Stress, Cortisol, and Your Skin

Let’s talk about stress. It can be difficult to get through a day without the feeling of being overwhelmed or anxious about some aspect of our very busy lives. Stress can affect you in many different ways, both mind and body, and particularly in the appearance of your skin.

When you are stressed, your body releases a set of hormones, including cortisol. Chronically high cortisol levels have a number of known health effects (including lower immune function, increased weight gain, risk for depression, interfering with memory, etc.), but it also has additional effects on the skin, including dryness, aging, overactive oil production, and redness. 

Dryness
The release of cortisol causes skin dryness by diminishing the skin’s ability to retain water, so your skin can become dull and dehydrated when under constant stress. This lack of moisture is why your psoriasis and eczema may worsen during periods of heavy stress.

Aging
High levels of cortisol will also accelerate the aging process, while making existing fine lines and wrinkles appear more severe. Dry skin will give the immediate appearance of more aged skin, while cortisol causes collagen and elastin to break down, leading to accelerated long-term aging.

The facial expressions you make while under stress, such as a furrowed brow or scowl, also can cause wrinkles. As the expressions are repeated and as the skin loses its ability to fully bounce back after each expression, wrinkles are formed. These types of wrinkles are the deepest and hardest to treat, so try to get more laugh lines than frown lines!

Overly oily
Acne is a very common consequence of stress. Have you ever noticed that a breakout tends to pop up right before a big event? Because of the skin’s diminished ability to stay hydrated, your sebaceous glands overcompensate by increasing the amount of oil produced. This excess oil can cause inflammation under the skin and lead to breakouts.

Redness
Our skin tone is also dependent on our emotional well-being. When you feel anxious or worried, blood flow increases, which can result in expanded capillaries. This can lead to redness and a puffy appearance to the skin. This can particularly exacerbate rosacea, as stress is one of the most common triggers for a rosacea flare up. Controlling stress and keeping cortisol levels within a normal range are key to reducing the frequency of rosacea flare ups.

How to Deal
Learning to deal with stress and anxiety is crucial to your skin’s overall health. When your cortisol levels are balanced and in check, your skin will reflect this and look better.

Here are five things you can do to help

  • Sleep: Get your eight hours of sleep! People who get six or less hours can have 50% more cortisol in their bloodstream and these levels can stay elevated for days. If eight hours doesn’t happen, try to take a nap the next day to make up for some of the lost sleep time.
  • Exercise: Get your body moving to reduce stress levels and keep inflammation low. You have heard that the stress hormones can cause a “fight or flight” response, but in this digital age, a lot of the stress we experience does not present a “fight or flight” opportunity. Exercise can be a great replication of this, with kickboxing and sparring classes creating a “fight” experience and running, swimming, biking, and other forms of cardio creating a “flight” experience. Exercises that focus on the mind-body connection such as yoga or pilates are also great ways to reduce stress.
  • Tea: Afternoon teatime could be more beneficial than you realize. While hydrating and fortifying your body with free-radical fighting antioxidants, the polyphenols and flavonoids may be responsible for tea’s calming effect. Try to drink a cup of green tea everyday for major skin and health benefits.
  • Essential oils: Add essential oils to your routine for instant relief! Essential oils can be used on their own or incorporated into other products, such as skin care or bath salts. Slow down and massage them into your skin for ultimate relaxation.
  • Breathing: Even just a few deep breaths will make a world of difference. Deep breaths signal to your body to slow your heart rate, lower blood pressure, and decrease cortisol. Taking the time for ten deep breaths in a stressful situation will relax your whole body and calm your mind.

Tip from your skin coach, Katie: Treat yourself to a nightly ritual. Let your body unwind from the day to promote a full nights sleep. Use 1-2 drops of Skin Authority Oil Nutrient for Face, Hair & Nails to ease inflammation and calm your senses. You can blend the Oil with your favorite nighttime moisturizer, or apply it directly to your face, scalp, or nail beds.

How do you calm down when under stress? Let us know in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “Stress, Cortisol, and Your Skin

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