retention - like in the under-eye area and that causes puffiness too.
8. Wrinkles and fine lines
Stress causes changes to the proteins in your body - such as Collagen and Elastin. These changes affect the elasticity of the skin resulting in sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Managing your skin
You already have so much on your mind, do you really need to stress about your skincare too? Probably not. So here are some simple tips that we are sure you will not have trouble remembering.
1. Keep it simple
Your skin is already going through a lot so keep the actives away for a while. Keep it super simple - stick to a gentle everyday cleanser, a mist or toner (if you want), and a gentle and simple moisturiser that can keep your skin happy, hydrated and moisturised.
You may be tempted to jump into using actives to soothe any inflammations or flare-ups but that might just make things worse. Give your skin some time to relax and breathe.
2. Clear out those pores
While we did say to skip the actives, in no way does that mean that you should stop exfoliating. If anything, you definitely need to exfoliate! Make sure you are clearing out those pores and getting rid of excess sebum, dirt, and dead cells. Head over to our blog to know more about which exfoliant is the one for you. But be careful, do not overdo it!
You can even make use of a face mist, refreshing your face when you feel your skin needs a little pick-me-up.
3. Get enough zzz
For the sake of your overall well-being and for your skin, sleep is super important! While you are sleeping, your skin heals and repairs any damage. If you are stressed, you probably are not getting enough sleep and that is problematic. It also will probably make you more puffy - especially in the under-eye area. So skip the coffee or Red Bull at night and make sure you are getting around eight hours of sound sleep.
4. Drink a lot of water
Dehydration can really damage your skin. It can dry it out and compromise your skin barrier, leading to acne and other skin problems. So make sure you are drinking enough water and are staying hydrated.
5. Say hello to no makeup days
If your skin is becoming problematic or might become problematic, the best thing to do is to let it breathe and avoid applying makeup that might potentially clog your pores. If you have a big presentation at work or have a great party to attend, keep your base makeup simple and prep your skin well and, no matter what you do, remove all your makeup before calling it a night!
6. Manage the stress itself
You probably guessed this one but we would still like to point it out - the best way to make sure your skin does not suffer when you get stressed out is to not stress out, or at least to manage your stress a lot better. Simple lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly, keeping a healthy diet, and getting a good night’s sleep are the best way to manage stress. Another aspect of stress management is to take some time out of your day to focus on your mental health and wellbeing - this could be meditating, going for a walk, indulging in a hobby, or listening to music! Head over to our blog to know more about how to be more mindful.
Stress is something none of us are strangers to. Moreover, skin reactions - such as redness, dryness, acne, and inflammations - as a result of stress are a pretty common occurrence as well. Simple habits such as drinking enough water, maintaining a simple skincare routine, and exfoliating regularly can go a long way in keeping things under control.
- Gauri Sindhu