How Your Stress Levels Affect Your Skin
The story of skincare and stress is a never-ending and tenacious one. At least for me, it is. I have an excellent poker face in social situations, and my RBF hides feelings like a boss. But when it comes to stressors in my life, my face doesn't lie. Fortunately, I skipped the adolescent acne phase, and even now my skin is clear 90% of the time (thank you, genetics). But trust me when I say that when I break out from stress, hell hath no fury.
Stress breakouts are unique—they’re sporadic, intense and deep-seated. How is this treated? What’s inside these little bumps? Can they be extracted? Do I need to give up pizza? It’s a mystery! These are the kind of breakouts that can’t be “fixed” overnight with something so benign as tea tree oil. They’re commonly associated with the negotiations between you and your skin as you're groaning at your reflection in the bathroom mirror. You know the one, “Dude, seriously not now. Where did you come from?!” I know I’m not alone in this.
I started to see indicators of stress on my skin during the last few years (my early and mid-twenties), when life, love, and career hit me all at once. Plus, I started to really experience all the happy hour drinks and nasty pollution that Los Angeles had to offer. Surely, my skin worsened when taken into consideration some of my very stressful life events: Pulling all-nighters at work? Breakout. Moving apartments again? Breakout. He wants to take things “to the next level?” Breakout. Until one day I finally realized that my skin just wasn’t invincible and thought to myself, "Sigh...I guess this is a thing now."
I had to get it together. It wasn’t just a vanity thing—it was a serious health thing. Coming from a family in the healthcare field, I felt like I was ignoring a crucial part of my personal wellness (sorry, ma!). So, I come here today to be that slightly annoying (possibly endearing?), but much needed reminder to to be your own Beyoncé of stress management—meaning, handle that ish.
We’re in this together, I promise. In fact, I asked my go-to skin care girl here in LA to school us a little bit about our skin, a la stress. Meet my girl, Lesley Thornton, Los Angeles-based esthetician and founder of Klurskin.
So tell me, what happens exactly when stress affects our body + skin?
L: Stress mostly affects your nervous system. And this can cause itching, rashy and hive-like skin, breakouts you see on your face, and many times even hair loss.
Eek! So intense! Okay, so how do we manage our skin when it reveals all our stress?
L: Well, start with really pin-pointing the cause of stress, and calm down! Everyone’s skin will react differently depending on stress levels and the length of time you’re dealing with it. One thing to keep in mind is when you know you’re going to be in a stressful situation, it's good to avoid caffeine—totally makes your nerves go crazy! No super hot baths—opt for cool bathing. This regulates body temps, cools your blood, and heals skin.
What is the most common skin issue you have with your clients here in LA?
L: Women giving up birth control or dealing with hormonal acne. Not so much “stressed skin.” In terms of skin terminology, that can mean so many things. What is tired skin and stressed skin? You know, it's not specifically a real skin condition. But the most common stress-related condition I’ve seen is dryness all over, also in the scalp (remember, it’s still skin, but just looked over because it’s covered by hair!). So I’d say it takes the greatest toll on our hair, scalp, and metabolism.
So how much of our skincare health would you say is managed by internal factors (like what we consume and eat, hormones, stress levels, etc) vs. our external factors (products we use, topical treatments, our environment, etc)?
L: I'd say 80% is internal. Everything starts on the inside. Another reason why managing stress is so important.
What are some short-term effects of intense stress on your skin? Long-term side effects?
L: I've seen are flare ups of rashes, hives, blisters, patchy bumps, etc. Almost like an allergic reaction—this comes and goes quickly. But some these side effects are really long-term and can leave deep scarring and severe trauma to the skin which is difficult to reverse. As far as treating this, I can do a lot of things, like rosemary extract, neem oil, MSM, olive stem cells, and cryotherapy treatments.
There are a lot of fitness babes out there who rely on working out as a way to decompress. Do you have any tips for women, maybe managing sweaty pores and build up?
L: Full body masking is helpful. Also seaweed wraps, and make sure you hit the steam rooms.
And what about you? What are your favorite ways to unwind and decompress?
L: People watching at the Farmers Market, hiking at Griffith Park, browsing memes (I’m totally addicted to memes before bed), and the Korean Spa, obviously. :)
There are too many things we can’t control. I get that, trust me. But the way we handle them? That’s totally in our hands. It’s 2016, ya’ll. These tips aren’t exactly secrets anymore. You know, eat clean, sweat a lot, guzzle water, learn to RELAX. Nothing new here, right? Here’s to being proactive about ending our stress stories. Will it be taking a cue from skin-mapping? Maybe getting some spin class on? Lighting incense or finding a hobby?
Mia Carina Reyes is a digital marketing and creative consultant. She likes podcasts, pretending she can surf, and fried chicken way too much. She's based in Los Angeles, but she's probably the only Angeleno that never really got into yoga and kale smoothies. Follow Mia on Twitter & Instagram: @itsmiacarina